So, you’ve read the book, seen the movie and want to take a crack at planting your own potatoes? As the official potato for new film The Martian, we’ve done the research and here are our tips on planting potatoes, whether this is on Earth, or in Space.
Step 1 – Gather your tools
The first of our hurdles comes in the form of equipment. If you’re planning on practising your horticultural skills in the outer galaxy make sure you pack a decent shovel and wheelbarrow before you go to space. It’s pretty bulky, but you’ll be thanking us later - you don’t want to follow in Watney’s footsteps and come unprepared. Luckily, potatoes can be grown in anything, whether this is old spacesuits, barrels, rubbish bins or anything you can find lying around the space station. If you’re fortunate enough to be planting on Earth, these things are pretty easy to come by. If you don’t have these readily available, ask your neighbour. You know, the weird one who grows pampas grass in his front garden.
Step 2 – Prepping the land
Now we have everything, we have to prep the land. Potatoes only need 4” of soil to grow, so if you remembered to pack the wheelbarrow that should be a breeze. Like we said, potatoes can be grown in anything, so choose your vessel and start shovelling.
The soil on Mars is barren. It’s cold, it’s dry and it carries no life. But it’s not all bad. The soil on Mars has high nitrogen levels, which is a plant micronutrient and helps plants and potatoes grow. However, this isn’t enough to produce an abundant crop of tasty, red-skinned potatoes. If you’re on Earth, mixing compost in with your soil introduces all the nutrients you need. If, like Mark Watney, you’re low on supplies, there are ways around this, which take the form of human waste. Desperate times call for desperate measures.
Step 3 – Planting the seed
Prepare your seed potatoes 1-2 days before planting. This allows the pieces to form a layer that protects them from moisture and rot. Try and get as many ‘eyes’ on each seed potato, and when you plant them, place them one foot apart, eye side up. It doesn’t matter if you’re in Manchester, Malta or Mars, if you don’t plant your potatoes this way, they aren’t gonna grow.
Step 4 – Potato maintenance
Potatoes need a lot of moisture, so water regularly when tubers start to grow. Potatoes should be ready to harvest after 10 weeks. Store your potatoes in a cool, dry environment. If you’re on Mars, all you’ll have to do is put them outside. It’s very cold and very dry.
If you want to further pursue your planting skills on Earth, Mars or any other planet, friends of the potato are beans, corn, onion, cabbage and lettuce. But avoid cucumbers. Please.
It is a lot easier to plant these red-skinned delights on Earth than on Mars. But we won’t blame you if you want to give it a go and plant potatoes in space. You’ll be able to give yourself the title of best botanist on the planet, which we have to admit, is rather cool.