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A few hundred people are colonists on an erratically-supplied (temperate zone) "earthlike" planet. The company which put them there wanted to keep them alive and growing basic foodstuffs, in case it ever needs a base in that star system. But it doesn't have a pressing need for that base just now. There is no way to send the company a message, and no return ship available.

Basic technology was provided about fifty years ago but, without regular or predictable resupply, starvation is a constant threat. There has been one supply ship every 5 to 10 years since then. There are some chickens and feral pigs, and some horses.

Assuming the seeds are available, what foods should the colonists grow to stay alive?

Your help and advice much appreciated!

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    $\begingroup$ Anise, apples, apricots, asparagus, basil, beans, blackberries, buckwheat, cabbages, carrots, cassava, cauliflowers, cherries, chickpeas, cotton, cucumbers, dill, eggplants, flax, garlic, grapes, hazelnuts, hemp, leek, lentils, lettuce, lovage, maize, melons, millet, mustard, oats, olives, onions, parsley, peaches, peanuts, pears, peas, peppers, plums, potatoes, pumpkins, quinces, radishes, rapeseed, raspberries, rice, rye, sesame, sorghum, soy, spinach, strawberries, sugar beet, sugar cane, sunflower, tomatoes, turnips, walnuts, wheat, yams. And mushrooms. $\endgroup$ – AlexP Aug 2 '18 at 22:35
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    $\begingroup$ why were feral pigs sent? Makes more sense just to send normal farm animals, and why is starvation a constant threat? Temperate zone with even basic tech should yield plentiful food (assuming earth stuff will grow there) $\endgroup$ – Kilisi Aug 2 '18 at 23:28
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    $\begingroup$ @AlexP - you forgot Yeast, Garlic, Paprika, tomatoes, cilantro, and all the herbs used for medicine $\endgroup$ – Michael Kutz Aug 3 '18 at 0:00
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    $\begingroup$ Welcome to Worldbuilding.SE! We're glad you could join us! When you have a moment, please click here to learn more about our culture and take our tour. @AlexP's tongue-in-cheek comment is pointing out that your question is very broad and poorly defined. You've told us nothing about their initial supplies, the ecology of their base, hydrology, atmosphere, sunlight... If the base is temperate zone/earthlike, then you can easily look up what grows in such a zone. Why ask here? $\endgroup$ – JBH Aug 3 '18 at 0:22
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    $\begingroup$ @MichaelKutz: Garlic and tomatoes are on the list. Paprika is the Hungarian word for peppers (Capsicum), and peppers are on the list. And the list is long enough and varied enough as it is; the only omission which I regret is zucchini, for the Z. $\endgroup$ – AlexP Aug 3 '18 at 0:22
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Seeds are seeds. They'll grow whatever grows in the area they are in so you need to define what the weather is. Does it snow in winter? Are there droughts? Lots of storms?

Whatever climate you pick, just look for somewhere like it on Earth and see what they grow.

In reality, if they are space faring, there is a good chance that most of the food is processed algae grown in hydroponic tanks. It's extremely fast to produce. All the ships will be fitted with the tech to reprocess waste to make growing medium.

Any base would be kitted out with the same tech as it can produce enough basic food to keep everyone alive. That said, reprocessed algae would taste as exciting as it sounds so everyone would be trying to grow whatever they can to provide variety.

Where I disagree is the animals you listed. Pigs and horses are not likely to be transported. Chicken is fine but goats and sheep can also provide milk and fiber as well as meat. Rabbit and guinea pigs are small and breed fast so make excellent meat sources. If you wanted to be more exotic, insects are some of the most efficient producers of protein.

