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.


The Relationship Between Nutrient Levels in Soil and Weed Growth

Much has been said and little studied on the relationship between nutrient levels in soil and weed growth/suppression.

A long time organic grower and agronomist (and friend) shared his experiences with calcium levels and the reduction of weed growth after planting.

  • One thing that is necessary is good functioning, highly biological soil.
  • The second necessity is highly available calcium.

2017 barley high calcium weed suppresion trial skip

The barley in these photos shows the crop 30 days after planting.

The barley was planted with equipment outfitted to apply a liquid biological (Purple Cow CX-1) right in furrow on the 24 run drill (see picture of planter: the CX-1 goes down on each row/run planted right in the double disc openers) at a rate of 5 gallons per acre.  The day after planting a highly soluble calcium product was spread at 500lbs per acre over the field and left on the open surface.

24 run drill

Purple Cow FortiCal could be an option pre-planting, but in this instance, to be more “tender footed” in application, a finer/drier product that would go through a fertilizer cart was used (vs needing a spreader truck or larger heaver equipment) because it was applied on the planted (not yet emerged) crop.

~James (Sandy) Syburg, Soilologist

As you can see even the area in the field that was skipped by the drill (where the bare soil is exposed), there is almost no weed pressure even 30 days after planting!


60 Days after planting

2017 barley high calcium weed suppresion trial skip60DAYS

The barley looks pretty good for how wet it has been. Probably still a few weeks until harvest but weed pressure is almost nonexistent. I took a picture of skip and still very little weeds even with all the rain. My guess is very little of the soluble calcium is still around but I say it did its job.

~James (Sandy) Syburg, Soilologist

Why does soil biology matter?

The take away is to insure you have biologically active soils by using a liquid biological at planting – at the genesis of plant growth and germination.  Also, balance soil minerals to make sure to have nutrients available to both soil microbiology and the plant.

Mineral form application

Nutrients in an organic form that require liberation via the soil microbial community – meaning in mineral form – are best.  But in planting situations when soils biological activity is low the soluble calcium is what is believed to suppress the weed seed germination.  In this instance I would have to say it worked.  Not all the calcium in the product that was applied is soluble, so the biology is now taking over the job of releasing it due to the soils being warmer and activity returning.

~James (Sandy) Syburg, Soilologist

Midday Fix: Tomato garden tips from Purple Cow Organics VIDEO

WGN channel 9 in Chicago

Ryan Hartberg visited Chicago’s WGN channel 9 news station and while the cameras were rolling, talked about planting tomatoes and increasing the health of soils. Watch the segment here.


Tips for growing from Purple Cow Organics

There are some considerations to begin with, when you’re planting the perfect tomato. Do you want to start from seed? Do you prefer to start with a plant? What kind of variety do I like to eat? Because it’s been a cold, wet spring, it’s not too late to start from seed. And because tomatoes are warm-weather plants, it’s optimal to start tomato plants when it’s no longer cold and rainy in the day and down into the 40s at night. It’s about being an observational grower – you don’t want to be the first one to plant tomatoes just to be first. Wait until the timing is right outside, and be patient.

You can have the best plant in the world, but if it’s grown in bad soil, it won’t be a good plant – or tomato. The good news is that gardening organically is easier than you might think – instead of loading soil with chemical fertilizers, you can replace them with organic matter, nutrients and microbes. Adding a couple of inches of compost brings nutrients back into the soil, and also makes your tomato plants require less attention, because it’s grown in a living, breathing, self-regulating ecosystem. Perfect tomatoes start with good microbiology. A single handful of healthy soil actually contains more microbes than there are people on earth.

organic fertilizer

You can look for organic tomato plants, which will have an organic tag on them. But if you have good, healthy soil, it doesn’t mean that a non-organic tomato plant won’t do well – it still well. Generally speaking, if you’re buying a tomato plant, look for plants that aren’t too tall and leggy – the “squattier” the better. I’d rather have a plant that’s shorter than a tall plant. look for thicker, larger leaves that are greener, versus smaller leaves or yellow leaves.  With seeds, you can buy organic seeds or heirloom tomato seeds.

Tomatoes are heavy feeders, so you have to be sure there is enough fertility in the soil.  If you use bad soil, then the plant is more susceptible to disease and blight, because the plant is defending itself against that, instead of using the energy for strong, healthy growth.  After tilling the soil, you can apply fertilizer, like compost tea, which is good because you can make a batch and add it to plants quickly. Basically, you coat the leaves with a small coating – I’ve gone out in my garden with a spray bottle to spray it on a plant. A good two-inch layer on op will do.

Screen Shot 2017-06-01 at 12.23.04 PMIf you have clay or dense soil, you can incorporate compost to escalate the microbiological elements for a better tomato that is not just healthy but nutrient-rich. Alternately, you can use a liquid biological.

People get excited in the early spring, because they’re doing all the work and are glad when the plants are in the bed or container. But later, when you get later into the season, you might get tired of weeding, or it’s hot outside or there’s a lot of mosquitoes. Still, if you want great tomatoes at harvest time, check to see how your plants are growing regularly – are they flowering? Are they distressed?

For watering plants like tomatoes, you want to water less often, but water more.  If you can go every third or fourth day with a good dousing, that’s better for the tomato plant.