My goodness it was good to see and meet everyone at the All Hands Gathering! Each site has something interesting going on – we admired and were a teeny bit jealous of some sites’ value-added items, other sites’ leveraged resources, and others’ educational programs and market abilities! It is pretty wonderful that everyone has a unique program, yet we all benefit from each others’ knowledge.

In January, we combined our new knowledge from the fall High Tunnel Workshop with our tomato-starting technique, and they are coming along nicely.

They’ll be more than ready for a mid-march planting in the high tunnel. We have a method for starting that decreases the need for fertilizing and provide for a more extensive root system. We start in milk gallon-jugs cut in half (They will be about 5 inches tall.) and filled with only about 2 inches of soil or pasteurized compost. One seed in each corner and one in the center.

We do use heating mats if the place they are being started is less than 75 degrees or so. Then we do all of the usual things – keep a little air moving to keep the chance of fungus down, brush our hands over the seedlings to build a strong stem, keep them close to a grow light for at least 12 hours a day, watering enough – but not too much. Once they are a few inches tall with at least two pretty well-formed true leaves, we add an inch or so of pasteurized compost. This gives the seedlings added nutrients and allows them to develop roots from the stem that was just buried. WARNING: Tomatoes are the only crop that tolerates this!!!! Covering the stems of other plants with soil will kill them! This is why we plant tomatoes deep in the garden – to encourage root growth from the buried stem.

After the tomatoes gain a few more inches, we add a few more inches of compost – which is more nutrients and encourages even more root growth. By the time we are ready to plant in the garden or high tunnel, the soil level is pretty much even with the edge of the container, the tomatoes have roots at least 5 inches deep, and thick, strong stems.
These are tomatoes about 3 weeks ago, ready for 2 more inches of compost!

We’ll start new tomatoes for our participants’ outdoor gardens next week! Although this sounds like we have it all figured out, here’s our list of challenges overcome this year: Started seedlings at my house because the office is too cold, went on vacation, took seedlings to the director’s house, discovered tips of seedlings in three jugs missing – mice!, moved to greenhouse before giving them much exposure to daylight – they bleached a little, and this morning, spilled two jugs in a fit of pure clumsiness – broke the stems of a few. Despite all of our efforts, the survivors look strong.

Although we have a lot to learn when it comes to marketing and value-added items, we do know our mushrooms at ASPI, so here is something we can offer our Grow Appalachia family:
Mushroom Cultivation Workshop
Monday, March 21st 6:00 – 8:00 p.m.
50 Lair Street, Mt. Vernon, KY
Please RSVP so we can have enough materials ready – 606-256-0077 or on-line at
GA Family = $5.00 and take home a log that you inoculate
General Public = $10.00 and take home a log that you innoculate

You can get an update of our workshops on Facebook – Appalachia – Science in the Public Interest. We’d love to learn what other folks are doing, too – please share your education classes, and we’ll get them out to our participants!