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The Classic West Virginia '63 Tomato

Three WV '63 tomatoes hanging on the vine at various stages of ripeness, from bright red to light green.

The West Virginia ‘63 tomato has been called “the people’s tomato.” Released in 1963 on West Virginia’s 100th birthday, the West Virginia ‘63 was developed by Mannon Gallegly, WVU plant pathology professor. Gallegly was hired by WVU in 1949 and was directed to research vegetable diseases. At the time, late blight was a huge concern for West Virginia farmers and gardeners.  

Tomato blight is caused by a fungal pathogen Phytophora, which is also the same disease that caused the Irish potato famine. Gallegly started his research on the blight by collecting potato and tomatoes varieties and planting them at Huttonsville Correctional Facility Farm. Through many years of trial and error, Gallegly was able to select and cross different tomato varieties to develop a resistance to blight. In total, it took 13 years to develop the West Virginia ‘63 tomato.  The West Virginia ‘63 did not only help West Virginia farmers and gardeners, but it benefited many citizens across the globe who were seeking a blight resistant variety.   

In 2023, the tomato variety celebrated its 60th anniversary and Gallegly turned 100 years old. Even 60 years later, citizens seek out West Virginia ‘63 tomato seeds to start each year for their garden. Along with its indestructible qualities to blight, it also has an excellent flavor. Many gardeners use it as both a slicer and a canning tomato.  

Although West Virginia ‘63 tomato seeds can be difficult to find in mainstream seed catalogs, they can be often found in small garden stores across the state as well as through some heirloom seed companies. Additionally, the West Virginia ‘63 tomato lives on through the Mountaineer Delight, a newer variety that was developed at WVU to be blight resistant as well as resistant to Septoria leaf spot. If you have not given either of these varieties a try, plan on trying them in the future. 

By Daisy Bailey, WVU Extension Agent – Calhoun & Gilmer Counties