Skelly Grown Produce:
Behind the Scenes
Every season we get many questions about how we grow our main crops and what makes the flavor out of this world. We hope to answer all your burning questions below about our strawberries, sweet corn, tomatoes, and melons!
This is what new strawberry plants look like. It's mostly a long root that gets planted in the ground, with only the very top exposed. They come shipped to us frozen and we thaw them the morning of planting. Each plant is spaced 18 inches apart. By harvest time, the plants have grown together so it looks like one long continuous row.
Skelly Strawberries 101
This is what our rows of strawberry plants look like in late April. They are barely starting to grow by this point after being uncovered only a week or two ago. At this point we lay our irrigation pipe down before the plants get too big. If we have a warm April/May, the plants will grow faster and our season will start sooner.
From Planting to Plowing Under
Strawberries are the only crop we grow that is a perennial, which means they keep coming back year after year. Each bed is on a four-year rotation. In order to always have enough berries, we will plant new beds every other year. We plant a new bed in late April and the plants will grow to produce some berries by June if we let them. Instead we will go through and cut off all the blossoms before they form berries. We do this to force the plants to grow larger instead of producing berries. This way by the second year, the plants will be large enough to produce a bountiful harvest. Since strawberry plants will tend to spread out in every direction, we spend many hours tilling in between the rows to make sure they stay where they need to be. The first year requires the most work! By the second, third, and fourth year, we will harvest like normal until they are plowed under after the harvest of year four is completed.
Summer and Winter Care
Once the season is finished, we will prepare the field for the next season by completing a renovation process. The plants are mowed down low to the ground and we will deep till in between the rows. This helps promote new growth the following season and helps with weed control. By August the plants will be back to about their normal height and will continue to grow until the first frost. By the time the roots are dormant, which normally occurs around late November, we will cover the entire field with a layer of chopped up corn stalks. This added layer protects the plants from extremely cold temperatures and mid-winter thaws like we are all used to in Wisconsin winters. The cover will come off the plants by mid-April so they can start growing for another season of deliciousness!
We always say that the flavor of our berries is completely different than anything you'll find in the grocery stores. That's because in Wisconsin, we grow varieties that are not meant to be shipped across the country, so they really are different! Farmers in the south have a completely different way of growing strawberries (their plants are annuals!), so the size, shape, and texture of our berries are truly unique.
In our fields, we have around 10 different varieties growing that all ripen at different times. Some are meant to be the first ones to ripen, so they tend to be smaller in size. Some are meant to be mid-season berries, so they tend to last the longest. And some are meant to ripen towards the end of our season, so they tend to be some of the tastiest. We plan our varieties so we have around a three-week harvest period. The berries we grow are meant to be consumed/processed within 24 hours of picking. For more information on storage tips, click here.
Ever wondered how we pick our sweet corn every single morning? We have to supply the farm and 8 roadside stands every day, so we have found the most efficient way to pick over the years! Watch our video above for a preview.
Skelly Sweet Corn 101
The sweet corn we grow is bi-color (white and yellow kernels) and is a sugar enhanced variety.
Sweet Corn at Skelly's
In 1989, we planted four rows of sweet corn around our house so our family could enjoy fresh sweet corn. We ended up selling any leftover ears. After that, well, you can guess what happened! We now grow around 45 acres of sweet corn that supplies our farm and 8 roadside produce stands daily from early July through Labor Day. But, just because we now grow a LOT of sweet corn, doesn't mean our quality has decreased.
Our corn is hand-picked at peak ripeness every morning. How do we get a season so long with ripe ears to pick daily? By mid-April we will start planting our sweet corn. We plant only a few acres at a time all the way through late June. Our goal is to plant once every three days. This way we have some corn ready to be picked in early July and some corn that's not ready until September. Trust us, you don't want to be eating corn in September that was planted in April!
Sugar Enhanced Sweet Corn
There are many different varieties of sweet corn out there, including the famous "Super Sweet" varieties you can find in grocery stores. Super sweets are meant to have a long shelf life without losing much of its flavor. This also makes the kernels more tough so they hold their structure longer.
