One of the easiest ways to connect with another culture is through food, and one of the best ways to connect with food is by growing your own vegetables. Gardening is also an excellent way to connect with your kids and teach them about the environment. By planting a traditional Chinese vegetables garden, you and your children will learn some new vocabulary, gardening skills, and explore some traditional ethnic dishes. Here is how to grow an easy Chinese vegetable garden, plus some ideas for each vegetable.
You don’t need a large garden to be successful. Let’s focus on a few very traditional Chinese vegetables that you can grow in raised beds or a compact porch garden in case you don’t have a place for a garden plot. If you do, by all means, apply these instructions to a traditional garden bed. In fact, in China raised vegetable beds (like you can see in the photo above) don’t become water logged, warm up earlier in the spring, and are easier to work in.
Step 1: Start Sweet Potato Slips
Six weeks before warm weather comes to stay (once there’s no chance of frost), halve two or three organic sweet potatoes. Place them in shallow bowls or other small containers of water, supported by toothpicks so they’re half submerged. Put them in a spot that receives plenty of sunlight. After two to three weeks, they should begin to put out roots below and shoots (slips) above. Wait until they’ve grown to around six inches and snip off the slips. Place them into a glass of water for another two weeks. That will give them time to develop roots. At that point, they’re ready for the garden.
Step 2: Source Your Seeds
Find and buy seeds for the vegetables you would like to try. Here are some common Chinese vegetables that are easy to grow:
- Chinese long beans
- Chinese green onions
- Asian eggplant (ping tung is a good variety)
- Snow peas
- Bok choi
- Daikon radishes
Chinese grocery stores will often have seed packets, and you can ask the checkout person how to say the name of the vegetable in Chinese, too. If you don’t have an Asian grocery nearby, look online to order. Start your eggplant seeds indoors in small pots at least eight weeks before you’re ready to plant them outdoors.
Step 3: Plant Your Garden
Plant sweet potato slips a few inches apart in the soil, covering the shoots so that only a couple of inches sticks out of the soil. Plant each type of seed in its own one- foot square quadrant. Make sure the long beans and snow peas have something to climb up.
Step 4: Water, Observe, Wait
Watch your garden every day to see how it’s growing and to make sure the soil isn’t too dry. Using a wire or wooden structure, or giving the plants a fence to grow up, you can help train your beans and peas to climb. Make sure that your plants are healthy and pest-free. If you’d like to try composting, it will give your Chinese vegetable garden an organic boost!
Step 5: Harvest and Cook!
As your veggies begin to grow and mature, you will want to try traditional recipes for them all. Here are some suggestions to get you started:
So grab the chopsticks and get ready to say “Bon Appetit”…or rather “Chī hǎo hē hǎo.”
Francesca Singer is a DIY enthusiast who is passionate about food and the outdoors. When not writing or wrangling a toddler, she can be found wielding power tools or working in the garden.