Chapter 434 - Greenhouses for Vegetables

Zhou Yang was extremely surprised at this turn of events and he didn’t know quite how to feel. However, in the end, he couldn’t bear to leave his position at the Imperial Plantation and took on this task of managing the fruit orchard. Furthermore, he did a very good job in doing so.

In the future, Yu Xiaocao’s fruit orchard encompassed the entire hill and the fruits from the orchard were sold all throughout the country. These fruits were famed and well-known among the people. Zhou Yang resigned from his position at the Imperial Plantation and became the head steward at the fruit orchard. His position and treatment there was two-fold higher than when he was at the plantation. In addition, the master even gave him five percent of the profits.

Five percent may not seem like a lot but most people were poor for their entire lives and had never seen as much money as this steward got in one year from bonuses. All of his previous coworkers at the Imperial Plantation envied him completely! Obviously, this was all in the future.

The stewards and officials at the Imperial Plantation finally settled down and started to earnestly do work. With someone also especially in charge of the fruit trees, Yu Xiaocao could focus her efforts on Royal Prince Yang’s new farmstead and their melon vines. Since they had planted watermelons at a later date than usual, she had the little divine stone shorten the sprouting phase by a third of the time. In any case, there weren’t a lot of people cultivating watermelons in the capital. Furthermore, she was on the only one in the capital using this special grafting method to raise them.

After the melon sprouts were grafted on the vines, she had Royal Prince Yang handpick some trusted servants and then taught the grafting method to them. These people were not the tenant farmers on the farmstead. Instead, they were all trusted servants from Imperial Prince Jing’s estate and their loyalty to their masters were a guarantee.

After all of the melon sprouts were grafted onto the gourd vines, they were transplanted into the melon fields. They were irrigated with mystic-stone water from the well, so they naturally grew very well. The people who had been snickering behind her back, claiming that she didn’t know the first thing about farming, now had nothing to say. They no longer had a leg to stand on. After all, Yu Xiaocao managed to finish the agricultural tasks assigned to her in a timely manner and also managed to transplant her own fruit trees and watermelon vines such that they were flourishing. They now had to admit that she was very skilled in the area. The emperor’s decision to give her the title of an agricultural official was truly a wise idea.

There were countless people in the capital who were keeping a close eye on the Imperial Plantation. After two months passed, the tenant farmers on the plantation, under the management of the stewards, began to harvest the corn like wildfire. Which of the tenant farmers who worked at the Imperial Plantation weren’t old hands at farming and harvesting? These people all had giant grins on their faces as they picked the plump ears of corn. They discussed amongst themselves just how good the harvest was this year.

Minister Liu came over early that morning to inspect the Imperial Plantation. When he saw the ears of corn that had been harvested, he smiled so broadly that all of his wrinkles became apparent. The size of the ears of corn were significantly larger than the previous years and each kernel seemed to be plump and bursting with juice. Compared to the harvest from last year, this year’s harvest was of an entirely different grade.

After one mu from the experimental fields was fully harvested, Minister Liu personally took some people along to impatiently weigh all of the ears of corn. Oh my! One mu had actually yielded around two thousand catties of grain! He had originally thought that last year’s a thousand catties per mu was considered a high-yield. However, compared to their giant harvest this year, last year’s numbers looked really too wretched. As expected, having Miss Yu take on the position of an official and being given responsibility of the Imperial Plantation was a very wise decision!

All of the officials who had been keeping a close eye on the situation at the Imperial Plantation could only shut their mouths now. The vast majority of court officials rejected the idea of having a tiny little lass become an official at the Ministry of Revenue. However, the emperor was adamant. Minister Liu and Royal Prince Yang also supported this plan, so they didn’t stubbornly fight this appointment and decided to wait and observe instead. 

If the harvest this year at the plantation was about the same as last year or even not as good, then they would have a leg to stand on to voice their objections. After all, the weather each year differed, which influenced the resulting harvest. This was the reason why there was this saying: ‘the common people depend on the heavens to eat’.    

This year, the weather conditions had not been very good. There wasn’t a lot of rain after summer started and even the deepest wells at the Imperial Plantation had water levels that were incredibly low. After autumn started, a few downpours of torrential rain also occurred. Thus, these unfavorable conditions naturally influenced the growth of the crops. In fact, the commoners who lived around the capital all had their grain harvests decreased by about a third or even more this year. They were so sure that the little lass was doomed.

