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You're in a group of colonists, headed to your new home on Tau Ceti e. Due to some crazy accidents aboard the ship, the diverse flora that was brought aboard (for food during the journey and for agriculture at the colony) is at danger of being lost forever.

You have the opportunity to save three species of plants before the doom takes them all. Which plants do you save in order to best ensure the survival of the colony?

Things to note:

  • Of course there were plenty of vitamin supplements brought on board! Unfortunately, these will also mostly be lost in the accident :(
  • Once you get to base camp at Tau Ceti e, you can start thinking about bio-engineering GMO foods. The equipment to do that aboard the ship was also conveniently destroyed.
  • You have to survive for about 10 more years aboard the ship, and feed about 20,000 people. Assume that there are enough food stores to sustain this population until the three saved crops are completely cultivated and ready to harvest.
  • Edit 1: The colony on Tau Ceti e will mainly be in an arcology designed to imitate Earth ecology as close as possible.
  • Edit 2: Obviously, the immediate need for food is at the time of the accident. However, the colonists should also plan on how they can survive once they get to Tau Ceti e. Once they get about 2 years away from their destination, they can send a message back to Earth, at which time Earth will launch an unmanned supply ship to provide new seeds, equipment, etc. This can travel much faster than the colonists did, but they should still plan on living off the three crops for 10 years on the ship and a few years on the planet.
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  • $\begingroup$ Whatever will grow the fastest and provide the most mass of food on Tau Ceti? I don't think the question can be answered without details on climate, rainfall etc... $\endgroup$ – Mystra007 Aug 18 '15 at 17:33
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    $\begingroup$ Seth can you clarify whether you mean survival aboard the ship or on TCE? I can read your question either way and the answers to the two are very different. $\endgroup$ – James Aug 18 '15 at 17:52
  • $\begingroup$ @Mystra007 See edit 1 for clarification $\endgroup$ – Seth Aug 18 '15 at 18:11
  • $\begingroup$ @James See edit 2 for clarification $\endgroup$ – Seth Aug 18 '15 at 18:11
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Ignoring some of the more complex aspects this question contains (atmoshpere on TCe, etc.) corn and wheat are the most obvious things since they are high in protein and easy to grow. Potatoes are also a good choice since, although there "protein-to-labour" ratio is lower than corn and wheat, they contain many essential nutrients for human survival. Finally, soybean is a must due to its extremely high protein content and quality, ease of growing, and nitrogen fixing ability.

To directly answer the question, I would say the best crops to take are corn, potatoes, wheat, and soybean.

I see you said three things. In that case I would take only corn, potatoes, and soybean.

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Um, seeds can last for generations, and anything that can seriously damage a seed store would be dangerous to all the people on the ship as well. As such a bucket of seeds of each type of plant saved somewhere safe would go a long way to being able to generate any seed stock.

  • You have to survive for about 10 more years aboard the ship, and feed about 20,000 people. Assume that there are enough food stores to sustain this population until the three saved crops are completely cultivated and ready to harvest.

Most crops are planted and can be harvested in 3 months and if the crops are not needed for immediate consumption, the entire harvest can be turned into seed stock for the next growing season allowing for a much larger store.

Now if they are growing these on the planet, while they live in the ship, they likely would have two growing seasons, north and south, to double their production output in a single year.

If the question is for taking the time to get food plants to grow on the planet, that is big difficult issue independent of the available plant stock.

However, the plants that would likely be the most useful to ensure a large starting stock would be (IMO), Potatoes, since they are easy to grow, and have many of our needed nutrients in one plant, Clover, because it is both a nitrogen fixing plant (to help reduce the need for fertilizers and also is a very nutritious for the livestock brought along, is fast growing and easy to grow. Final would be a grain, I would lean toward wheat or oats, but the actual conditions on the planet might favor a different one.

As said a small bucket of seed (or even a handful) could go a long way in saving the species for the long haul, though maybe not enough for the first decade or so.

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  • $\begingroup$ I think you're reading too much into that bullet point. All I'm saying is that they have 10 more years on the ship. They have to grow new food. They have enough food stored to feed themselves until the new food is ready to harvest, which as you've stated is about 3 months. At which point they have to start eating only the 3 things they've planted. $\endgroup$ – Seth Aug 18 '15 at 18:15
  • $\begingroup$ @Seth made some changes. $\endgroup$ – bowlturner Aug 18 '15 at 18:21

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