Paul Robeson growers

joy_unspeakable(7NC)January 8, 2009

I need your help.

For the past three years I have attempted to grow Paul Robeson tomatoes. The first year we'll just chalk up to the fact that I did not know what I was doing. Second year, beautiful plants, but never set fruit. Last year, plants made it through the summer (not beautiful though), no fruit. I give a few plants to my aunt each year, and the second year hers put on a lot a fruit just before the first frost (we found out that Paul Robesons make really good fried green tomatoes).

I live in the piedmont of NC, just north of Charlotte. Some research that I've done says PR are well suited for cool climates. Should I try to plant them earlier? later? or are they just not going to grow well here? Looking for advice from someone with experience with these.

Thanks in advance!!

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Some tomato plants need a longer growing season, so the earlier that you can get them in the ground the better. If it is too cold when you put them in they will just sit and shiver though, meaning earlier isn't always better in certain climates or areas. Is this the only tomato variety that you grow? If you grow others, do they produce fruit for you? Does the PR have flower buds on it at any time or is it only producing leaves? I was thinking one of two things, either they need a longer growing season or they are getting to much nitrogen. Too much nitrogen will produce beautiful foliage, but no fruit. Since your aunt lives in the same state as you do and tomatoes produced for her, but didn't ripen; I would say it needs a longer growing season. For yours,I'm guessing too much nitrogen since fruiting is not happening for you at all....Lisa

    Bookmark   January 8, 2009 at 7:27PM
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I'm more of a novice in the tomato world, this will be my 6th tomato growing season and I can't give the great advice as others, but I've grown Paul for the past 3 years and I'll share my experiences. First, Paul likes it hot (this is from my chilly zone 5, it might be different for 8) and really needs good drainage with plenty of water to get a nice flavor and a good fruit set. If you don't have those things, you get a poor tasting and poor setting fruit. Paul also takes a while to set fruit. As for fertilizer, I always do the same thing and it seems to work. In the early spring, after I give my kids licence to dig tunnels in the garden, I put about a foot of compost on my garden. After the plants are put in, I side water with fish emulsion every two weeks until they firmly set fruit. After this, I find the weather has more to do with the amount and flavor of my fruit.

As a fun side note, a few years ago, I crossed (just seeing if I can do it) Paul with a Mortgage lifter. I didn't think it worked. But last year, I got a really neat combo of Mortgage Paul- it had some variations, so we'll see what comes of the seed this year.

    Bookmark   January 9, 2009 at 9:37AM
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Thank you both for your input.

lisa-regina: I did get some flowering one year, but no fruit (or very tiny fruit that never matured). I plant several other varieties in the same location and they do OK. I will add that I do seem to have more trouble with heirloom varieties in general. (But had a bumper crop of hybrid Parks 'Whopper' this year.)

Autumngal: I will do as you suggested. Maybe they just need more babying than other types. And I think a Mortgage Paul would be a really great tomato - let me know how that turns out.

I will say last year was my best year for tomatoes, ever. And it's because I found this forum early last year. (I even became quite the canner this year because of the GardenWeb). My tomato garden was probably a little sad compared to others standards, but my best for far. I've dabbled in gardening for years but last year was the first time I planted a 'serious' garden. I would really like to plant more heirloom varieties, but don't seem to have a lot of luck with them.

Thanks for the advice.

    Bookmark   January 9, 2009 at 10:10AM
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I live in Wilmington, NC and have grown Paul Robeson for 2 years now. It always produces well for me. I start my tomatoes 6 weeks before the last frost (which is March 17th here, but is probably in late April for the Charlotte area). Use a weak fertilizer when they are seedlings then don't fertilize again until after they bloom. Then use a balanceed fert. as to not give them too much nitrogen. Are your plants blooming, it could be a lack of sunlight, or too much nitrogen. Could you tell us more about the growing conditions of your garden?

    Bookmark   January 9, 2009 at 12:21PM
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Park's Whoppers are an early to mid-season tomato. Meaning it is earlier than most heirlooms. Maybe you should check the other varieties that you are growing to see if they are earlier producing tomatoes, that might clue you in to why they are producing ripe fruit and the RP's are not. Heirlooms shouldn't be harder to grow than any other hybrid tomato, but may not produce as well as a hybrid and may produce a little later as well. I have seen some heirloom tomato varieties take as long as 120 days to produce ripe fruit. Most are a lot earlier than that though. Most hybrids are bred for production, disease resistance and to arrive earlier. Just pay close attention to maturity days on the varieties that you put out every year, some may need to be started much earlier to give fruit in your climate. I would not give up on heirlooms though, look at the days of maturity of each heirloom and get an earlier producing one. There are tons out there!....Lisa

    Bookmark   January 9, 2009 at 8:54PM
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Thanks for the responses.

