In a recent experiment testing how well we can grow crops in space, researchers have accomplished to harvest 10 crops, counting tomatoes, peas, and rye, from soil that mimics the environments on Mars. Even though the Mars-equivalent soil grew marginally fewer crops than regular Earth soil, the variance wasn't huge, signifying that, in the right circumstances, early colonizers on Mars might be able to sustainably feed themselves with crops grown on Marian surface. So yeah we can safely say that the dream of a Martian colony just got a little bit closer.
The researchers also harvested the same 10 crops - tomato, rye, radish, pea, leek, spinach, garden rocket, cress, quinoa, and chives - in soil similar to Moon soil, and exhibited that these crops were about half as successful as Mars crops, with spinach in specifically struggling in the lunar environs.
"The production of biomass on the Mars soil simulant was lower than on Earth control, but it was a minor difference and caused by one of the trays that showed less growth," said lead researcher Wieger Wamelink from Wageningen University & Research centre in the Netherlands. "That was a real surprise to us. It shows that the Mars soil simulant has great potential when properly prepared and watered."
In order to find soil that's chemically similar to kind you'd find outside of Earth, researchers headed to some of the most punishing places on our planet. The soil mimicking Marian soil came from a volcano on Hawaii, while 'Moon' soil was collected in a desert in Arizona. These were then mixed with fresh cut grass in thin trays, which made it easier to water the crops. A control tray confined regular Earth potting compost.
One thing to mention here is that the results haven't been published, so we're presently taking Wageningen University's word for it (for the record, this is their second experiment on space crops, so it's not an unreliable word to take, but we're always wary until we see peer-reviewed findings).
You can learn more about this here.