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.

Link: http://wgntv.com/2017/05/30/midday-fix-tomato-garden-tips-from-purple-cow-organics/

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 www.wisfarmer.com.

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.”