Seeds in Space!

There was much excitement here at Veggie U HQ when we heard that astronauts aboard the International Space Station were harvesting a crop of red romaine lettuce grown in space. Our Veggie Adventurers grow the same red romaine lettuce in their classroom gardens.

Since we know how delicious fresh, earth-grown produce can be, we really appreciated the great lengths NASA went to design the VEG-01 (nicknamed Veggie) system to grow lettuce in space. 

The seeds germinated and grew in rooting “pillows” – chambers containing clay, fertilizer and water. The clay provides structure for the roots to spread out in zero G and holds water next to the roots. On Earth, gravity pulls water down toward the roots, but in space, it can ball up and float, leaving the roots dry. Light was provided by grow lights, just like Veggie U!

The variety of lettuce the astronauts grew was “Outredgeous.” We send a variety called “Red Salad Bowl,” but the taste is very similar. Your lettuce can be harvested about 28-35 days after germination. After 33 days of growth, they had salad in space!

“Outredgeous” red romain lettuce growing in a rooting pillow (photo, above) like the one sent into space.

You can watch the astronauts sample their harvest here!  

If you want to replicate the space experiment, only with sunlight and a little bit of help from our friend, gravity, try this fun project.

Materials Needed:
• Snack-size zip-lock bags
• Cotton balls soaked in water (one per bag)
• One pinch of lettuce seeds (use any extra red or green lettuce seeds for your Veggie U Garden!)
• Tape
• Window space on a window that gets some sun.

The cotton balls will be your “planting pillow”. Soak them in water and lightly squeeze out the excess moisture being careful not to compress the cotton.

The zip-lock bag will act as a greenhouse containing oxygen and water for the seeds to grow. Open the bag and place a water-soaked cotton ball in the bag.

Take a small pinch of lettuce seeds and sprinkle it loosely across the top of the ball. If any seeds drop into the bag try to adhere them to the cotton ball.

Blow a little air into the bag and seal it tightly.

Tape the zip-lock bag to a window. Lettuce seedlings should emerge in 6-7 days. They will grow very slowly, much more slowly than the lettuce growing under your Veggie U lights, because the cotton ball has no nutrients to sustain the tiny lettuce plants. But they are still fun to watch!

This is our 14-day-old “space lettuce” growing on our window here at Veggie U HQ.

Lettuce in cotton balls