Index | Search | Home | Table of Contents

Jia, W., M. Witt, and . Strang. 1996. Growing and marketing Chinese vegetables in central Kentucky. p. 496-500. In: J. Janick (ed.), Progress in new crops. ASHS Press, Arlington, VA.

Growing and Marketing Chinese Vegetables in Central Kentucky*

Wenwei Jia, Mary Witt, and John Strang

  5. Table 1
  6. Table 2
  7. Table 3

In the last 30 years, Asian immigrants entering the United States increased rapidly. Chinese immigrants alone, including persons from Taiwan and Hong Kong, numbered more than 680,000 from 1960 to 1992. The 1994 Statistical Abstract of the United States reported total resident population of Asian and Pacific Islanders was 3.8 million in 1980 (1.56% of total U.S. population), 8.4 million in 1992 (3.2%), and is projected to be 11.0 million (4.4%) in 2000 (U.S. Bureau of Statistics 1994). Geographic distribution of Asians is 18.4% in the northeast, 10.6% in the midwest, 15.4% in the south, and 55.7% in western United States (Larckom 1991). Population is almost evenly distributed in the central city, urban, and rural areas. Asian population in Kentucky was 18,712 people in 1995 (Bureau of the Census 1990a). Lexington Kentucky has 1,149 Asian households (3,713 people) or 1.6% of the total Lexington population was Asian (Bureau of the Census 1990b). Lexington ranked sixth in the top ten U.S. cities for increased rate of international immigrants during 1994.

In China, the average vegetable consumption is 300 to 400 g per person per day (Li 1990) which is higher than any western European country or the U.S. Vegetables are basic to Chinese cooking and are found in some form in most dishes. Traditional Chinese cooking methods, such as steaming and stir-frying, are now widely adopted in the west. The use of Chinese vegetables is not limited to Chinese cuisine. Many are used for Oriental and European cooking and may be used as substitutes in, or tasty additions to American dishes.

In China, written record of cultivated vegetables were found 2500 years ago (Li 1990). For thousands of years, China has developed its vegetable industry and has become rich in vegetable resources. More than 170 species, including water, perennial, and wild vegetables are used in China today. Vegetables were also brought to China from all over the world during the last 2000 years. Breeding programs resulted in new vegetable forms and cultivars of vegetables grown for centuries, such as celtuce, Chinese broccoli, Chinese cucumbers, and Chinese melons. (Li 1990). Chinese cabbage, mustard greens, giant oriental radishes, and pak choi are now familiar to the U.S. market, but China has a treasure of lesser-known, delectable, and highly adaptable vegetables which may be easily grown all over the world (Li 1990; Larkcom 1991).

Chinese and Oriental cuisine are of great interest to Americans despite the fact that high quality, authentic fresh ingredients demanded by Chinese cooking are often unavailable. The market demand for specialty and gourmet vegetables continues to expand as more and more attention is given to vegetables by nutritionists, food editors, food suppliers, and restauranteurs. Many vegetables are rich in fiber, minerals, iron, calcium, and vitamins. Vegetables have always been used in China for their curing effects and to keep healthy (Gu, Chen 1989). It is trendy to eat vegetables, especially specialty vegetables, and people are ready for a change.

Data gathered for this experiment of growing Chinese and Oriental vegetables helped determine the feasibility of growing Oriental vegetables for people with interest in diverse vegetables. The research could help farmers in Kentucky grow a diversity of crops and supply new niche markets.


From 1990 to 1995, more than 69 cultivars (42 species) of Chinese vegetables (Table 1) were grown at three University of Kentucky and private farms around Lexington, a private farm in Waddy, Kentucky and in greenhouses of the University of Kentucky. Yield, quality, and growing methods were evaluated. Problems such as insects, diseases, and adaptation of these crops to the climate of Kentucky were evaluated. Taste tests of Chinese vegetables were done in the Department of Horticulture and Landscape Architecture at the University of Kentucky to evaluate preferences of non-Oriental people to Chinese vegetables. Samples of the products were sent to grocery stores, Lexington's farmer's market, and restaurants. Other retail methods included direct sales at three sites of large Chinese communities to investigate market opportunities and acceptable pricing. A survey of Chinese and Oriental vegetable prices was done in Lexington, New York, and Cincinnati.


