The Early Bird Gets the Worm

My take on a wet spring… 

Article by James (Sandy) Syburg President of Purple Cow Organics

Farming and the calendar

In organic/biological farming we rely heavily on soil health and function.  Therefore temperature is a key to determining if conditions are suitable for seedbed preparation and ultimately planting.  The first reason is simple plant physiology.  All seed and plant varieties require a minimum temperature to germinate or break dormancy. 

Many of the “old timers” planted when the forsythia bloomed or when the oak leaf was the size of a squirrels ear. 

It’s often hard to resist planting by the calendar.  These old methods used a gauge that took many factors into account and while often occurring very close to the same time each year the plants new best when conditions were right.  Soil temperature can only tell us one aspect of the soils readiness to be planted in.  The other more difficult indicator is biological activity. As soil warms life return.  As bacteria awaken they produce metabolic heat adding to the warming process of the lengthening hours of sunlight.  Planting into cold soils reduces germination and in some instances requires re-planting. 

One farmer friend of mine shared a story recently about a neighbor making the front page of the local paper for being the “first in the field”.  Fortunately they did not come out and take his picture when he had to re-plant. 

Another friend shared the old line:

“If you’re gonna plant twice you need to start early”.

Get your plants off to a good start with more focus on soil.

It’s always a fine line when making the decision to go to the field.  In a wet spring and can become even more troubling.  Often the window to prepare and plant begins to close and you are in the field at less than optimal conditions.  One way to help at planting is with an in-furrow biological support application.  A liquid biological like Purple Cow CX-1 along with biostimulants in the form of sugars, proteins and amino acids found in molasses and fish based products helps get the soil right at the germinating seed in better shape to support the early stages of plant growth.  This works well in any planting condition but when the conditions aren’t the best it’s best to make sure to do what you can to overcome natures obstacles.  And while I have been talking mainly about germination and early seedling vigor let’s not forget the soil.  You may have worked the seedbed just a bit wet or cool.  Giving the soil that jump start will return dividends at planting as well as later in the season.

We all want that strong start to the season.  Sometimes the strongest start given the conditions we are dealt is best.

Purple Cow Organics 100% organic products always work to maximize the potential of your farm. Contact us to learn more.


CX-1 testing has shown earlier emergence due to added energy and biological row support in corn.  In soybeans root nodulation almost doubled by V2 (3 weeks).


Organic farming hay

Foliar Application Benefits of Liquid Biologicals

Foliar applying a quality liquid biological during the growing season can have numerous beneficial impacts, including:

  1. Plants can take up nutrients through the leaves (particularly through young leaves). Plants can absorb foliar sprays 8-20 times faster than soil-applied nutrients. Having beneficial microbes on leaf surfaces can help cycle nutrients like Nitrogen.
  2. Beneficial soil microbes help cycle nutrients for the plant so plants can produce secondary metabolites (sugars and amino acids) which help the plant grow stronger and more resilient.
  3. Beneficial bacteria are known to attack gram-negative fungi which helps protect the plant from harmful fungi.

foliar application

The Association of American Plant Food Control Officials (AAPFCO) includes in its list of benefits that quality compost that it:

  1. Aids in the proliferation of soil microbes,
  2. Supplies beneficial microorganisms to soils and growing media,
  3. Allows plants to more effectively utilize nutrients.

Purple Cow Organics makes some of the most consistently made and tested compost in the Midwest. Purple Cow Organics uses a patented and field-tested extraction process to get beneficial microorganisms, humic matter, and nutrients from the compost into a stable liquid solution that has a shelf life of over 6 months. This OMRI Listed liquid biological product is referred to as Purple Cow CX-1.

Gram positive bacteria consume fungal intruders like botrytis and anthracnose as a food source. This could explain why greenhouse growers who use liquid biologicals (like CX-1) often witness a reduction in botrytis; bean and row crop growers who use a “foliar” can have clean fields, even when white mold is breaking out all around them; and diversified vegetable growers can see disease pressures reduced in their operations, even when conditions are wet and humid.

If you’re already using a liquid, like fish or molasses or even some microbe-friendly fungicides, Purple Cow CX-1 has been known to be a great tank partner that can replace water if/when diluting.

Consider the following:

As the season progresses

As we move on from planting to the growing season, the biological touchpoints move from the “root zone” – where nitrogen fixing bacteria enhance root nodulation, where plants use biology to produce secondary metabolites associated with root zone protection, and where a wide range of other fertility enhancing qualities are derived “in-furrow” – to the expanded opportunities associated with beneficial microbes that can survive on plants’ leaf surfaces. These are referred to as “foliar applications”. Make no mistake, fertility enhancement is still a priority when one makes a foliar application. In fact, plants can take in fertility thru their stomata (openings in their leaf surfaces). Plants absorb foliar sprays 8 -20 times faster than soil-applied nutrients through their roots. So, fertility uptake and efficiency is still a key factor in foliar applications, but there is more…

Protection or Production

While plants have an incredible amount of energy, it is a finite amount. Plants must choose to use that energy for protection or production. Cell production to ward off pests or to fend off diseases are ways plants divert energy they could otherwise use to set fruit or enhance yields. Foliar applications can promote plant health and increase yields. Robust and diverse biology is key. Many beneficial bacteria that can survive on the leaf surfaces are “gram positive”.

