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Food

Plant F-ing: It's Never Too Late for Tomatoes!

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Photo by nicadlr via the LAist Featured Photos pool on Flickr


Photo by nicadlr via the LAist Featured Photos pool on Flickr
Plant F-ing is a new Ask LAist series about growing food and flora at home--especially for those renters who do not have access to the luxuries of a yard and only have windows and patios to work with. If you've got a question, please send it to editor[@]laist.com and our in-house garden guru, aka Hand of Gardener, will answer.

Everybody seems to be talking about all the tomatoes they're growing in their yards and on their balconies, and I'm starting to wonder if I can get in on the action. Is it too late in the season for me to start growing tomatoes on my balcony? What do I need to know, buy, and do--if it's not too late to join the party.

It's California. It's never too late for botox, a career comeback a la John Travolta or your dear Green Zebra tomatoes. Of course you should have planted back in MARCH. You missed your big chance to really have a little farm that is the envy of your ReadyMade crowd of friends, but you still have time.

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Why is it not too late? That answer is buried in the title of this column: Plant Effing. As to say - plants exist to make more plants. That's how they "think." It's their entire stage motivation. OF course I can hear west of the 405 saying, "plants exist to make oxygen" and that "they love the earth". Hell no, I say. You crazy. Like folks at ten minutes to last call, plants exist to pass on their genes - or at least make the attempt. Species without this trait tend not to linger around for us to get familiar with. Gardeners (that's what you want to be) manipulate their minions with a sound understanding of plant effing. And with that in mind you can go for it: put those tomatoes out in mid-August.

I would pick up a plant at the Hollywood Farmer's Market or at your mom & pop nursery. Armstrong still carries them as well, but your choices will be limited this time of year. Buy bigger, you are ready late (It's really, really too late to make a go of seeds}. Varieties like Taxi, Black Krim (any of the Russian heirlooms) and even a little gem called 'Grandpa's Cock's Plume' are a few of my suggestions. They are "determinate" varieties that will provide a short-burst yield as the calendar clock winds down on the year.

Take your late-comer orphan and drop it in a 5 gallon paint-bucket or as large as a container as you can fit. We have two solid months of heat and that will get these babies to grow. That same heat could cook your developing root zone, so go big.

Feeding? Your coffee habit will come in handy as it makes for wonderful, supplemental plant food. Throw the used ground on top along with the mulch. Tomatoes are heavy feeders so if you go organic... you'll likely be spending more on fertilizer than what the tomatoes would cost at Whole Foods. Really? Really. Your potting mix, if store bought, will likely be devoid of life. That's good and bad... no fungus, mildews or beneficials either. You may want to go worm hunting or begging at a community garden gate for some "worm starter mix" a la sourdough. I personally can't tell the difference between organic and "synthetic" fertilizers... vine ripe is vine ripe. You do what makes you feel best.

What will be the most limiting for your Caprese salad ambitions... lack of light. For tomatoes to really get into their fruiting cycle they need 8 hours of direct light. In two months that will be difficult as the laws of geophysics tilt us away from the sun. Tomatoes, in addition to acting like Frat Boys in Westwood, are solar powered. Really? Really. SO no sun mean less tomato. If, after 4-6 weeks you don't see flowers you might want to set up that "outdoor grow room" and give you would-be garden a little extra sun. It's ridiculous... but so is wanting to plant tomatoes in August.

Happy plant effing