As for growing conditions of my garden - my garden gets full sun. Last year the soil was better amended than previous years. This year I plan to add more compost and to mulch with straw (was unable to mulch last year). As seedlings I usually water once or twice with MiracleGrow. Then in the garden I fertilize every 6 - 8 weeks at most. And at this moment I cannot recall the ratio of fertilizer that I use (whatever my landscaping husband bought for me) - so excess nitrogen may be the culprit. I also mix a little bone meal into the soil when planting. I had fruit set from all other tomatoes I planted and all were treated the same way.

I was mistaken on the Parks 'Whopper'. I grew Parks 'Jumbo' last year and they produced exceptionally well and taste was pretty good. As did Early Girl - early and very productive - but I won't plant them again, I'm sure I can find a better tasting early tomato. (Maybe Bloody Butcher). I also planted black cherry and yellow pear - both did very well. Then Big Beef, Beefsteak, Brandywine, and Roma - all low producers this year. The only heirlooms that did well for me were the Black Cherry and Yellow Pear. I just need more practice.

Thanks for the input

    Bookmark   January 10, 2009 at 9:43AM
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Paul Robeson is one of the useless varieties hyped by Laurel Garza/Laurel's Heirloom Tomato Plants and Gary Ibsen, owner of Carmel TomatoFest. Hyping varieties that serious seed/plant merchants would consider unsuitable for gardeners is an old trick to get you to buy this "outstanding" variety and with it place your order for other seeds or plants with them. No matter what others will tell you based on my experience of growing Paul Robeson a number of times under ideal situations you will always fail.

    Bookmark   January 10, 2009 at 1:41PM
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Aw, c'mon, tell 'em how you REALLY feel.

    Bookmark   January 10, 2009 at 5:18PM
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If you are adding compost, then you are probably getting all the nitrogen you need without having to add it to your plants when you put them in the ground. I don't care much for Miracle Grow personally. I don't fertilize with nitrogen at all since the manure and compost supplies plenty. I usually throw some greensand and bonemeal in the planting hole and then side dress again when I see the first fruit and then again two weeks later throughout the growing season. Potassium (Potash) helps your plants to produce fruit and resist diseases better. Bonemeal is a source of calcium and phosphorus(good root formation quickly to help combat plant shock after being put in the ground) Calcium provides thick stems and helps prevent blossom end rot. I have great production rate and juicy big tomatoes. You could try it for yourself and see if it helps. Also when your plants start to flower, mix some sugar water up and spray your plants, sit back and watch the bees pollinate your plants like crazy. Another good tip is to mix apple juice and water together 50/50 and spray on your unripe fruit at the end of the season, this will speed ripening so that you can harvest before it frosts and kills your plants....Lisa

    Bookmark   January 10, 2009 at 7:42PM
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I had very good luck with PRs this year. It was my first year growing it, and '08 was a terrible tomato year here in Northern CA. It was the first to ripen for me (out of about 50 varieties) and was still producing until the end of October when I pulled everything out. Yield was around 25 lbs of good sized fruit. Very good taste. Will grow again. I foliar-fed with Fox Farm and aspirin water. No other special treatment.

    Bookmark   January 11, 2009 at 2:43AM
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PR is one of my more fool-proof varieties, so I may not be of much help. Matter of fact I am picking PR now, I would probably choose it as my variety with the longest picking season.

One thing I can say that may be helpful is that our weather here is rather moderate, so I would suggest setting out plants early in cut-off plastic milk bottles or such to attempt to get to the flowering stage before your weather heats up.

Also you might try putting in a 2nd set of plants late, picking green fruit before the frost and allowing the tomatoes to ripen indoors.

Another thing you might try is holding an inexpensive electric toothbrush against the tops of the flowers, you should note a stream of pollen pouring out from the flower. Don't know if it will help pollenation at all in your case, but it's fun to do! Makes you feel like you are doing something instead of just standing by passively.

