Create Your Own Seed-Starting Plan

Unsure of when to start your plants inside? Use this helpful guide to get your garden off to a great start! Once you have your calendar established, go to your local garden center and pick up some Purple Cow Organics Seed Starter Mix!
We’d love to see your progress, so like us on Facebook and Instagram and share your favorite pictures!

Organic vs. Conventional – A Response From Sandy Syburg

We received a comment about pesticides in organic production and thought it would be a useful topic for all interested parties.

The big differentiator in the organic vs. conventional debate is as much about what is not on or in your food as it is what IS in your food.

Yes, the organic growers do have tools to manage pests and disease. In apples, for instance, the use of botanical oils, like neem oil, disrupt insects attraction and life patterns to keep them away from fruit. Other relatively innocuous products like fine clay (kaolin) is sprayed on the fruit to create a protective shield from disease and pests.

More importantly, though, is that in a healthy, well-mineralized (organic) soil the plants’ natural defenses are enhanced to the point where these “rescue” treatments become far less necessary and possibly eliminated.

Some of the first and most important soil corrective measures include carbon, biology and calcium. High calcium levels prevent many disease expressions in apples (and other) crops and provide higher calcium levels in the resulting crop, which is feed for animals and/or humans, and the benefits of soil health get amplified.

Further, many conventional pesticides are “systemic” which means they are fed to the plant through the root system and then are in the resulting crop, so if an insect tries to eat or damage the crop the insect is killed.

These types of products do not wash off.

Therefore the focus needs to be switched to the clean nutritious food that can be grown in a healthy, biologically-active, mineralized soil. Right now those advancing this soil-plant system just happen to be organic growers. That need not be the case.

I write this in an effort to broaden the dialog. There will always be skepticism about claims made by the companies that gain from food health claims. In my own experience as an organic farmer I have only once purchased an organic pesticide with the concern that a valuable pinto bean harvest may be in jeopardy. Soybeans in conventional neighboring fields were showing signs of disease pressure. My choice was to scout fields on a daily basis and only apply if problems began to express themselves. The crop remained healthy until harvest and I never did end up using the product.

It taught me a valuable lesson: Don’t shoot in the dark.

In other words, fear of loss of what we have (harvest) is a normal human reaction versus insuring health. It makes sense how products gain acceptance because the acres to eyes ratio on many farms now is so high. But there are alternatives.

Soil health improvement and subsequent plant, animal and human health as a result can happen in any type of agriculture. This is most importantly about what we can do to provide clean nutritious food, feed and fiber now and in the future. The solution to so many of our modern troubles lies humbly beneath our feet. Let’s keep the conversation and actions going in the direction of optimal soil health and the other debates will naturally become secondary or maybe even inconsequential.


Turf Maintenance Plan to Make Your Job Easier

In agriculture, farmers are concerned about nutrient efficiency: how to get the most out of the inputs of time, equipment, energy, rainfall, irrigation, and, most importantly, fertilizers – all while reducing weeds and pests!

Groundskeeper concerns aren’t too dissimilar – only their budgets are MUCH SMALLER!

As a landscaper, groundskeeper, or turf manager how do you maximize efficiency to keep your turf and soil healthy, lush, soft, and growing for as many months as possible while also reducing weeds and pests?

One of the best ways to improve your turf is by improving your soil.

Applying as little as a 1/4″ layer of organic compost can have last effects on your turf – for over three years!

To read all of the benefits of compost, visit this post where we covered the topic and included a HOW to for the most common 4 ways compost is used.

The Proof is in the Comparison

Below is a comparison of turf roots; the section on the left received compost and compost tea applications whereas the section on the right did not.  This is a clear depiction of why turf grown in healthy soils can manage the stresses of summers, floods, droughts better than turf in unhealthy soils.

turf comparision

Turf Maintenance and Protection Plan to Make Your Job Easier

Whether you’re intent on maintaining your turf organically, biologically, or conventionally, these recommendations will make your job easier.


Start in Fall.

We often recommend starting in the Fall when temperatures drop a little and rain is more prevalent to keep your turf growing, especially if seeding.

