Saturday Spotlight: Vinson Watts Tomato

This is the latest in a series of posts that I’ve done about my favorite varieties of fruits, vegetables and herbs we grow at Happy Acres. To see my other Spotlights, and those from other garden bloggers, visit the Variety Spotlights page.

Fifty two years is a long time to work on one project. In the last fifty two years I’ve done countless things countless different times, but I have never stayed on one project for that long. Fortunately for the gardening world, Mr Vinson Watts from Kentucky did just that. He devoted fifty two years of his life to growing and improving upon one tomato, the one that bears his name and is today grown by tomato lovers like me everywhere. It all makes for a fascinating story too.

slices of Vinson Watts tomato

slices of Vinson Watts tomato

Back in the 1950s, Vinson Watts got seeds of a family heirloom tomato from his boss at Berea College, a man named Charlie Evans. Vinson and Charlie were both avid gardeners and often talked about their backyard tomato crops. Evans was originally from Virginia, and his family had grown this one special tomato there for years. Evans was ready to branch out and try some other varieties though, and asked Watts if he would grow the family’s tomato, save seeds from it, and keep the strain pure. Vinson agreed to the request, and from 1956 until his death in 2008 he grew only that variety of tomato in his own garden.

trio of Vinson Watts tomatoes

trio of Vinson Watts tomatoes

Vinson took it upon himself to improve the tomato in the process. Every year he selected the best ones for disease resistance, flavor, size and productivity.  By saving the seeds from his best selections every year, he gradually improved upon the original. And he shared the seeds with friends and neighbors. Even though he continued to grow just the one tomato variety in his own garden, he did ‘borrow’ garden space so he could grow other tomato varieties himself.

the inside of a red ripe Vinson Watts tomato

the inside of a red ripe Vinson Watts tomato

The Vinson Watts tomato was first offered commercially in 2006 by Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, and is now available from several sources. I got my seeds from fellow blogger Lynn (Wood Ridge Homestead), who thought it would be a great tomato for me to try. In 2011 she blogged about her experiences growing this heirloom tomato with “Vinson Watts: My BFF“. That was the first time I ever heard about this variety, and I want to thank Lynn again for sharing seeds with me, and for introducing me to this wonderful tomato.

Italian eggplants with Vinson Watts tomatoes

Italian eggplants with Vinson Watts tomatoes

This is my third year growing the Vinson Watts tomato. In that time, it has proven to be a tasty and reliable performer. The large, deep pink beefsteak tomatoes are meaty, red fleshed, and have a fairly small number of seeds. The indeterminate vines are vigorous, and I have not had any problems with disease. Of course taste is always subjective, but I find the Vinson Watts tomatoes to have a fine balance of acid and sweet taste. While the tomatoes can reach one pound in size, mine typically average in the 8 to 12 ounce range. The big tomatoes are great on sandwiches or as a side dish.

Vinson Watts tomatoes

Vinson Watts tomatoes

I shared seeds of this variety last year, and I hope to have a limited number of them to share again later this year. If you are looking for an heirloom beefsteak tomato that is long on both flavor and history, Vinson Watts is at the top of my very short list. And we have one man to thank for that, Mr Vinson Watts himself!



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11 Responses to Saturday Spotlight: Vinson Watts Tomato

  1. Daphne says:

    That is a really pretty tomato. If only I could eat tomatoes, I would beg for seed.

  2. Lisa says:

    This is a new tomato to me. I need to try it.

  3. Michelle says:

    What a beautiful tomato and a great story. It is oh so tempting, but one lesson that I’ve learned is that a tomato that tastes great in your climate doesn’t always live up to it’s reputation when it faces the challenge of ripening in my cool climate. So I will resist the temptation…

    • Dave says:

      It was definitely grown and selected in a zone 6 or 7 climate with long, hot summers like ours. I believe Lynn had trouble with it last year in her Virginia garden because of a cooler than usual summer.

  4. Liz Cratty says:

    Are these tomato seeds available commercially?

    • Dave says:

      In 2014 it was listed with Baker Creek, Southern Exposure Seed Exchange and Reimer Seeds. I believe Lynn got hers originally from Tomato Fest. If you check back here later this year I hope to have some seed available for a giveaway.

      • Ian Feeback says:

        They are also available from Dr. Best at, along with many other southern Appalachian heirlooms. I highly suggest the Zeke Dishman for a red tomato, and the Willard Wynn for a sweet, yellow bicolor. Both improved for years by their namesake via selective breeding, much like the Vinson Watts

      • Dave @ HappyAcres says:

        I grow many of the heirloom pole beans from Dr. Best! The NT Half Runner and Robe Mountain are two of my favorites that do quite well for me here in southern Indiana. I will check out the tomatoes you mentioned.

  5. Margaret says:

    That tomato looks gorgeous…I especially like the meaty insides. In my climate, beefsteak tomato plants do not seem to be that prolific – although I have a determinate variety that is doing very well but it is a hybrid. Vinson Watts is definitely one for me to try.

  6. The photos of these tomatoes has my mouth watering! I haven’t had one that beautiful in many years… I can conjure up the taste of a bright red, juicy one like you have written about from memory though! Interesting post!

  7. Please correct my grammar! The photos of these tomatoes have my mouth watering! (Fast typing!!!)

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