Contrary to their expectations, the Imperial Plantation was not affected by the poor weather conditions. Instead, the yield of corn there actually went up. The officials that were sent by the Ministry of Revenue had tallied up the numbers and the numbers were incredibly shocking. The farmers who had bought corn seeds to plant in their own fields also got yields around a thousand catties per mu. As things were going, corn, as a true high-yielding crop, would soon be propagated throughout the northern parts of the country. It was likely that there would be many more farmers standing in line to buy corn seeds. The grain stores in the capital would likely explode with popularity then!

The numbers from the farmstead in Tanggu Town also came back to court. The Yu Family’s farmstead, which now had over a thousand mu in fields (Author’s note: Royal Prince Yang’s eight hundred mu farmstead had been given to Yu Xiaocao so now the land was naturally a part of the Yu Family’s farmstead), had produced over 1,800,000 catties of grain. In other words, their fields had also reached a yield of two thousand catties per mu. It was rumored that all of the villages in the vicinity had sent out representatives to negotiate with Yu Hai as they wanted to buy these corn seeds at a high price. If the Yu Family agreed to this trade, then the high-yielding crop corn would first be widely planted in the areas around Tanggu! 

Tanggu was the feudal lands of Royal Prince Yang, so they couldn’t let the royal prince monopolize the benefits of growing high-yielding crops alone. Consequently, for the next few sessions at court, there were lively debates about how to disseminate the high-yielding corn to areas around the capital and the process to do so.

The endless arguments at court didn’t have much to do with Yu Xiaocao, who was only a small sixth-level official. She, on the other hand, was currently busy making another fortune!

During the summer, Yu Xiaocao had planted a hundred mu with grafted watermelons at the farmstead next to the Imperial Plantation to test it out. These watermelons were now ripe and entering the market. From her rough estimations, she figured that this season they could harvest more than eight thousand catties of watermelons from the fields. Watermelon sprouts that had been grafted to gourd vines were more resistant to pests. In addition, the soil on these fields had some spiritual energy there, so this made the watermelons grow better. Furthermore, all of the people in charge of watermelons were very hardworking and did a good job in taking care of these plants.

When the first batch of watermelons was ripe, the other watermelons on the market had already disappeared. Once these large and extremely sweet melons hit the shops, they all sold out within moments. They were currently in the middle of the hot spell of autumn and being able to eat some sweet and cooling watermelon to quench one’s thirst was truly such a great feeling! 

In addition, the watermelons from Royal Prince Yang’s farmstead were not only larger than the other watermelons, but the inner rind was also fully bright red and didn’t have any of the depressing stripes of white in between. Thus, eating this watermelon was much more enjoyable. If these watermelons came onto the market during the summer, then those other watermelons would have been ignored completely. With large, sweet, and juicy watermelons to be had, who would still want to eat those small and not as tasty watermelons instead? 

One hundred mu of watermelons was not enough to provide enough melons for all of the rich and noble families in the capital. Whether it was for stately banquets, drinking parties, flower banquets, or dignified dinner parties, everyone would feel like the hosts were being too stingy if there wasn’t at least one plate of watermelon at the table. Gradually, the people who didn’t offer watermelon at their gatherings found out that their friends and acquaintances would find any excuse to decline their future invitations. Furthermore, their friends were also not as close and intimate with them anymore…

Yu Xiaocao was only able to be happy over the blazing watermelon sales for a few days before she became busy again. The Ministry of Works had finally finished working on the plastic film and incorporated her requests. Not only was the new product stronger and more flexible, but they also managed to improve its transparency. Thus, construction on the greenhouse pavilions for vegetable cultivation began at breakneck speed. 

There were people bustling around everywhere on the Imperial Plantation. Within the experimental fields, the corn stalks had all been chopped down and their roots needed to be pulled up one by one from the ground. The ground also needed to be plowed in preparation for the second crop. Yu Xiaocao was occupied with directing the people constructing the greenhouses while also overseeing the breeding of an improved wheat crop. Although she said she was breeding, in actuality, she only had the little divine stone transform into its golden kitten form and run around the grain storerooms a few times to let its spiritual energy settle into the seeds.

