How to recognize the symptoms of ETSSS

Carrollton, TX(Zone 8a)

It’s the time of year for those of us with Early-Tomato-Seed-Starter-Syndrome (ETSSS for short), to make sure we have ordered all of the seeds we plan on planting and have all of the necessary supplies on hand.

ETSSS is defined as the unstoppable need to start tomato seeds indoors under grow lights ridiculously early, like between December 15th and January 15th so that 1 to 2 foot tomato plants are ready to harden-off and plant outdoors around the 1st through 15th of February, 4 to 6 weeks before the average last frost date (here in zone 8a). I contracted ETSSS only this past year and although it goes into remission for several months, it’s symptoms return once seed company catalogs begin arriving in the mail and I get email reminders that “free shipping on seed orders lasts only until December 1”. Maybe someday there will be a vaccine for ETSSS but until that day comes, I will make sure I have a sufficient supply of tomato seeds, 2 inch peat pots, and Roots Organic starter medium so that I can begin looking forward to picking my first ripe tomato about mid-April.

Irving, TX(Zone 8a)

Yes I am also affected by ETSSS.
I am ready: I have all my seeds, Root Organics soil, pots and lights.
I will follow Thun's bio-dynamic calendar and plant from the afternoon of December 31st to January 3rd.
The goal will be to transplant out by the end of February.
I have been following this method for 4 years and I have been very successful on harvesting 3,5 months of tomatoes.
weeee I cannot wait

Look at my freezer !! I had so many tomatoes last year !!

tomatoes ... tomatoes .. tomatoes ... tomatoes ... tomatoes .. tomatoes ... tomatoes ... tomatoes .. tomatoes ... tomatoes ... tomatoes .. tomatoes ... tomatoes ... tomatoes .. tomatoes ... tomatoes ... tomatoes .. tomatoes ... tomatoes ... tomatoes .. tomatoes ... tomatoes ... tomatoes .. tomatoes ...

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SE Houston (Hobby), TX(Zone 9a)

Too late....I'm a gonner....

I started 10 tomato plants LAST NIGHT!!!

Alba, TX(Zone 8a)

Sigh! I try to resist!

Dearborn, MI

So when can a person with ETSSS from Dearborn, Mi (zone 5) start her seeds according to Thun's bio-dynamic calendar?

Carrollton, TX(Zone 8a)


I don’t know if I can help you since I did not buy Marie Thun’s book for 2013. I have the luxury of living in the same area as drthor, who lives by the Thun calendar, so I just watch for her post of when she is planting her tomato seeds and plant mine at the same time. I guess you could back up three months from the last average frost date in your area and look on the Thun calendar for the planting dates around that time. The three months allows two months (for some it only takes six weeks) to get the tomato plants up to a healthy 1 foot to 2 foot size indoors and then you are at least a month ahead of when “normal” people (those that don’t have ETSSS) are ready to plant their tomatoes outside. Of course you must be prepared to protect your plants from the cold by covering and uncovering them which can be a hassle. I consider this to be the price you pay for having early tomatoes.

SE Houston (Hobby), TX(Zone 9a)

I only let my tomatoes get 8"-10" before they go out for hardening off. Dr. C said it was easier on the tomato plant to get it out when it was smaller, 6"-8". I split the diff, because of the protection I'd need for smaller seedlings.

Speaking if which, drthor turned me on to the perforated plastic sheeting from Territorial Seeds. Once up, air, light, and rain can get to the seedlings. No taking it on and off. Plus, the wind can pass thru and not blow or tear the hoop down.


Chico, CA

Well - I guess the diagnosis fits - just sowed 36 seeds - another 150 to go next weekend. Just had to get the late maturing varieties planted. Planted 12 NevesAzorean Red, never tried it before, got the seeds and then read a suggestion to start 3 weeks before other varieties so got right to it!! I have it bad and this was the only 'drug' I could think of!!

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Chico, CA

Oh, and I already have the 'transplant' containers ready to go - 4 in all depending on when the garden will be workable.
I have already checked the seeds 4 times and they still have not sprouted!! I guess 4 hours is too SOON!!

