If you arrive at a distant planet you mean to colonise, without enough food for the long term - just maybe a couple of plants and a bunch of seeds and enough food in storage to keep you going for the time being, could you develop that into a farm to feed a large population over time using hydroponics, or any other real / theoretical / hypothetical methods?

(How large doesn't matter, it's the possibility of expansion that I'm asking about)

The planet doesn't have much in the way of organic material or soil, it's a rocky and icy wasteland (It does have water and oxygen).

If not, what is the minimum of other basic chemicals / elements that could hopefully be extracted from the planet that would be required?

  • $\begingroup$ yes it is possible, look for "aquaponics systems" lot of videos - basically you need some kind of rocks-sand-expanded shells-mineral fiber and basic chemistry and energy $\endgroup$
    – MolbOrg
    Nov 5, 2016 at 2:17

3 Answers 3



That's what farming is: you start from seeds, and grow food. Here's the catch though:

You need to provide the growing plants with the minerals, nutrients, and energy they need to live, grow, and thrive.

Let's say you brought some fertilizer with you to get you started. You can manufacture more from your own waste, as well as left over plant matter, etc.

You also need to "feed" the plants with sunlight. You'll have to either generate that light using your ship's generator, and special lamps, or you'll need to get your power from some other source.

By the way, your premise of a cold world without water is not a good target for colonization. Hydrogen and oxygen are actually fairly easy to find in some form or another in the universe, so you'll be able to create your own water, but that's horribly expensive, energy wise. If you don't have a means of generating water at the very least, then that's not a planet you'll be growing "large population over time using hydroponics" on.

  • $\begingroup$ I thought burning hydrogen produces energy? $\endgroup$
    – JDługosz
    Nov 4, 2016 at 13:32
  • $\begingroup$ I said it does have water... $\endgroup$
    – komodosp
    Nov 4, 2016 at 14:57
  • $\begingroup$ @JDługosz only if you don't have to extract them from other chemical compounds. If you do, net effect is usually energy consuming. $\endgroup$
    – Mołot
    Nov 4, 2016 at 16:11

Hydroponic plant needs are pretty basic, they are listed here Your requirements are also very similar to an indoor pot growhouse.

But to summarize, you have ice, so, assuming you have lots of power, you can melt it for water and split it for oxygen (to keep your colonists alive until you get enough plants to do it). But what you are missing is NITROGEN, along with some other elements like phosphorus, potassium, calcium, magnesium, and sulfur. Presumably these are readily available on a rocky planet, or locked into the ice. If the atmosphere of the planet is mostly nitrogen then you can pull it straight from the air. If the planet...

  • is in the goldilocks zone of its star
  • has a magnetic field
  • has an atmosphere not lethal to plants

...then all you really need is to start creating biologically active soil and your plants are good to go. The transition from hydroponics to greenhouses to open crops will take time but is pretty simple. Pollination will have to be done by hand until you can develop an ecosystem with insects.


The fastest way of getting many plant from a very small selection of seeds is in vitro growth. You take small parts (1cm x 1mm x 1mm is plenty) of an existing plant and grow new plants out of it in a test tube with artificial lighting, a nutrient substrate and controlled temperature (these plants are small). When you have enough plant you can plant them outside and the next generation will be the real plants again. The nutrient substrate can be taken with you in pulver form and be made from starch. I saw some in vitro potatoes not to long ago and the visited company could replicate thousands of potatos from one plant in just one year. (ready to be harvested in under 2 years).


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