For a number of years, we have had our homegrown tomatoes available starting in early July. However, tomatoes are typically not ready in Wisconsin until mid-August. Our tomatoes are not hothouse or hydroponic tomatoes. These are true homegrown tomatoes. So, how do we do it?
First, it is important to know how early tomatoes are grown in cold climates. One method is called hothouse tomatoes. With hothouse tomatoes, plants are grown in pots using potting soil and special nutrient mixtures. The plants will stay in pots their entire life and use whatever is provided for nutrients in the pot.
Hydroponic uses a water and nutrient mixture to grow the plants in a greenhouse. Again, the growth of the plants is dependent on the special nutrient mixtures.
Skelly’s has a different method. We have five greenhouses with natural soil floors. The greenhouses are constructed in a normal field and the soil stays the same as if the tomatoes were grown outside. We then plant the tomatoes right in the ground inside these greenhouses. The sides roll up during the day to allow the plants to not overheat and let in bees for pollination. When it is cool at night in the spring, the sides are closed and the plants stay warm so they do not freeze.
Basically, the greenhouses just give the plants a little extra protection from the cold weather allowing for early tomatoes. While the plants do receive some fertilizer, they grow just like an outside plant. Plus, our soil is full of all the great little critters such as worms that help plants grow healthy.
Since our plants are not overloaded with nutrients and special growing soils, our customers have told us time and again that our tomatoes are just as tasty and juicy as any other tomato they could grow. The greenhouses produce great tasting early tomatoes.
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 new plants, we typically have a lot of tomatoes in early August. Call the farm to ask about our wholesale tomato price and availability. 608-757-1200