Black tomatoes make a garden complete

These are prime examples of Paul Robeson tomatoes, a Russian heirloom named for the famous singer, actor and activist.

The deep flavor of a black tomato is not easy to describe. It’s earthy but intense, sweet and tangy, smoky and bright.

My first black tomato was a Black Krim that I bought at a garden club sale a few years ago. Now my garden wouldn’t be complete without several varieties of black tomatoes growing there.

This year in addition to Black Krim, I added black cherry tomatoes and Paul Robeson tomatoes to my garden. I ordered seeds from Tomato Growers Supply in February and started them in the basement in March.

The plants were ready to place in the garden in May, but I waited for the weather to settle down which it never really did, but I planted them the second weekend in June anyway.

If you’d like to learn more about Paul Robeson and his remarkable life, PBS has a bio of him as part of its American Masters series. He absolutely deserves to have a wonderful tomato named for him.

The tomato is somewhat like he was, complex, serious and a friend to all.

I’ve found the Robeson is easier to grow than other heirlooms I’ve tried. The plants produce nice bunches of fruit on tall vines.

The Paul Robeson is an indeterminate tomato that takes 75 days to mature. The tomatoes in the photo above were planted the first week of June in Pueblo. Because of the warmer weather there, these tomatoes matured faster and were ready to pick at the end of July. Unfortunately a hail storm hit just a few days later and took out the remaining crop. With luck, there may be more tomatoes from that garden before the end of the season.

These 2 tomatoes were handled with care and eaten raw, in sandwiches and in a bread salad called Panzanella.

I’ll keeping my fingers crossed that I’ll have some of my own black tomatoes, ripe and ready to eat in the next few weeks.


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We picked up some heirloom tomatos while visiting my hometown’s farmers market, one of which is the Paul Robeson. As a bass, the name caught my eye. I am feeding with Miracle Grow Tomato food and watering it, one of three container ‘maters on our deck. Paul is showing signs of wilt on one side, and I don’t know why. Very few blossoms, nearly 4 weeks after transplanting. Juliet we got locally, also a container and 2 weeks older, with 4 levels of young tomatos presenting, and is 4 ft tall, growing fast. Paul is only fifteen inches or so, one of the slowest growing. Stump of the World, likewise slow, has blossoms finally, Sprite has new tomatos, same age as Paul, but now easily twice his height. One non-heirloom, is now over 6 ft in late June and way higher than its cage, I will have to drape ove a nearby fence soon. What can I do for Paul? I don’t think it’s mites.

Hi Jason:

Thanks for dropping by to ask your tomato question–I appreciated hearing from you.

I wish I could tell you for certain what’s wrong with your Paul Robeson, but there are quite a few things that could be the problem. The one thing I know for sure is that growing heirlooms takes a little more work than growing hybrids that are bred to be more disease resistant.

Don’t give up. I’ve had some heirloom tomatoes that took all summer to get going and finally produced tomatoes while the weather was still warm in September.

I thought you might like to see this fact sheet from CSU extension. It has color photos of tomato problems that could help:

I’m glad you’re experimenting with heirlooms. Be sure to save some seeds for next year.


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