There is something to be said for not swimming upstream/not pushing against a rope. I do try a wide sample of tomato varieties, looking for those that perform well for me.
Interestingly, PR is one of my most dependables!

    Bookmark   January 11, 2009 at 11:25AM
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I don't know why a previous poster claims that Paul Robeson is worthless. I grew it for the first time last year and it was very productive and extremely tasty, so much so that I'm growing two this year. The photo below shows Matina and Robeson tomatoes that I harvested on July 19, 2008. The Robeson tomatoes were harvested from one plant that was not in an ideal spot, yet look at how many fruits I picked! So I say, "whatever.".

    Bookmark   January 12, 2009 at 8:22PM
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Paul Robeson is my favorite tomato! Sorry the previous poster thought that this was a useless variety.Paul robeson was picked a # 1 favorite at tomato fest in california recently. Some varieties do perform better in certain climates.

    Bookmark   January 12, 2009 at 10:05PM
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I live about 150 miles north of Tomatofest, so maybe it is a climate thing. Maybe the previous poster lives in a place where Robeson sucks. All I know is that I like the flavor of this tomato as much if not more than Brandywine. It's probably my favorite tomato too.

    Bookmark   January 13, 2009 at 1:16AM
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llaz(z6 ma)

I love this tomato. It's beautiful and delicious and very productive. My garden is coastal Massachusetts, north of Boston. I'm fortunate to have access to Vermont Compost Co. "Compost Plus". I put a few shovel's full in each hole at time of transplant and everything grows like crazy.I also grow Robson Angolan which is a slightly smaller version that is even more productive for me and maybe even better in taste. With one or two plants, I always have plenty to give away. Maybe just my personal taste, but I find the flavor better if they're picked when there is still a little green at the shoulders. (Hey, leave Laurel Garza alone!)

    Bookmark   January 13, 2009 at 8:27AM
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loagiehoagie(S.E. Michigan)

Joachim crawls out of his cave every few years to irritate somebody. He blasted me a few years back for saying how awful I thought Purple Calabash was! And yes, it is still one of the few 'spitters' I have ever grown along with Sugary. I guess he is the only one allowed to have an opinion.


    Bookmark   January 13, 2009 at 8:48AM
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I'm glad to see that there are many of you that have good luck growing Paul Robeson. I'm not ready to give up on it yet. I think it's a great tasting tomato (at least the one I tasted that got me started trying to grow the things in the first place). If nothing else, they make a really good fried green tomato :)

    Bookmark   January 13, 2009 at 9:48AM
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Pr is very early mid season 65-75 days to get fruit from transplant it is good in cooler weather so set it out as early as possible
good in most climates and is extra cold tolerant. These tomato plants need night temperatures consistently above 48º F.

    Bookmark   January 14, 2009 at 8:45PM
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My PR seeds didn't even germinate. It was my first and last try.

    Bookmark   March 7, 2011 at 9:48PM
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I had great luck! I adjusted ph with dolomitic lime and mixed compost, alfalfa, and bone meal. Plants grew big as I trenched them and added a banana peel under each plant layer in sideways.
Nice tomatoes this year, great yield. I purchased seeds from an organic seed supplier and planted seeds in soil blocks in the basement.
Love the taste!

    Bookmark   August 10, 2014 at 1:15PM
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Growing as I am in Toronto I may be the northernmost person to chime in here but I've always had good success with Paul Robeson's. \

Reasonably loose well composted soil.

Blood meal, Bone meal and Muriate of Potash plus a small amount of epsom salts and calcium phosphate to start the season. Jobe's organic tomato spikes as soon as the plants get to about 16 inches tall.

Drip irrigation set so that the plants get at least a small amount of water every 3 days,

I find I have to trim/prune the plants to keep them under control or they grow (VERY) tall and thin then fall over.

In a normal year they leave my basement around May 15 and have ripe fruit by mid/late July.

    Bookmark   August 10, 2014 at 2:15PM
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nugrdnnut(6a n-c WA)

My PR was one of my first dark tomatoes to produce... and the fruit was good. Not real productive (~12 fruit), but tastes good. The plant now looks like it is dwindling... more than any other of my tomato plants.

Cuostralee, Opalka, beefsteak and 1884 still going strong!

    Bookmark   August 12, 2014 at 1:20AM
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