'My little farm in the city'

Updated: 2012-09-19 08:08

By He Na (China Daily)

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Li Hongwen works for an IT company in Sanyuanqiao in the center of Beijing, but he lives in the suburban district of Shunyi. Every day the round trip between home and office takes at least three hours.

The daily journey means Li is perpetually tired and is usually inclined to fall into bed as soon as he gets home. However, he does two things instead. First, he greets and hugs his 6-month-old son, and then he goes to the balcony to check the progress of his carefully planted vegetables. He is currently cultivating more than 20 varieties.

Li's top-floor apartment features a large open balcony. He said he has always longed to be a farmer, but that's a forlorn hope in the middle of the city.

"The balcony is my compensation. It's my little farm in the city, even if the yield is not enough for daily consumption," said the 31- year-old Hunan native.

He began planting vegetables in 2011. Such was his enthusiasm that his father-in-law showed support by driving from faraway Shanxi province to deliver four large bathtubs that Li uses as his growing space.

"I got more than 500 kilograms of soil from the suburbs. It was really hard to choose from so many seed varieties, so I bought about 40 different types.

Friends suggested that I should focus on a few highly productive varieties so the plants would provide enough food for the family. It was a hard decision and there are still more than 20 varieties I haven't yet planted.

"You don't often cherish the vegetables you buy at the market, but growing them myself makes me slightly reluctant to pick or eat them. We even eat the roots of our homegrown coriander. We usually pick some on the weekend and use them in salads, which are always devoured in record time," he said.

Watering the plants takes an hour every couple of days, but Li doesn't mind: "I don't see it as work, instead I just enjoy the process. Through planting, I have learned a lot about plants and their quirks. My planting skills have improved and my knowledge has grown," he said.

"To see the seeds sprouting and growing gradually and then eating them is an amazing experience. The ones I grow are very tasty.

"I often use the vegetables to make juice for my son. Watching him happily drinking the juice is the best reward for the work. I think people just enjoy planting vegetables on their balconies, but food safety is a major incentive too. Protecting my son's health is my top responsibility," he said.

Li has made many friends through his hobby and allows visitors to take a bowl of plants they leave.

Under the username Lehuoxiaolige, or Happy Life Li, he has many fans on Sina Weibo, a micro blog service, and has become popular in vegetable-planting circles.