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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24 run drill

Why would I use a foliar at this point in the season?

We were asked by a grower this week, “Why would I use a foliar at this point in the season?”

When plants are trying to turn flowers into fruit, fertility availability is essential.  OMRI Listed Purple Cow CX-1 (liquid biological) enhances this fertility as plants can take nutrient thru their leaves up to 10x faster than thru their roots.  This extra nutrient push minimizes the number of flowers “aborted” by the plant and can help set pods, add kernels, and set the stage for filling/ripening the grain.

The ultimate goal, of course, is quality and yield.

If you see leaves turning colors other than green, this can be the plant trying to get nutrients they are not getting from the soil.  Translocating these nutrients from the leaves can leave a plant susceptible to pests and diseases.  Especially in cool wet years like we’ve had in many parts of the upper midwest, the plant’s roots are not able to explore the saturated soil, stranding those valuable nutrients and leaving your crop lacking. Foliar applications of a liquid biological like Purple Cow CX-1 can help with nutrient availability in times of excessive moisture.

Overall plant health is critical for the plants ability to fend off disease and pest pressures; we knew this decades ago before we began a reactive mono-management approach to plant health:

Insect and disease are the symptoms of a failing crop, not the cause of it.  It’s not the overpowering invader we must fear but the weakened condition of the victim.

-William Albrecht

Insect and disease pressure can be caused by:

  • a nutrient excess or deficiency
  • lack of biological diversity
  • a monoculture system that provides too great a host population.

Biologicals can work proactively in several different modes of action including:

  • Competitive Exclusion
  • The Production of Natural Antibiotics
  • Systemic Acquired Resistance
  • Induced Systemic Resistance

While Purple Cow CX-1 is not a registered fungicide or pesticide, in can contribute to systemic plant health and protection in a number of ways:

Competitive Exclusion

One organism creates an environment that is unwelcoming for another, effectively excluding the second organism from becoming established without directly killing it. An example of this would be the creation of film on a root surface. To prevent pathogens from infecting the plant.

Production of natural antibiotics

The production of secondary metabolites occurs more readily when there exists balanced minerals and diverse and robust biology


Some microbes (gram-positive bacteria) consume pathogens (like botrytis and anthracnose) as a food source. This is especially important in the fall as biological digestion of cellulose can clean the environment that can harbor pests and diseases


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.

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

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).