The first gardens for Martian colonists can start with plants that they grew in hydroponic containers on the spaceship that brought them from Earth. In a greenhouse attached to their habitat, the colonists tend strawberries, lettuce, carrots, spinach, tomatoes, herbs, cabbage, onions, radishes, and peppers throughout the year. After making sure the plants survive, they start seeds for other fruits and vegetables.

They need to supplement the garden’s yield with prepackaged meals until they can grow enough food to meet their nutritional needs.

Research on Earth provides information about how to grow plants in Martian soil and under low atmospheric pressure. If the colonists lower the pressure in their plastic-covered greenhouse, though, they need to wear full spacesuits with helmets while gardening.

The colonists spend a lot of time nurturing their garden because they have to depend on it for their long-term survival on Mars. It helps them keep in shape, too, and provides some of their oxygen.

Here’s an artist’s conception of what their greenhouse might look like, courtesy of NASA.