Core Aerate.

First, assess the soil structure, compaction.  If soils are dense or clay, then always start with a core aeration.  This will open up soils for more oxygen, moisture, microbe, and nutrient infiltration.  Weeds often prefer – or can thrive better – in dense, lower-oxygen soils than turf.  So, help your turf out-compete weeds by giving it more air.  If soils are sandy, skip to step three to add more moisture- and nutrient-holding capacity.

Topdress with compost.

After aerating if you need to, apply a layer of quality compost.  Purple Cow Classic Compost works great.  It is packed with microbes, nutrients and organic matter and screened down to an industry leading 3/8” product.  The amount of Classic compost you would apply depends on the current state of the soil and the budget.  About a semi-trailers worth of compost (~35cy) per 1 acre –  which ends up being about a ¼” layer – is a good starting point for some slight correction.  [Increase or decrease this rate based on budget or timeframe expectations.  Athletic fields that receive more traffic often require more TLC than parks or general use areas with less aggressive foot traffic.]  After applying this amount of compost ~3 years in a row, you can often start reducing the application rate to “maintain” healthy soils.


If there are current bare spots in your turf, that can impact soil structure and encourage weed germination and growth.  A great time to overseed is in conjunction with a compost topdress.  The microbial life in the compost will help the seed germinate quickly and will also keep the seed and new roots moist for early success between rains or watering.
Compost again in Spring if your budget allows.  If you’re growing organically, some people will include a corn-gluten application as a pre-emergent as well.  If you do compost, just make sure the soil is firm and dry enough to handle any equipment driving on it.


We recommend (and sell) an organic, slow-release, granular fertilizer – available in 8-4-4 or 4-6-4.  An application of 10 pounds per 1,000 square feet will provide nutrients in a slow-release method.

Apply a liquid biological.

During the summer, if you have the equipment or relationships, we recommend two applications of Purple Cow CX-1, which is a liquid biological which introduces hundreds of species of beneficial soil bacteria and fungi.

These buggers can:

  • Help cycle nutrients in the compost and fertilizer and existing soil to feed the turf.
  • Affix to the blades of grass and help feed and protect the plant from the leaf surface.
  • Provide some trace nutrients to the soil through Purple Cow Activator – a soluble nutrient packet.

Mow higher.

We suggest mowing the turf slightly higher if possible or when not in use.  This will help crowd out weed germination and weed growth.

Organic weed killers

They available, but can be expensive and mostly unnecessary.  If it is necessary, we recommend spot treating with a product like Fiesta, which chelates iron.

A healthy turf grown in healthy soil will naturally out-compete weeds for sun, moisture, and nutrients.

Following the above steps for 2-3 years will make a dramatic impact on your soil and turf – and make anything you do during and after this time much more effective.  If you’re on a tight budget, start with steps 1-4 & 8, and add 5-9 – in that order – as budget allows or as you cut back on compost.

Shorewood River Park, Shorewood, WI; maintained organically

Shorewood River Park, Shorewood, WI; maintained organically

Soccer and Rugby clubs who have followed similar programs notice a difference in the softness of the soil – which makes a difference on joint impact and when sliding and tackling.  In addition, these fields stay greener throughout the growing season and require less irrigation.

Investing in your soil is an investment in your turf, which is an investment in the health and well-being of anyone who enjoys that turf.

compost benefits

List of Compost Benefits for Soil Health

Compost has many uses and benefits. The Association of American Plant Food Control Officials (AAPFCO) states that compost provides the following benefits that should be music to the ears of groundskeepers,  large-scale farmers and home-growers around the world:

  1. Improves soil structure and porosity – creating a better plant root environment
  2. Increases moisture infiltration and permeability, and reduces bulk density of heavy soils – improving moisture infiltration rates and reducing erosion and runoff
  3. Improves the moisture holding capacity of light soils – reducing water loss and nutrient leaching, and improving moisture retention
  4. Improves the cation exchange capacity (CEC) of soils
  5. Supplies organic matter
  6. Aids the proliferation of soil microbes
  7. Supplies beneficial microorganisms to soils and growing media
  8. Encourages vigorous root growth
  9. Allows plants to more effectively utilize nutrients, while reducing nutrient loss by leaching
  10. Enables soils to retain nutrients longer
  11. Contains humus – assisting in soil aggregation and making nutrients more available for plant uptake
  12. Buffers soil pH

What do I do with Compost?

