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Balcony gardening becomes growing trend as lifestyle

By ZHAO YIMENG | CHINA DAILY | Updated: 2022-05-12 07:39

A resident in Beijing waters spring onions and lettuce grown on his balcony in April. [Photo/China Daily]

In a video posted by an online vegetable seed buyer, a couple and their three children portray vegetables in a skit they perform amid eggplant and tomato plants that they're cultivating in a mini-farm on their apartment's balcony.

The video was shared in a group chat of online store Marseed.

Growers in the group typically exchange tips and share the results of their balcony gardening efforts.

After the video garnered several likes from buyers in the group, the mother asked if she could get some new seeds for free because her children were becoming obsessed with growing vegetables at home.

A colorful balcony decorated with fresh vegetables and fruits may be turning into a common sight this year. In the first quarter, sales of vegetable seeds on Tmall doubled compared with the same period last year, according to a report on balcony gardening released by Alibaba, the popular e-commerce platform's parent company.

Last month, seed sales and products such as nutrient soil and gardening tools tripled from the level set in April of last year, the report said.

Shanghai, Beijing, and Guangdong province's Dongguan are among the top five cities for urban vegetable growers, who are mainly in their 20s and 30s. Coriander, chives, chili peppers and tomatoes are the most popular choices, it added.

Lu Zhipeng, who heads Tmall's flower department, said balcony gardening is now worth tens of billions of yuan. Enthusiasts can go the traditional route of planting seeds with soil and fertilizers, while others opt for automated growing machines.

"Even a novice can become an urban farmer, just by pushing a button," he said.

Han Yijun, director of the National Agriculture Research Center at China Agricultural University, said he used to grow watermelons and scallions on his balcony.

However, growing vegetables in balcony gardens is more than just an accomplishment, Han said. It is becoming a lifestyle trend, and one that requires suitable equipment that is easy to use.

Zhang Min, who is in her 20s, said she has harvested small tomatoes three times from her balcony garden in Beijing. Red peppers and coriander are regulars in her garden, and she adds them to her dishes when cooking.

She only spent several yuan for a seed package and dozens of yuan for soil and flowerpots to build a "farm "on her 6-square-meter balcony.

"I feel like young people growing vegetables on balconies is as popular as square dancing is for our parents' generation," Zhang said.

For children, balcony gardening is a way to enjoy nature amid lockdowns caused by the COVID-19 epidemic and it helps nurture their sense of responsibility.

Qin Huai, owner of Marseed, said most seed orders his store receives are from urban communities. Buyers are usually young mothers or white-collar workers like Zhang. "Customers prefer leafy vegetables and seeds that produce red fruit," he said.

The hobby also has great social value.

"We set up a group chat where growers can share their fruit and suggestions," Qin said. "A boy from Suzhou, Jiangsu province, shared photos of about 1,500 red fruits produced from the small tomato seed he planted on his balcony."

The high-quality seeds in Qin's store are mainly imported, but some come from local academies of agricultural sciences that want to test their taste, yield and other traits.

The Jiangsu Academy of Agricultural Sciences has been testing 40 tomato and 30 chili pepper varieties that are sold by Marseed. Twenty varieties sold by the store this spring were developed by the academy, Qin said.

Zhao Haiping, owner of a Tmall seed store, mainly sells fruit and vegetable seeds from Shouguang, a major vegetable growing area in Shandong province. Sweet corn and Japanese pumpkin seeds are his bestsellers.

"Young people are interested in growing vegetables and in buying better seeds on e-commerce platforms," Zhao said. "The quality and variety available in county seed stores are not up to the standards of modern agriculture."

Compared with seeds grown in actual fields, those grown in balcony gardens are greater in variety, easier to plant, wrapped in smaller packages and can adapt to the environment more easily, he said.

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