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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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!