Below is an infographic with directions for 4 of the most common uses.

  1. Plant a garden (flower or vegetable) bed
  2. Plant a potted plant
  3. General planting
  4. Planting a tree or shrub root ball


Fall is in the air! What to do?

Ok, so maybe it’s not quite fall yet in your area, but fall is right around the corner: school is starting soon, vacations are wrapping up, garden harvests may be getting thinner, lawns are showing signs of stress, spring and summer flowers are staring to wane, and so on…

Q: So, what can we do to keep some color around, finish the lawn/growing season strong, and set ourselves up for successful gardening next year?

A: (Re)build the soil using organic compost!


Landscape: Color your world

Keep some beautiful color in your landscape! Garden centers should have an influx of fall plants for your planting pleasure.  Might I recommend the typical Chrysanthemums and Pansies and dare you to consider less commonly known varieties like Turtleheads, Toad Lilies, Sedums, Japanese Anemone, and Goldenrod.  Cover your beds with an inch or two of compost before planting – and/or fill the bottom third of the hole you dug when transplanting new plants – to ease the shock of transplanting and get the new plants off to a great start!  High quality, organic compost, which is full of root-loving nutrients, moisture-holding organic matter, and beneficial microbes, will help feed these plants through the end of the year and into next year!


Lawns: Feed your turf

As temperatures are high and rainfalls decrease, lawns may start to show signs of stress by growing slower, thinning out, turning yellow or brown, and getting crunchy.  The soil below can also show signs of hardness and cracking.  Prevent these symptoms from even occurring by improving your lawn’s soil.  As rainfall amounts and frequencies decrease, it can be helpful to have soil that can absorb and hold moisture (like a sponge or reservoir) when it does rain so that moisture is available for plants when it isn’t raining as much.  Organic matter – which is a component of mature compost – is a great holder of moisture and nutrients.  Increasing the organic matter percentage of 1 acre of land will increase the water-holding capacity of that acre by 16,500 gallons.  Clay soils can cause water to run-off.  Sandy soils allow water to escape.  But rich, loamy soils from compost will hold water in place for when plants need it.  Mature, quality compost also provides nutrients to turf slowly – over a multi-year period of time!  (See our upcoming blog post on turf maintenance for more details.) 1 to 2 bags of compost per 1,000 square feet of lawn annually can make a difference; and over applying will only help your lawn – no concern of burning like soluble synthetic fertilizers.


Fall Cover Crops

Gardens: Fall Cover Cropping

Cover cropping is the concept of growing plants mainly for the benefit of the soil.  Cover crops are reservoirs for important plant nutrients and micronutrients.  Cover crops help with soil structure, weed reduction, and the proliferation of beneficial soil microbes.  Some common cover crops include clover, oats, peas, winter rye, ryegrass, and winter wheat.  These can be planted in the fall in the Midwest and cut down before flowering/seeding by hand or with a trimmer or mower.  Working these crops back into the soil returns nutrients for future vegetables grown in that garden.  Increased organic matter and improved soil structure are also benefits of using cover crops.


Put Your Garden to Bed for the Winter

A late fall option to improve your spring gardening success is to ‘put your garden to bed’ before winter.  Introducing compost and minerals in fall (with or without cover crops) is a great way to introduce organic matter, microbes, and slow-release fertility into your beds.  Doing this in spring instead will still work, but incorporating in fall gives the compost, nutrients and microbes more time and opportunity to infiltrate the existing soil without unnecessarily tilling or turning the soil (which can breakup fungal strands already existent in the soil).

Organic compost may not be a silver bullet, but it is a versatile soil amendment for nearly all of your growing environments.

Learn more about soil amendments.

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