Five years of growing and marketing experiments showed that napa, yard long beans, Chinese chives, cilantro, winter gourd, bitter gourd, hair gourd, Chinese eggplant, celtuce, and various greens were most popular among Chinese and Oriental people and gave good returns to the grower. Prices for Chinese vegetables sold in central Kentucky were higher than in Cincinnati or New York. Chinese eggplant, Chinese chives, yard long beans, pig ears, and Chinese radishes (daikon) were the most profitable crops on a per meter basis. Typical prices per kilo ranged from $4.00 to $6.00 for Chinese chives or $3.10 to $6.60 for yard long beans. If the produce was fresh and the same produce that was available in their homeland, orientals were willing to pay high prices.

Compared to Beijing, central Kentucky is cooler in spring, hotter in summer and warm longer in fall, making it suitable for growing most Chinese vegetables and especially good for cole crops and all kinds of Chinese radishes. Many vegetables in the cabbage family (Brassica chinensis, B. rapa var., B. oleracea) (Larkcom 1991) are staples in the Chinese and Oriental diet. In Beijing, these crops bolt in early summer and grow well only in early fall. Cold weather eliminates them by early Oct. most years. A short window for sowing seeds is typical in Beijing: 10 days around July 24th for daikon and 10 days around Aug. 8th for napa. However, in central Kentucky, Brassica crops and radishes can be grown and harvested almost the entire growing season except Aug. (Table 2). The continuous market supply is a decided advantage. Growing methods for the crops are very similar to cole crops presently grown in Kentucky.

Successive plantings during three growing seasons (spring, summer and fall) can bring good returns for farmers. Less land is required with successive plantings and many crops can be produced annually (Table 3). Several planting plans can be used, but rotation of crops in the same family is strongly recommended to reduce pest pressure.

As an example, pak choi could be direct seeded into the field on Mar. 10 or transplanted into the field on Mar. 21. By June 1, pak choi is harvested, and yard long beans and/or bitter gourd are planted in the same location. By Sept. 1, harvest of these two crops is completed, and pak choi, tai cai, and/or 'White Rat' daikon transplants are planted into the same location. Three complete cropping sequences can be realized on the same land area.

Taste tests of 15 cooked Chinese vegetables were conducted in 1991. Americans preferred five vegetables for color: beautiful heart radish, Chinese broccoli, taro, snow peas, and straw mushrooms. Americans preferred straw mushroom, snow peas, radish and Chinese chives for their flavor. Daikon radishes were popular in salads, cooking, and pickling recipes. Their crisp, tender, sweet, and juicy characteristics were among high marks given by the taste panel and were an added bonus for this crop.


A relatively small volume of each vegetable type is in demand at any one time or place, so this market can easily be saturated. To guard against market saturation, growers should develop a special niche--supply fresh, tender crops harvested at peak, package vegetables attractively, and choose a variety of clients and market mixes. Remember, Chinese vegetables are widely used by all Asians and many Americans.

Specialty vegetables can potentially yield very high returns per square meter. Therefore, they justify more intensive production methods and often require more exacting management.

Since they are often highly perishable, competition is still minimal from distant markets. Produce from California is a key to central Kentucky grocery store prices. Due to the flood in California in 1995, the prices of napa and pak choi were 50% higher for half a year. Kentucky climate gives growers an advantage to grow cole crops and radishes in late spring and early fall when there are no quality products from California.

Freshness of produce is the key to gaining the Chinese market. Without sophisticated post-harvest handling or packaging methods, limit your market radius to easy traveling distance (120 km, 200 miles) to help ensure the freshest specialty produce.

Most importantly, growers must identify specific markets, even before ordering seed. Whether the market is direct retail to consumers, a restaurant, or direct sales to neighborhoods dictates which crops will be grown and what special cultural or post-harvest practices will be required.


*Appreciation is extended to D. Slone, J. Pfeiffer, and D. Lowry, U.K. Horticultural Research Farm, for their professional assistance with field and greenhouse research and Drs. J. Buxton and R.G. Anderson for their support. Thanks to Stokes Seed Co., Johnny's Selected Seeds, Burpee Seed Co., Abbott & Cobb, Inc. and Institute of Vegetables & Flowers, CAAS, P.R. China for donations of seed to make this study possible.
Table 1. Chinese vegetable & herbs grown in central Kentucky, 1991to1995.