The construction of these greenhouse pavilions was also done by people from the Ministry of Works. Just the ceiling alone caused the workers to work very hard for a period of time. In terms of how to construct these greenhouses, Yu Xiaocao also only knew about half. She used the experience she had from her previous life, when she spent half a year working in a greenhouse, to come up with ideas and methods to properly build this. Thus, progress on these pavilions took quite a long time.

Furthermore, the technology for working with iron was much more primitive in this time period. Steel output was very low, so using a steel backbone for these greenhouses was out of the question. She could only use bamboo and wood as the building materials for the backbones of these structures. The thick plastic film was then put across the wooden structures. During the winter, they could use more layers of plastic to increase the insulation and keep it warmer inside.

By the time the farmers were done sowing the winter wheat, the greenhouse pavilions had also finished construction. This was her first year in trying this, so she only had them make enough to cover a hundred mu. The neighboring farmstead also had large pavilions set up on the fields. However, those greenhouses weren’t intended for growing vegetables. Instead, they were going to be used to grow some out of season watermelons and Hami melons.

What did people here lack the most in the winter? Obviously, it was a lack of access to fresh vegetables and fruits. During the winter, people either ate cabbages with radishes or radishes with cabbages. As for fruits, the only fruits available were the dried and shriveled up fruits stored from late autumn, such as apples and pears. In the past, even if you had money to spend, you still couldn’t buy fresh fruits. However, this winter was going to be completely different!

Once the greenhouse pavilions were done, Yu Xiaocao personally used her own money to hire some experienced vegetable farmers to look after the vegetables planted in the greenhouses. Green vegetables had a short growing cycle, especially the ones that were infused with spiritual energy. After the seeds were planted, they grew very quickly and were ready to harvest after about a month had passed.

As for the cucumbers, eggplants, green beans and tomatoes, they were being grown in special large greenhouse tents. They grew even faster than they did at the start of spring. The hired vegetable farmers all thought this was very odd. However, they thought that it was because the tents helped the vegetables grow. The awe and envy in their hearts grew and they began to wish that the court would start selling this plastic membrane to the public. In the future, wouldn’t they also be able to grow such vegetables too?

Every year when it was about time for frost to start in autumn, everyone had already made sure to stock up their cellars full with cabbages and radishes for the winter. They had to store enough to eat for an entire winter. The wealthy and noble families in the capital usually cut down on their banquets at this time of year because there wasn’t much variety of food to be served, so it made for a poor table for the guests.

However, this year was entirely different! The capital was loosely organized with the rich and wealthy in the eastern and western parts of the city and the poor in the northern and southern parts. Imperial Prince Jing’s estate had added five more fruit and vegetable shops in the eastern and western parts of the city. Usually, at the end of autumn and start of winter, these shops would either switch to selling other goods, such as dried goods and candied fruit, or they would shut down for the season. This was because there were no vegetables or fruit to be sold! However, this year, Prince Jing’s estate had actually opened a decent amount of vegetables and fruit stores.

The rich and wealthy instantly thought of the greenhouse pavilions that housed vegetables and melons on the prince’s farmlands. Then, all of the rich, powerful, and noble families turned their attention to the stores. Everyone knew that this year the prince’s estate didn’t plant that many vegetables and melons, so they didn’t know if these greenhouses could supply enough vegetables and fruits for the whole capital. 

Finally, these fruit and vegetable stores opened and satisfied these people’s expectations. The first day they opened, they were stocked with fresh green vegetables. There was fresh spinach, tender Indian lettuce, crispy celery, and lush and verdant romaine lettuce. In addition, they had shepherd’s purse, amaranth greens, malabar spinach, pea shoots, and a whole host of other leafy greens. These vegetables were all stacked high in the shops. The lush green color of the vegetables made people feel happy just looking at them and they all wished they could buy all of it home to eat.

The day the shops first opened, all of them exploded in popularity. Because there was a quota placed on these vegetables, limiting the amount each household could buy, these wealthy and rich families only started fighting. Luckily, Royal Prince Yang had experienced the immense popularity of the braised food store before and had the foresight to send bodyguards to keep order at all of these shops. That was the only reason why fist-fights didn’t break out around the shops.

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Myst's Thoughts

Sanguine’s Thoughts: Reading this makes me glad I live in an era where I can eat fresh vegetables all year long...for way cheaper than these nobles too.

Translator: Sanguine