This message was edited Jan 5, 2013 4:25 PM

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Carrollton, TX(Zone 8a)

I believe you are a little too anxious but that is another sympton of ETSSS. I only go in to look at my seed pots about three times a day. I planted tomato seeds on 1/1/13 and still no signs of germination even though I have the heating pad control set on 80 degrees. Maybe I should crank it up another 10 degrees.

Anderson, IN(Zone 6a)

EEEK !!! ETSSS !!! Wewh I needed that!!!!

RELIEF" 5 now 6 days old since seed
ahhh I got my fix!!!!

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Chico, CA

JUHUR7 - You lucky DOG!!!

I just went out and surveyed my yard for possible places for more raised beds, and I found some possibilities!! YIPEEEE

This message was edited Jan 5, 2013 5:53 PM

Carrollton, TX(Zone 8a)

I just checked my tomato seed pots and I’ve germinated about 8 of the 100 seeds I planted on 1/1/13. They are not looking so good and are real tiny , about 1/4 to 1/2 " tall, and spindly, but I can still see them with my naked eye. I have a plastic dome covering the tray holding the 50 pots and the ones that have germinated or not all in the same row of peat pots, five pots to the row all connected. I planted two seeds in each peat pot. So how do I get the seedlings in the pots separated and into a separate tray so I can get them under lights? “What a revolting development you’ve gotten us into this time, Ollie” as Abbott used to say to Costello (maybe it was the opposite way around). Now I realize that I should have planted in separate peat pots. Still I feel good about fathering tomato seedlings and I should be handing out cigars.

Richland, WA(Zone 7b)

hrp, just gently prick them out and put them in individual pots- (I use a toothpick to loosen the soil around them.) I use 5oz clear plastic cups from WalMart-punch 3 holes in the edge at the bottom with an old woodburning tool. Then keep the light barely above the leaves for strong plants. Don't feed them until they have 2 sets of real leaves-the baby roots can't handle fertilizer so soon. Keep them a bit hungry and they will put out more roots seeking food- make sense?

Carrollton, TX(Zone 8a)

I'm a little apprehensive about doing it but I will try four and five and see how they turn out. After all, what do I have to lose except a few tomato seedings and I still have time to replant if it doesn;t work out, right?.

Richland, WA(Zone 7b)

Right!~ nothing ventured----- that's the way I get my best education- try and hope for the best and prepare for the worst.

Saylorsburg, PA(Zone 6a)

Tomato seedlings can be quite forgiving but I would wait until they are at least an inch tall and the stalk looks sturdier. It doesn't hurt them to grow together for a while. Once they look a bit more robust start with Jo's idea of loosening the soil gently with the toothpick. Then use a small spoon or butter knife to gently scoop one out. Make a hole in the next container and drop the seedling into it. If they need to be separated then spoon them both out and carefully pull them apart holding the stem part just under the leaves or cotyledon. They should separate easily at that size. Good luck. I envy you being able to start tomatoes - here we are just dreaming and shivering!

This message was edited Jan 6, 2013 11:05 AM

SE Houston (Hobby), TX(Zone 9a)

I agree with waiting awhile before trying to separate them. I don't separate my multiples until they have at least two sets of true leaves.

And, only handle them by the leaves. Much too EZ to pinch and damage a stem, no matter how gentle you think you're being...

Richland, WA(Zone 7b)

I, too am in the group of envious people! I am preparing, but trying to fight the urge to sow, sow, sow!. Feb. 1st is really the soonest I should do anything more than dream- and read about all of you who are into it already. This year I plan to use some DE along with the usual soilless potting mixes I always use. I have a new bale of ProMix that I bought last year.

Liberty Hill, TX(Zone 8a)

Jo-what's the DE for? Just wondering...

Richland, WA(Zone 7b)

1lisac, there is a lot of talk concerning sowing seeds in DE instead of potting mix. I just did a search to find the forum but I guess I don't know how! Someone has been testing and says that seedlings grow better and no dampoff, etc- he shows photos that really look impressive. If someone can find the Forum, please do--- I am always interested in trying new things, so I plan to use some this year. It sells in auto parts stores as "Ultrasorb"_ I have a bag.