Basically the colony would be fitted with the same systems the ships use so think algae tanks, cricket farms, hydroponic greens and tomatoes and perhaps even aquaculture fish tanks. From there they would also have a seed bank and small farm animals (for ease of transportation)

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    $\begingroup$ Forgot to add bees. The colony would need pollinators and the honey would be welcome $\endgroup$ – Thorne Aug 3 '18 at 3:44
  • $\begingroup$ And along with the bees comes the rest of the ecosystem.... $\endgroup$ – JBH Aug 3 '18 at 3:46
  • $\begingroup$ I'm assuming the rest of the ecosystem was installed as part of the terraforming process. $\endgroup$ – Thorne Aug 3 '18 at 4:03
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    $\begingroup$ Frozen pig and horse embryos to be revivified and placed in artificial wombs. $\endgroup$ – RonJohn Aug 3 '18 at 4:35
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    $\begingroup$ Horses could be a possibility. They're good for transportation, pulling wagons and plots, and producing meat and milk for yogurt and cheese. If the company wants them completely self sufficient, horses will ensure they can survive and travel even if all the machines breakdown. A small herd, frozen or grown in artificial wombs would be an asset, that would quickly grow. $\endgroup$ – Dan Clarke Aug 3 '18 at 4:37
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Chickens and pigs are quite wasteful species in this context, as are mammals in general.

Your settlers should be cultivating crops to feed insects, probably locusts. Insects as a food source provide a higher nutritional content for the energy required to feed them, and can be farmed more intensively in a smaller space.

Assuming will have to bring or acquire the materials for everything that they place on that planet, a barn to raise traditional livestock is going to cost a lot to build (in materials, but also in fuel if you bring it with you, and time if you use local resources.) You will be waiting a long time for them to reach slaughter, and even longer for them to reproduce.

Insect eggs can be transported cheaply, and mature adults in the frying pan by the end of the month. Furthermore, insects are not unpleasant to eat - indeed, they are considered my many to be a delicacy.

Here is a BBC article exploring the United Nation's assertions on this topic. I found this section pertinent:

Insects are also "extremely efficient" in converting feed into edible meat. Crickets, for example, need 12 times less feed than cattle to produce the same amount of protein, according to the report.

Most insects are are likely to produce fewer environmentally harmful greenhouse gases than other livestock.

The ammonia emissions associated with insect-rearing are far lower than those linked to conventional livestock such as pigs, says the report.

My answer to your questions, then, would probably be Soy. As others have observed, soybeans in themselves are an excellent food source and a versatile resource in general. Feeding the plant to the locusts after harvesting the beans gives you a very efficient symbiosis.

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    $\begingroup$ It's a small base with an entire planet at their disposal, why would they worry about being a bit wasteful when they can eat nice food? $\endgroup$ – Separatrix Aug 3 '18 at 7:14
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    $\begingroup$ Because they will have to bring the materials for everything that they place on that planet. Your barn to raise traditional livestock is going to cost a lot to build (in materials, but also in fuel if you bring it with you, and time if you use local resources), and you will be waiting a long time for them to reach slaughter. Insect eggs can be transported cheaply, and mature adults in the frying pan by the end of the month. Furthermore, insects are not unpleasant to eat. $\endgroup$ – Inoutguttiwutts Aug 3 '18 at 7:41
  • $\begingroup$ It might be a good idea to add that line of reasoning to your answer. Comments can theoretically be deleted at any point for any reason - they are ephemeral. Questions and answers on the other hand have an extensive revision history that preserves whatever is written on the site. Even when an answer is "deleted" users with more than 10,000 reputation can see them for example. $\endgroup$ – Secespitus Aug 3 '18 at 8:01
  • $\begingroup$ Roger, skipper. $\endgroup$ – Inoutguttiwutts Aug 3 '18 at 8:16
  • $\begingroup$ "Your settlers should be cultivating crops to feed insects, probably locusts." Riiight. Really? And what happens when one pregnant female escapes? You might read up on why the seagull is the Utah state bird. $\endgroup$ – WhatRoughBeast Aug 3 '18 at 12:13
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I would hope they would have at these 2 plants minimum for their unique uses.

Soy Beans - used for crop rotation and food

Sugar Beets - TO MAKE SUGAR!

The most notable entries are Soy Beans and Sugar Beets. Soy beans are commonly used to rotate crops. The beans are picked but the plants left there to dry up and die. Then the soy plants are pulled and used for composting, something they should do to make better and better soil.

