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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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.


Compost Tea: What It Is and How To Use It

One of the most common questions we hear at Purple Cow Organics is, “what is compost tea and how can I use it?” This article will show you what compost tea is and how you can use it to help your organic garden.

How to: Raised Bed Gardens

Mid to late Spring is a great time to start getting your garden ready for planting. If you don’t have a lot of room or need to keep your garden off the ground due snail, slugs, and other cute little nibbling creatures, a raised bed garden might be the way to go. Raised beds are a great resource for small gardens; they keep your soil from eroding due to rain, allow drainage and also prevent weeds from creeping in.