SE Houston (Hobby), TX(Zone 9a)

Just be careful with dumping the DE in your beds afterwards, because the sharp particles can harm your worms...

Richland, WA(Zone 7b)

GG, as I posted before, I don't plan to dump the DE into the garden, but I have read that DE does NOT harm earthworms-- I will find the info when I have more time and post it. When I first used DE I was concerned, so researched it at that time.

Anderson, IN(Zone 6a)

I put a spoonful or so of the DE , and the same of GREENSAND in with mine, We talked a bunch about it last fall.
I can't seem to find that thread either..
It does not bother the worms here.. Although worms do not like sand or rough particles as you know, Only that is another convo..

Salem, NY(Zone 4b)

If it's the ridiculously long thread about DE it's at Tomatoville. All sorts of suggestions about which kind of DE to use, and on and on, and different successes showing up already.

If I were starting my own seeds these days, which I'm not, I wouldn't use the wet paper towel method I wouldn't use this or that I'd use just darn good soilless mix with which I always had great luck.

My job these days is to find varieties new to all or most and then send the seeds to Craig L in Raleigh who grows my plants for me, and then seeds to now four different folks who do the seed production for me.

I spent most of the time this afternoon going thru my seed collection post 1996, I can't get to the earlier ones with my walker and no one else here to help me, for someone with an excellent seed site who is looking for some overlooked varieties that don't appear at Tania's site as being offered elsewhere, to trial this season.

About all that'sgrowing here are icicles that form in certain places from the roof overhang.LOL

Ok you southern folks, go ahead, start your tomatoes, and when the summer heat and humidity hit look to those north of you for some great tomato growing.LOL


Anderson, IN(Zone 6a)

I got into that DE conversation from looking for a bug deterrent that did not break down or wash away in the rain. Nothing is more disappointing than to see brand new plants chopped off at the ground by cutworms ,snails or crawling ,slithering visitors browsing for their salad.
Found out then ,that there was more to it than that.. That seems to happen often here.

Richland, WA(Zone 7b)

From what I gather after reading several sources, there is a difference between *food grade* and the absorbent DE- food grade is dust- the other is granules, ranging from quite fine to somewhat coarse. The dust is used as a pesticide-slugs, etc, but loses it's effectiveness when wet, so would not be practical for a garden that uses sprinklers. What I use to sprout seeds is the absorbant under the name of Ultrasorb sold in auto part stores. I plan to just sprout the seeds, then repot into potting mix, so there will not be much DE put into my garden to affect earthworms, if indeed it does.

Richland, WA(Zone 7b)

Carolyn, speaking of icicles, do you have any sugar maple trees? As a kid growing up in NH, I have fond memories of picking the icicles from the trees when the temps made the sap run- they were the sweetest thing!

Alba, TX(Zone 8a)

I've always used Jiffy Soilless Mix. I have a stockpile of the organic version I bought on sale at the end of last season . Since I try to get my seedlings hardened and planted out as soon as possible I don't worry about fertilizing them until they get planted out. I've been stating my own various varieties of seedlings for about 23 years now. Not to say I won't ever try anything new--I did try the Roots Own Organics (or whatever it is called). I felt I wasn't really getting my money's worth as the seedlings were transplanted outside so quickly. So I went back to the Jiffy Mix. For me it is economical and it works. I tried starting my seeds earlier than I normally would for a couple of years. I found that I had way too many flats of tomato seedlings, all vying for my attention. And the Corgies were trying to play with them. The less Corgie/indoor/greenhouse play time for my seedlings the better!

Yeah, I'm in the south now. But I'm still holding off on starting my tomatoes. My soil thermometer (Christmas gift) is in the ground. I'll wait until the soil temps get to be closer to where I want them to be for tomatoes. When I think I can get the seedlings planted out in a timely fashion and at the right soil temp, then I'll be off the races ☺. I'm really enjoying all the photos and advice, but I can't be the only one in zone 8b who is holding off a bit.