Advanced testing on Purple Cow CX-1 revealed a superior, diverse, and robust microbial community. While other liquid biologicals on the market boast 8, 12, 16, or 65 microbial species, having a liquid biological that is bacterially/fungally balanced from dozens of genera (pl. genus) can mimic mother nature. Full of gram positive bacteria that feed off/consume botrytis and other fungus that can cause greenhouse and/or outdoor crop diseases, CX-1 is not registered as a fungicide. It is, however, a useful input to make your other fertility inputs more efficient and help your plants be healthier and more productive.

Sandy Syburg

Recycling plants to build soil at Purple Cow Organics

This article appeared and the Wisconsin State Farmer on May 15th, 2017 and can be at

MAPLETON – James “Sandy” Syburg, president and co-owner of Purple Cow Organics at Middleton has been building soil since he was a child.  Now he has turned his knowledge of soil into a successful business.

“My grandmother had us collect leaves and feed them to the soil so I grew up with the idea of taking nutrients that fall from trees and converting them back to a high quality soil amendment.”

He has used the method on his own Stone Bank farm where he raises a special highly mineralized corn, sunflower seed for fuel, and other specialized crops.

He was able to turn the composting into a successful business back in the 1990’s when cities were told they could no longer take yard waste and leaves to landfills.

“There was no large scale composting facility around back then,” Syburg said.  “Now there are many composting places around the state.”

Sandy Syburg

Photo Credit: Gloria Hafemeister

Soil is living

“Soil is much more than a pile of dirt – it’s a living, breathing ecosystem,” said Syburg. “If a nutrient is missing from the soil, then it is not in the plants we grow or the food we eat. Rather than re-use soil time after time, soil needs to be rejuvenated.”

Before each planting, Syburg suggests amending soil in garden beds and replacing soil in pots.

“Plants take nutrients from soil, which over time can deplete vitamins and minerals that plants, animals and humans need,” he said. “When rich in proper nutrients, healthy soil leads to healthier plants, and, with consumables, healthier people.”

He said it is because of this system of building good soil that he has a steady market for the corn he grows on his own farm.

“They recognize that the corn I raise is mineralized because the minerals are readily available in the soil. These minerals are not present in soil that is only fertilized with the traditional fertilizer,” Syburg explained.

Even the dairy industry is starting to recognize the benefits of mineralized feeds. He pointed out that testing is being done to determine how milk from cows eating mineralized feeds varies from milk from cows eating traditional feeds.

Syburg admited he doesn’t do the work of building the soil. He only provides what the beneficial microorganisms need to convert the nutrients to something the plants can use.

He noted, “Nutrient rich soil filters out pollutants from underground water, helps lower flood risk by storing water in the earth and can lower the effect of drought, disease and pests.”

Syburg said most gardeners and farmers reuse soil year after year and if any nutrients are added, they are only the major ones, but the minor nutrients are needed to create the balance and feed the life in the soil.

“Once you replace organic components, your garden will be relatively low maintenance and will need much less attention,” he added.

“It is now a healthy, living, breathing, self-regulating ecosystem,” Syburg stated. “It can take hundreds of years to create just a small plot of healthy soil and less than two decades to destroy its usefulness. With soil under siege, everyone should be involved in learning and implementing ways to improve this vital ingredient in growing healthy plants and food.”

From compost to a business

While Syburg has always known the benefits of feeding organic material to replace nutrients, he actually turned it into a business 20 years ago. He began with White Oak Premium Organics and then partnered with Lee Bruce in Middleton in 2010 to form Purple Cow Organics.

The base of their composted mix is municipal leaves but they also add some pre-consumed fruits and vegetables that they get from grocery stores.

The composting process where the material is brought to 131 degrees F for a minimum of 15 days kills any pathogens that might be present. They are simply doing on a larger scale what many back-yard gardeners do on a small scale.

“Because we are selling the product there is a lot of record-keeping involved,” Syburg said. “Our primary function is to deliver very stable carbon and nutrients and high volumes of beneficial bacteria and fungi.”

Purple Cow’s customers range from garden centers where it is marketed in bags to vegetable growers and operators of CSA farms who buy it by the truckload.

Syburg said they started bagging the material in 2005 after gardeners were coming to the compost site to ask for pails of the material.

Some of the product is just straight compost and they also make specialized products that have minerals and added ingredients to enhance the mineral availability.

He said he learned a lot from agricultural applicators and then translated it into what the home gardener would want.

“We work with organic and conventional farmers,” Syburg said. “We work with anyone interested in improving the health of their soil.”

He pointed out, “Healthy soil has less erosion and it will hold the nutrients and therefore protect the lakes and streams while producing better crops.”