Vegetable planting on balconies goes mainstream amid recent COVID-19 flare-ups in China
Published: May 04, 2022 07:02 PM
Potted tomatoes on a balcony Photo: VCG

Potted tomatoes on a balcony Photo: VCG

"If you are a novice, we suggest you try leeks, lettuce, spinach, cherry radish and other fast-growing species with short cycles. You can harvest in about half a month," a salesperson from e-commerce platform Taobao told the Global Times when asked about vegetable planting methods for residential balconies.

Together with the country's spring sowing activities steadily moving forward, vegetable planting on balconies has become a new fashion, as many people started planting hydroponic vegetables as a source of fun food during the recent wave of COVID-19 flare-ups, making it as a new lifestyle to relieve anxiety and relax themselves during  "agricultural work."

Dark horse
The sales of vegetable seeds have seen a continuous increase ever since the outbreak of COVID-19 in 2020, with the number of buyers on Taobao recording annual growth of more than 100 percent for three consecutive years, according to a company statement sent to the Global Times.

After investigation, the Global Times learned that 70 percent of the vegetable seeds buyers come from first- and second-tier cities, with Beijing, Shanghai, Suzhou and Guangzhou the most popular markets.

As a new wave of coronavirus hits Beijing, many residents rushed to the supermarkets to stock up on fresh vegetables. However, given fresh product has a limited storage life, many locals, including a Beijinger surnamed Wang, who lives in Chaoyang district, are thinking about how to make use of their balconies to grow fresh vegetables.

Wang told the Global Times that he found vegetable planting on apartment balconies has become popular during the two-year long epidemic. On social media platforms like Sina Weibo and Xiaohongshu, boys and girls from across China, and even famous actress Ada Choi Siu Fun have shared their vibrant vegetable garden on their balconies online.

Data showed that in the first quarter of 2022, sales of vegetable seeds on Taobao and Tmall platforms doubled compared to the same period last year.
A salesperson named Qin Huai from the platforms told the Global Times that demand for balcony vegetable gardening during the epidemic was so strong that his customer service team felt slightly "overwhelmed."

"In the first quarter of 2022, sales of vegetable seeds recorded a booming growth. In January, orders exceeded 100,000 and soared to nearly 300,000 in March," he added.

The Global Times learned from the Tmall and Taobao platforms that the sales of cilantro, leeks, watermelon, peppers, tomatoes and cherry radish seeds have increased more than 100 percent for three years in a row. Among them, tomato seeds have become the most popular products on social media platforms due to its short growing cycle of only 70 days.

Diao Weiping, a deputy director of the Institute of Vegetable Research at the Academy of Agricultural Sciences in East China's Jiangsu Province, told the Global Times that more and more people are becoming "urban farmers" during the epidemic, and he suggested trying leafy, fast-growing, reusable seeds like lettuce, hollow cabbage, leeks, green onions, ginger and garlic, as well as dwarf peppers and tomatoes.

"There is no doubt that the post-epidemic era has directly driven the willingness of urban people to grow vegetables on their balconies in order to store something to eat," Han Yijun, director from the Center for Agricultural Market Studies at China Agricultural University, told the Global Times. 

According to Ye Zhao, a flower industry leader on Tmall and Taobao, balcony vegetable planting is also a new way of life, enabling people to find inner comfort in the process of growing and harvesting. 

Han added that growing vegetables on the balcony is a very good way to relieve anxiety, a kind of horticultural therapy, which brings a kind of spiritual satisfaction. 

New industry
Together with the vegetable seeds, planting equipment is also hot on Taobao, such as organic nutrition soil, spades, shovels, hoes and watering pots. 

Data revealed that a large number of new farm tools have become hot products on Taobao during the first quarter, with the sales volume of twig binding machine and armyworm board increasing by 89 percent and 52.7 percent year-on-year, respectively.

Li Weipeng, a salesperson from Taobao, told the Global Times that intelligent vegetable planting machines as well as multifunctional planting pots are selling well among "urban farmers." Buyers can assemble a multi-layered mosaic of pots on their balcony area, just like building blocks.  

Ye said that urban farmers prefer seeds with a short cycle, disease resistance and a nice aesthetic. Moreover, the popularity of balcony planting has boosted sales of electric watering pots and automatic irrigation devices.

"Like field gardening, vegetable planting on balconies is also a system project, involving seeds, seedlings, fertilizers, pesticides, especially some equipment for hydroponic planting," Diao said, noting that he believed in the future, balcony vegetable planting will continue to tap into a broader market.