Common name Mandarin name Scientific name Parts used
Adzuki bean (red beans) Hong xiao dou Phaseolus angularis Seeds
Amaranthus Xian cai Amaranthus gangeticus Greens
Basella Luo Kui Basella rubra Greens
Bitter gourd Ku gua Momordica charantia Fruit
Bottle gourd Hu lu gua Lagenaria siceraria Fruit
Boxthorn Gou qi Lycium arbarum Fruit; young shoots
Broccoli (Chinese kale) Gai lan B. rapa var. alboglabra Greens; flower buds
Burdock Niu pang Arctium lappa Root
Celtuce (stem lettuce) Wo sun Lactuca sativa var. augustana Stem; greens
Chives (garlic chives) Jiu cai Allium tuberosum Greens; flowers; flower stems
Choy sum Cai xin B. chinensis var. parachinensis flower parts; greens
Choy sum (purple flowering pak choi) Hong cai tai B. rapa var. purpurea Flowers; greens
Chrysanthemum greens Tung hao Chrysanthemum coronarium Greens; flowers
Garlic Suan Allium sativum Cloves; flower stems; greens
Hairy melon (fuzzy gourd) Mao gua Benincasa hispida var. chieh-gua Fruit
Hyacinth beans (pig ears) Bian dou Lablab niger Fruit
Luffa, angled (Chinese okra) Si gua Luffa acutangula Fruit; dry fruit
Luffa, smooth Si gua Luffa cylindrica Fruit; dry fruit
Mibuna greens Ren shen cai B. rapa var. nipposinica Greens
Mizuna greens Shui cai B. rapa var. nipposinica Greens
Mung bean Lu dou Phaseolus aureus Seeds; sprouts
Mustard Jie cai B. juncea Greens; stem; root
Napa (headed Chinese cabbage) Da bai cai B. rapa var. pekinensis greens
Onion, oriental bunching Da cong Allium fistulosum Greens
Pak choi Bai cai B. rapa var. chinensis Greens
Pea shoots Dou miao Pisum sativum Sprouts
Pickling melon, oriental Yue gua Cucumis melo var. conomon Fruit
Pumpkin, Japanese Nan gua Cucurbita moschata Fruit
Radish (daikon) Luo bo Raphanus sativus Greens; root; sprouts
Soya bean Da dou Glycine max Young pods; dry seeds; sprouts
Tai cai (rosette pak choi) Wu ta cai B. chinensis var. rosularis Greens
Taro Yu Colocasia esculenta Tuber
Turnip Wu jing B. rapa var. rapifera Roots
Watercress Xi yang cai Nasturtium officinale Greens
Water spinach Kong xin cai Ipomoea aquatica Greens
Winter gourd Wax gourd Dong gwa Benincasa hispida Fruit
Yam, Chinese Shu yu Dioscorea batatas Tuber
Yard long bean Chang jiang dou Vigna sesquipedalis Fruit
Herbs and wild plants
Ginger Jiang Zingiber officinale Root
Lemon grass Xiang mao cao Cymbopogan citratus Greens
Sesame Zhi ma Sesamuum indicum Seeds
Shepherd's purse Ji cai Capsella bursa-pastoris Greens

Table 2. Schedule for sowing (s) and harvesting (h) Chinese cole crops and daikon radishes in Central Kentucky.

Date to sow and harvest
Spring Summer Fall Winter
Cultivars Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sept Oct Nov Dec
Daikon radishes
April Cross sz s h h h s s sy h h h
Summer Cross s s h h h s s sx h h h
New Jersey Cross s s sx h h h
White Rat s s s h h h s s s h h h
Luo Bo s s h h h s s h h h
Semi-long s s h h h s s s h h h
Beautiful Heart s s h h h
Brassica greens
Napa 50 days s s s h h s h h h
Bok choi s s s h h s h h h h
Lei choi s s s h h s s h h h h
Mei qing choi s s s h h s s h h h h
Shang hai choi s s s h h s s s h h h h
Tai cai s s s h s h s h s h s h h h h
Mustard greens s s s h h s h s h s h h h
Chinese broccoli s s s h s h s h s h s h s h h h
Flowering pak choi s s s h s h s h s h s h s h h h
zs = sow seeds; h = harvest crop
yAll napa and daikon radishes can be stored in winter for a continuous supply.
xSow in early September.

Table 3. Planting plan for successive cropping and interplanting in central Kentucky.

Spring Summer Fall Potential
income ($/m2)
Pak choi Yard long beans, bitter gourd Pak choi, tai cai or 'White Rat' daikon 35-55
Radishes (daikon) Bitter gourd or yard long beans 35-55
Cilantro or dill Cilantro Cilantro, pak choi, celtuce or dill 30-40
Chinese cabbage or Chinese broccoli Pig ears 50
Greens, radishes or garlic shoots Tomato, Amaranthus or chrysanthemum Chinese cabage, napa or radish (daikon) 30-40

Last update June 24, 1997 aw