In preparation for sending people to Mars in the 2030’s, NASA partnered with Florida Tech in Melbourne, FL to research how certain crops might grow in a simulated “Martian garden”. Earth’s soil contains nutrients and organics such as previous plant life, insects, worms, etc. Mars’s soil doesn’t have any of those. It is volcanic rock, and contains some toxic chemicals.
Studies are comparing plants growing in potting soil, and two simulated Martian soils, one with nutrients added and the other without. So far, experiments have shown that lettuce, for example, germinates about 2 or 3 days slower in the nutrient-added simulant. The lettuce tasted the same as the control but only half of the seeds were successful. The studies might also include radishes, Swiss chard, kale, Chinese cabbage, tomatoes, snow peas and dwarf peppers.
Prepackaged food will be available on the round trip which might last up to 2 ½ years, but having fresh food provides extra nutrition and will help boost the morale of the astronauts by providing a little piece of home (millions of miles away).