Sugar Beets are very valuable to have because of their ability to be used to create sugar a useful ingredient to have, period. Oh and they're beets.

Otherwise the most likely other foods would be something like this list, perhaps:

Potatoes - Historically a food source humans commonly use

Carrots - Has the potential for orange dye as well making it have additional value beyond food

Cucumbers - Are hardy and easy to grow for the starter gardener, with some varieties yielding large numbers of cucumbers

Various Beans - For a balanced diet in case of lack of meat

Peas - For a balanced diet, found all over earth so would make sense to be brought

Corn or Wheat - Has many uses and can be grown very close to each other, can be used as natural walls too

Various berries - As fruits or for jams, juice, or even adult beverages

Various Grapes - As fruit or for jams, for juice, or for even adult beverages

Anyway that's my thought on it, hope it helps.

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If we can't rely on algae cultures or whatever for food then having a range of crops that can withstand abiotic stress is a really good option. Assuming that the soil isn't toxic to the crops (e.g. Mars soil) and isn't full of heavy metals that would accumulate in the people who eat them. Here are a few considerations I think we should take:

  • Soil type - soil's a really valuable resource and it's composition is really important. If we're on a dead world then there would be no organic matter in there, in which case we're making amendments to stop our water and nutrients leaking. Charcoal is sometimes added to soil to help with this sort of issue, though to a far lesser extent. The implications of a dusty world in this scenario are dust storms and stuff like that which would be really problematic for all sorts of reasons. On the other hand if there's a lot of organic matter in the soil then maybe it's because the world isn't dead, in which case we should be thinking about protecting the crops from biotic stress (weeds, crop pathogens and herbivores). That's a nice segue into the next topic:

  • Pests! If the world is alive, or if we've bought some terrestrial organisms with us then we need to really think about this if there's going to be any sort of scale to the operation. Weeds might be volunteer crops from previous years, in which case we can probably control them with some herbicide application (we'd need a way to pull a spray boom over the field). If alien weeds and herbivores are as big a threat to our space crops they (terrestrial weeds and herbivores) are to Earth crops then we really need to control them so we don't starve. In this case, we'd be best off researching our new biosphere as best we can with our technology whilst its still operational. We'd need a really huge metagenomics project (and an understanding of how the genetics of this biosphere works) to predict key pests, vulnerabilities in their metabolic networks and the ability to predict their protein structures. That information would be used to screen pesticides for activity in silico (making and testing these proteins in the lab would be such a pain, because the normal go-to is to make proteins using E. coli as a host which probably wouldn't work with alien biochemistry). If this technology exists then our guys can probably make a medicine/bioactive compound for just about anything.

  • Nutritional Requirements! 50 people need a lot of food, year round. You can do some Watney maths to work out how much if you like but for sure you'll need a reserve of food to buffer bad harvests and stuff like that. So the crops would have to be energy rich and store well. The major staple crops of the world (wheat, maize, rice, soy, potatoes etc) are good examples. You also one that can be harvested easily so that the labour requirements are lower and the other guys can focus on other stuff. A combine would be a really valuable piece of equipment here.

  • Genetics! I really hope that the company haven't taken a stance against genetic modification and sent their employees to another planet with no infrastructure with traditionally bred crops. That's just endangering lives for no reason. If we're sending people to other planets then presumably genetic technology is coming on really nicely and we're already capable of some incredible genetic work to make all sorts of adjustments so that we could prevent global famine in the 2030s. If this is the case then we could probably adapt just about any crop to just about any condition (within reason). Genome assembly is becoming a thing, so maybe by the time these guys land they can generate any genetic stock they want based on templates of Earth life with any edits that they predict will be beneficial (e.g. adjusting their circadian rhythms to the seasons of the new planet). The bottleneck would be scaling up the genetic stocks from cell cultures, to full plants (1 season) to make seeds that can be stored easily and sown into soil.

Whether or not the technology I mentioned above exists, animals are sort of viable, because they can be transported as frozen eggs and gestated artificially. I've probably said enough for now, happy to answer any questions though. Good luck with the story!

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