Hydroponics: The Future of Agritech?

Here at Mars Oasis, we spend a lot of time thinking about the future of agriculture. We recently announced that our first next-generation agritech product is an IoT sensor for hydroponic farming. This sensor will enable anyone to monitor their growing environment from anywhere on the planet (or any other planet, for that matter). Out of all of the future agricultural technologies we have explored, hydroponics is one of the fields that excites us the most. There's a nearly endless list of advantages to hydroponic farming, but here are some of our favorites.

Why Hydroponics?

Minimal resource use: One of the largest advantages of hydroponic farming is that it requires very little resources compared to traditional farming methods. In hydroponics, the same water is recycled through the system over and over. This cyclical method reduces water usage by up to 90% compared to soil-based planting. Liquid nutrients (plant food) can be easily added to the system at any point.

Higher yield: In hydroponic farming, the optimal nutrients are constantly being delivered to plants, and they receive maximum exposure to those nutrients as the water flows directly over their roots. This makes plants grow larger, faster, and more predictably. These factors mean that hydroponics can produce anywhere from twice to ten times the yield of soil-based farming.

Space savings: With hydroponics, there's no bulky dirt medium which makes it easier to maintain the root systems of whatever is growing. This allows for more plants to be planted in a smaller garden footprint. In vertical farming, a closely related field, multiple growing areas can be stacked on top of each other which allows for planting in 3 dimensions. Many growers have combined hydroponic farming and vertical farming to increase their crop yield up to ten times more. Mars Oasis plans to utilize vertical farming as well. (More on that in a future post!)

Easier maintenance: Hydroponic systems are extremely easy to maintain. The only things to monitor are water and nutrients. With IoT, all of these can be done remotely using sensors and automated valves. (More on this in a future post also!) Another often underrated factor, especially in home gardening, is dirt. Hydroponics is much less messy!

Hydroponic root systems allow for more optimized planting and harvesting

Root systems in hydroponic farming allow for optimized planting and harvesting

Going Green on the Red Planet

Hydroponics will probably be how the first crops on Mars will be grown. Growing plants on Mars with traditional methods will be tricky. The Viking and Curiosity Martian landers measured that the Martian soil is nearly half a percent perchlorates. Perchlorates are extremely toxic to the human body in small amounts. This means humans won’t be able to eat anything grown in Martian soil until we figure out a way to treat the dirt.

Sending soil from Earth would be impractical. Dirt is heavy, thus very expensive to launch. Over time the nutrients in the soil from Earth would need to be replenished or the medium wouldn’t be as effective. Additionally, plants growing in dirt require significantly more water than hydroponics because of factors like run-off and evaporation. Luckily, Mars has tons of water ice! Hydroponics is the perfect solution on Mars. It would be the best way to maximize crop yield, effectively make use of plant nutrients, and employ remote monitoring. Simultaneously, it would minimize space utilization and rocket payload weight, both of which are key for a Martian habitat.

Lettuce grows on the International Space Station

Lettuce grows in the VEGGIE unit of the International Space Station.
This unit grew the first plants in space!