Her words are as precise and professional as hosts of agricultural TV programs. “Some plants blossom easily, while others are more difficult,” she explains. “You should pay special attention when watering seedlings. While some plants should be watered with tea, it’s better to use water used to wash rice for others. Remember to change the potting soil regularly. Add fresh mud from a pond when you do so.”
Li Chunyan, a 32-year-old white-collar worker, lives in Beijing. Like many urban residents, she leads the 9-to-5 life. Although most of her days are similar to millions of others, her balcony is singular. She fills the six-square-meter space with pots of radishes, ginger, chilis, and Chinese cabbage. Her farming hobby began accidentally. For a long time, her balcony sat unused until some words from her husband sparked a new idea. “What a shame that we leave such a nice space empty!” he remarked. “If we grew vegetables there, we could harvest enough for the whole family.”
Li started right away. “I found two discarded plastic containers, filled them with soil, and bought fertilizer and seeds,” she illustrates. She tried tomatoes first. Although the green seedlings delighted her very much, their growth quickly slowed and the stems began to wither. The rough start didn’t discourage Li, and she countered by reading farming books for instruction. Soon, she achieved her first harvest of plentiful chilis, chives, and cabbage. “Now I spend an average of 10 to 20 minutes on my vegetables daily.” Watering, fertilizing, weeding, and turning the soil became an indispensable part of her life. And even things she formerly considered waste, such as water melon rind and bean dregs, became organic fertilizer.
With easy-to-get soil and seeds, many urban Chinese are now growing vegetables at homes. To share their successes and failures, many document their farming progress on blogs, from seeding, sprouting, budding, and flowering, to harvest. Forums emerged where netizens could discuss vegetable planting.