Our season is short and we're not trying to supply the grocery stores across the country. This is why we've found that growing the variety called Sugar Enhanced is the best. The shelf life is short (only 1-2 days after it's picked), but the ear is packed with delicious flavor. We always recommend consuming or processing the corn the same day you buy it from us to experience the best flavor. If that's not possible, make sure the ears get refrigerated ASAP and consume the next day.
Sweet Corn Freezing Tips
If you're interested in enjoying Skelly sweet corn all winter long, follow these freezing tips to process the ears you purchased. If you'd like to place a large order for corn, call the farm and ask for prices and availability. We recommend waiting until after August 1st for the largest ears.
Husk and wash the corn while you bring a large kettle of water to a boil. Once the water is boiling, blanch (boil) the entire ear of corn (several at one time) for 4 minutes. Remove the corn and immediately cool down in an ice water bath (we use several changes of water to cool more quickly) since you do not want the corn to still be warm when it enters the freezer. Completely cooling the corn before freezing is important. Drain the ears of corn and then remove the corn from the cob. A technique we use eliminates much of the mess. You will need an electric knife and either a bundt or angel food cake pan. Place the large end of the cob in the top of the tube. Carefully holding the other end of the cob, slice down each side of the ear. The kernels will fall into the pan, which keeps your work area much neater. Approximately 3 ears of corn will give you two cups of corn when removed from the cob. Place in freezer containers, freeze, and enjoy this winter. Corn can be frozen on the cob if you wish. Blanch the ears between 7 and 10 minutes and cool in ice water. Drain well and place in freezer bags.
As you can see in the picture, we plant into plastic to keep the weeds down and moisture in place. We put stakes in the ground every 4 plants so we can use string to hold up the plants as they grow. If tomato plants aren't supported as they grow, the weight of the growing tomatoes will cause the plants to fall over.
Skelly Tomatoes 101
This is what our greenhouses look like when we finish planting. The plants will eventually grow to about the top of the stakes. We use a transplanter to put the plants into the ground and we lay the darker-colored plastic in the middle of the rows by hand. It's a lot of work but very well worth it!
Growing Tomatoes Inside Our Greenhouses
Wisconsin tomato season typically doesn't start until early August, but Skelly's somehow has homegrown tomatoes in late June? How!? By growing them inside our greenhouses!
We get a lot of questions about the method of growing our plants inside our greenhouses. They are not grown in pots and they are not hydroponic. They are simply grown the same way as they are outside, except in a controlled environment.
We have five large greenhouses that house the majority of our tomato crop. Each greenhouse has a natural soil floor where the tomatoes get planted just like outside. We can roll the sides up during the day so the plants don't overheat and roll them back down at night to keep them safe from freezing temperatures. Drip irrigation lines are run down each row to make sure the plants have just enough moisture. By growing the plants in the ground, they are able to take advantage of the nutrients already in the soil. By growing them inside our greenhouses, we are able to have homegrown tomatoes more than a month earlier than anyone else in southern Wisconsin. It's a win-win!
Grafted Tomato Plants
In 2016 we started experimenting with grafted tomato plants in our greenhouses. Now, 100% of our greenhouse tomatoes are grafted plants.
Grafting is the process of combining the roots of one variety of tomato with the leafy top of a different variety. This allows for maximum quality. The root stem and the top are two different plants that get cut apart in the middle and then grafted together. The top and bottom are held together with a clip and after 24 hours in a warm, dark room, the plants start growing together. We use grafted plants because our tomatoes are grown in the same soil year after year. The plants are more prone to disease without a rotation, so we use the roots of disease-resistant tomatoes and the tops of plants that produce large, abundant tomatoes.
Because of these awesome grafted tomato plants, we typically have an oversupply during our peak season. If you're looking to get some canning done and would like to buy in bulk, call the farm to check for availability and to place an order. The timing on our oversupply varies year to year, so it's best to call and ask.