A large pink beefsteak, of exceptional flavor - evenly balanced in sugars and acids. Creamy and meaty. Extremely disease resistant and heat tolerant. Very good production.
First photo courtesy of Tyler Wolfe. Note: He grows in raised beds and I believe that is why his fruits are a bit smaller than 'normal'.
HISTORY: Prior to his death in March, 2008, Vinson Watts (Morehead, KY) improved this - his namesake tomato - for fifty-two consecutive summers. The original seed was from Lee County, Virginia and given to him by his work supervisor, Wilson Evans, at Berea College, KY.
Here is a great newspaper interview from 2006. ( Contents reprinted below. )
WRITTEN BY: Andy Mead - Sept. 13, 2006
MOREHEAD, Ky. - "I'm known around here as the 'Mater Man," says Vinson Watts, sitting in his living room in front of a small vial of very special seeds.
Watts has grown German tomatoes and cherry tomatoes and those yellow and red Mr. Stripey tomatoes for years, and he has sold them off his back porch to friends and neighbors.
But people who know Watts don't ask for the varieties that everyone else has.
They ask for a Vinson Watts, a large, tasty, pinkish-flesh heirloom tomato that Watts has been growing and improving for 50 years.
Yes, 50 years.
Fifty consecutive backyard gardens that centered on one kind of tomato. Half a century of starting plants from seeds and saving seeds from the most flavorful and disease-resistant tomatoes to repeat the cycle the next year.
Bill Best, a farmer who is president of the Sustainable Mountain Agriculture Center, said Watts' work with his tomato has to be some kind of record.
"I've been collecting seeds myself for many, many years, and I've never known anything comparable," he said.
Watts, 76, a retired college administrator, is getting some attention on the golden anniversary of his tomato.
This year, in what turned out to be a surprise to Watts, Vinson Watts tomato seeds are being offered commercially for the first time, in the Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds catalog.
"I'm not making a penny on it - maybe I'll sue," Watts said, laughing.
Best had shared some Vinson Watts seeds a couple of years ago with Merlyn Niedens, a Southern Illinois seed saver whose passion is securing a future for family heirlooms by getting them out to the public.
"If someone's been working on something that long, it shouldn't be lost," Niedens said.
This winter, Best will begin offering Vinson Watts seeds on the Internet. Watts will receive a portion of the proceeds from those sales, Best said.
And there's academic interest in Vinson Watts, both the person and the tomato.
Watts recently was interviewed by Garrett Graddy, a University of Kentucky graduate geography student who lives in Menifee County.
Graddy is just getting started on a doctoral dissertation on agricultural diversity and the economic, ecological and theological aspects of seed-saving in Appalachian Kentucky and in Peru.
Watts grew up on Leatherwood Creek in Breathitt County during the Great Depression, when saving seeds from year to year was a necessity because no one could afford to buy new seeds.
That, coupled with his decades of work on the Vinson Watts tomato, made him a natural to be Graddy's first interview.
"He really had some interesting stories to tell," she said.
Watts got seeds for what would eventually become his tomato in the spring of 1956, when he was associate dean of labor at Berea College.
The seeds came from a man named Wilson Evans. Evans was from Virginia, and his family had grown the tomato there for years.
Evans told him he wanted to try other tomatoes, and he asked Watts to take over the annual regeneration of his family's tomato, to keep them pure and true.
For years, Watts called the tomato the Wilson Evans. He gave Evans a few plants each year. When Watts moved to Morehead in 1968 to become Morehead State University's first personnel director, he started sending Evans seeds.
The two friends argued for a while about what to call the tomato plant that was getting a little tastier and heartier every year that Watts selected only the best seeds to carry forward.
Finally, the tomato was different enough for a name change.
"I told him he had squandered the right to call it an Evans tomato, so it's the Vinson Watts tomato," Watts said.
For years, Watts' backyard in Morehead wasn't garden enough for him. He would grow all kinds of tomatoes in other yards and empty spots up and down the street.
In his own backyard, the only tomato he grew was the Vinson Watts.
Five or six years ago, because of failing health, he cut back to just growing in his backyard, which means he quit growing any tomato except for the Vinson Watts.
For the last three years, he had had to hire someone else to get his beloved plants in the ground.
"I look for a high school student who wants to do a little work, but not too much," Watts said.
He has emphysema; a tube supplies oxygen to help with every breath. He recently was hospitalized for intestinal surgery.
It has been hard on him not being able to turn the soil and put in seedlings.
"Bless his heart, he loves to garden," said Patricia Watts, who outranks the tomato because she has been married to Vinson for more than 53 years.
This year, 28 Vinson Watts plants grow beside sweet potatoes, corn and beans (including heirlooms called the Ida bean and the white cornfield bean).
They're showing late-summer wear and tear but are producing well.
When visitors came by recently, Watts wasn't up to taking them out to look at his tomatoes.
"I normally have a fall garden," he said. "I can't do that anymore, but I'll have tomatoes until the frost."
And he's saving some of the seeds for next year.
GROWTH HABIT: Indeterminate
LEAF TYPE: Regular
FRUIT CLASS: Beefsteak
FRUIT SHAPE: Flattened globe
FRUIT SIZE: Large
FRUIT COLOR: Pink
ORIGIN: Heirloom - Morehead, KY