Liberty Hill, TX(Zone 8a)

I'm waiting too, but I'm zone 8a. I know my own microclimate too well to start this early. Plant out around here, for warm weather crops, usually starts around the middle of March. I don't have the time or the patience to keep covering and uncovering, besides if it's that cold it usually means the soil is too.

I do enjoy reading what everybody else is doing, it gives me ideas. : )

Alba, TX(Zone 8a)

Oh, wait--I'm still in zone 8a! Geeze! I take a week off work and don't know where I am anymore =~O

Anderson, IN(Zone 6a)

I agree terri.. One zone chart says 5 b , I register 6 b, some here say 6 a , and have plants that are here after years that are zone 7's
High and low,, which way to go.
Some days ,where am I at? I know the feeling!

SE Houston (Hobby), TX(Zone 9a)

I started flats of tomato seeds on DECEMBER 31, 2012...

To date, I've got 72 tomato seedlings under fluorescent lights as of Saturday, January 5th (5 days from sowing), and four trays of 48-cells that haven't popped yet. That's a potential of another 96 seedlings, if they all pop, since I planted two seeds per cell.

I'll divide them all when I pot up, after they get at least 1-2 sets of true leaves.

I haven't even sowed the bell pepper and eggplant seeds yet....

Oh, well....

This message was edited Jan 17, 2013 10:36 AM

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Irving, TX(Zone 8a)

I have started my tomato seedlings on the afternoon of December 31st.
Of the 32 varieties I planted, 31 germinated and they started to make true leaves.
I seeded each variety on a 4" pot using Root Organic soil. Soon I will pick the best seedlings and re-pot each one of them on a 4" pot.
Planting out date: February 24-26 or March 6-7.
So far so good.

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Richland, WA(Zone 7b)

Very pretty plants, drthor-

Irving, TX(Zone 8a)

I did post the same picture twice ... sorry

SE Houston (Hobby), TX(Zone 9a)

Very nice plants, Drthor!

Mine aren't as fat as yours are. I think it's your powerful T5 lights. I need my seedlings to hurry up so they can go out by mid-February.

Liberty Hill, TX(Zone 8a)

Linda have you noticed any difference in the seeds started in your recycled RO and your new RO? Just wondering if there will even be a difference.

SE Houston (Hobby), TX(Zone 9a)

Excellent question! And, yes, there is a difference!

Last season I had three batches of brassicas I experimented with. Some were started in recycled RO mixed with some recycled MG seed starting mix, and pine bark fines.

Another batch was started in half new RO and recycled pine bark fines.

And a couple were started in 100% RO.

I predicted the 100% group would grow faster, and they did, which is why I only started a few in 100%. It was still too hot for the brassicas to go out..

The brassicas in the 50% group did very nicely too, beefing up, but at a slower rate. I didn't have to feed either group #1 or #2 until much later in the Potting up phase.

Group #3 in the 100% recycled medium grew equally well, but slower, and I definitely had to feed this group more, early on.

Brassicas are heavy feeders, as it is, so I expected to have to feed them anyways. Since groups 1 & 2 had some new RO from the beginning, the seedlings got a good jump start from the beginning.

This season, I need the tomatoes to take off fast, for early plant out. So, I went 100% RO, but another factor is in play. See my post above to drthor.

Light strength is at issue here. Drthor uses powerful T5 lights, and I'm on my third round using this set of regular T12 shop lights. Everything else being relatively equal, I need to change out my bulbs. I'm still ok with the shop lights and T12s , but my lights aren't at full strength right now. ..

This message was edited Jan 12, 2013 9:53 AM

Irving, TX(Zone 8a)

It is a combination of 4 factors: lights, heating mat, moisture and good soil.
I started my seeds on top of the heating mat, under a tall plastic dome and with the lights on.
Since I planted different varieties it is important to have them under the lights already because they will all germinate a different time.
I kept the went on my plastic dome open during the day and close at night. In this way the seedlings will stay warm at night and moisture will form on around the wall of the dome.
As soon as they all germinated I did remove the plastic dome.

I plant directly my plants on the garden, so I don't re-use the Root Organic medium.
What has changed this year is the price of the RO ... ouch ...

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