New adventures afoot...

New adventures afoot...
where in the world...

Saturday, March 5, 2011

So, yea, it’s been a long time.  So let’s start off with the reason for my silence—the job.  I was doing it the whole time I was here but it got exponentially busy after my supervisor from Arizona arrived after Christmas.  But I get ahead of myself.  I still have never actually shared in detail what I’ve been doing here!

I came down for the summer season to be the South Pole Food Growth Chamber Technician.  Say that ten times fast!  Really, I and most everyone else on station call it the greenhouse, but since it’s a closed-system space with no light coming from outside, it’s more of a chamber than greenhouse, but that sounds too sterile.  Anyway, I also called myself a farmer/caretaker rather than a technician, for the same reason.  It wasn’t just about tweaking computer readings and writing down numbers, though that did happen.  But it was also about cleaning house, starting seeds, pruning, and keeping things going to set up the winter operator with a stable foundation to take the station successfully through the winter with lots of good veggies.

So, what does this place look like, you might ask?  Well, here are some photos from full jungle like I found it when I arrived, to empty after I and some wonderful volunteers pulled out all the growth and gave the whole thing a sterilizing once-over with bleach solution (to start fresh, and kill off fungal spores that can become a problem), to freshly planted with seedlings, to full harvest growth—at least the greens.  I planted all sorts of things, from herbs to lettuce and other greens to tomatoes, eggplants, and cucumbers.  Oh, and strawberries!  And flowers… all edible of course.  According to the Antarctic Treaty, no plants can be introduced to the continent except edible things.  And boy are there some pretty edible flowers!

The chamber when I arrived-- jungle-like.  November 8.

the hobby system in the front "happy room"-- it's open to the station as a nice place to hang out and read or make phone calls, and for folks to try their hand at hydroponic growing-- it's not automated like the interior food production room so folks using it have to hand balance the nutrient levels and take a little more care... but here it's at the end of last winter/beginning of summer and the caretakers have left... now it's my turn!

Volunteers that showed up to help me for a "Death and Destruction" party-- taking out all the plants so I can give the chamber a deep clean...

plants gone, final cleaning of water and roots out of the middle bins in process... much more cleaning to come... scrubbing the floor,wiping down all surfaces with bleach solution...

empty and clean chamber!  December 6.

Jan 5, all the sprouts planted on 18 and 24 December are ready to go in the system... so why not have a party?!

We had a couple of parties to get the community involved with their local source for organic veggies: a seed starting party to get a bunch of seeds started, then a planting party to help get all the wee sprouts in their places.  This is the planting party on January 5, and the picture is taken showing the Happy Room in front, looking through the doors into the production chamber.  Thanks Rickey Gates for such a great shot!

Jan 10, all the little sweeties are in their holes, roots sucking up the nutrients, ready to go gangbusters!

Jan 17

Jan 22

Feb 7, ready for harvest!  I cut a few things about 10 days earlier (radishes, Bekana, Pac Choi), but this was the first major harvest of the crops I started in December.  Exciting!!

Some of the Pac Choi leaves were so big, we were able to use them to help cool down one of our volunteers after she worked so hard!

The fruits of our labors... about 50 pounds of greens and herbs.  Amazing!  You can see through the glass chamber doors that the cucumbers have reached the ceiling and are filling up the windows with greenness... pretty incredible how fast the stuff in there grows.
 It might look like it was magic... seeds get wet, they sprout, and grow till they can be harvested... bam!  Easy peasy.  But there was a little work that went into it.. the system is automated but needs a lot of TLC and maintenence, including working with the computer-controlled automation system, troubleshooting pumps, fixing leaks... oh all sorts of things.  The respirator picture is when I was using a strong bleach solution for cleaning, and here's a few shots of the behind-the-scenes life of the chamber operator:

going into the subfloor to look for leaks below the chamber-- the chamber module isn't water tight, surprisingly, and we seal the seams in the floor with silicone, but they're not always perfect...

this is the mind-mapping organization that Lane my supervisor laid out when he arrived to keep track of what we needed to do... are you suprised you haven't heard from me in a couple of months?

Lane.    :)

calibrating the pH and EC sensors...

OK, that' really it.  Stay tuned, I'll be back with more, I promise.  Got to tell you about my three jobs in one week adventure!  But I've settled down to just one, and I'm happy with it.  A garbage professional, otherwise known as a 'wastie' in the program.  Love to all!


  1. Woohoo - awesome crop, Jos! You're making me miss Pole more than ever. Oh wait, it's uh [checks internet] -69F right now? I'll wait until Spring to start missing it again.

    But tell us about the new job, willya?

  2. Very sweet harvest!! How'd it all taste? Anything weird about hydrophonic produce? So fresh in such an inhospitable environment...rather mind boggling. XXOO

  3. Jos - that's hectic growth - I don't get that planting my seedlings outside in my Cape Town garden LOL

    Must be to do with the nutrients in the water!? And you only have two ceiling lights????

    Are you growing that purely for the consumption of everyone at the base?