Balcony Farm in Kunming Project

2011-12-01
Partner: Lao Wang
Collaborated Project: Balcony Farm in Kunming Project
Project blog: Times in the Small Farm:http://cityfarming.blog.163.com/

By: Lao Wang

Times on a small vegetable farm

Time flies and it’s already the time of seasonal changes at the rooftop vegetable farm. The summer’s labour has not been squandered. The farm has harvested cucumber, water spinach, tree fungus, garland chrysanthemum, parsley, mint and bai cai. The volume of produce isn’t great, but every harvest brings happiness. I’m now a bit more tanned than three months ago. This is probably the colour of someone who labours under the sun of the plateau!

A return to village life through the rooftop farm

Since 15 May we’ve been building the small farm on our rooftop, bit by bit, while I began my voyage to learn about vegetables. Though I grew up in a rural area and wasn’t unfamiliar with nature, I’d never grown vegetables all my life. Having gone through “urbanization” on a personal level and become an urban white-collar worker, my knowledge of vegetables was restricted to those on the dining table or in the supermarket. It was only when I was more conscious about environmental and food safety issues that I took the initiative to absorb all sorts of information. I was also very much drawn to balcony farming as an interesting and low-carbon lifestyle. Because of this the Balcony Farm Project, a project carried out in Kunming in collaboration with PCD, was successfully launched.

I’ve learnt a lot from growing vegetables. It’s an everyday delight for me. I remember the first time I noticed the sprouts of bai cai (the first vegetable our balcony farm grew) when it broke out of the soil. It was a pleasant image of life. Parsley has a special meaning for me too—the first plant whose life history I witnessed—their generation and multiplication through the process of “seed–leaves growing–flowering–seed formation”. Starting from zero, I was amazed even at the varying shapes of seeds of different vegetables. The seeds are so small and yet they grow audaciously into such huge green vegetables and gourds. How much effort must the farmers and the plants themselves put in?

Rewards incommensurate with sweat spilled

From the three months’ practice in farming, I’ve learnt that even though harvest brings satisfaction and joy, it’s not a guaranteed result. Whether one is farming in a field or on a balcony, the harvest is affected by all sorts of uncertain conditions. I’ve been distressed by the failure to harvest Chinese celery and chives, the sick-looking lettuce, and the fact that insects and birds ate some of the vegetables. A rare and sudden rain storm one night in early summer also gave me a restless night as I worried about the frail vegetables (they proved to be very robust). Farming is physical labour and the reward is often incommensurate with the sweat you spill. You can thus imagine the hardships of farmers. “If you’ve ever worked the land, you’ll realize vegetables are not expensive at all,” a friend with farming experience once said.

The small farm is undoubtedly a classroom on nature. As I simultaneously work and observe in the farm, the knowledge I’ve gained earlier is slowly transformed into a kind of energy just like the process of photosynthesis in plants. Green vegetables, gourds, weeds, insects and birds, soil and weather etc. are changing all the time. We could never gain all the knowledge about cultivation and nature in a lifetime. Actually the greater your depth of knowledge, the more you feel your insignificance and ignorance. Perhaps this is why growing vegetables at home is appealing! Let’s hope more people discover and enjoy the pleasure of growing vegetables at home.

A love that takes time to build

As I move between my house and the small farm everyday, days pass by, hurriedly yet slowly. Whilst waiting impatiently for the vegetables to grow tall and big, I’ll suddenly be attacked by a melancholy as I realise their life is soon going to end. The day after the Autumn Solstice I sowed new seeds in the field for vegetables. A few days later, the sprouts of chilli, wood fungus, shandong, water spinach, cucumber, black beans and green soy beans were all scrambling upwards towards the sky of hope…

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A corner of the rooftop farm.
Many types of vegetable can be grown in the rooftop garden
A picture of the rooftop farm painted by hand. (Drawing by Quan Haiyan)
The rooftop farm has taken shape. White calabash flowers and yellow cucumber flowers are blooming with their vines intertwined. The tall scaffolds in the construction site not far away look threatening, but the tendrils of calabash and cucumber hold tight to whatever they can, and reach out to the sky.

Marigold can stay in water for few days without withering.

Aromatic marigold

Onion can be grown in obsolete plastic containers