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.”

Earth Day: Benefits to healthy soil VIDEO

On Earth Day, Ryan Hartberg visited Milwaukee’s channel 12 news station and while the cameras were rolling, talked about planting and healthy soils with Andy Choi who’s a self-professed newbie to gardening. Watch the segment here. Full transcript is below.


Ryan on the news

Earth Day! Ryan Hartberg on Channel 12 News in Milwaukee talking about compost and planting.

Full transcript:

New on WISN 12 news, we are of course talking about earth day and all of the gray importance of earth day. And joining us today to talk about gardening–we’re talking about gardening and this beautiful set you brought with us here. Ryan Hartberg of Purple Cow Organics is here to talk about why healthy soil is essential to getting the best results for your garden. Thank you for coming in.

Thank you, Andy.

A lot of people are talking about gardening with the sun shining and the temperatures warming up.

First of all, happy earth day. It is like Mother’s Day. You should love your mother all year long. But it is nice to have one day you pay attention to her.


So here is what top soil looks like or some soils look like. We see it on a farm field or our backyard. This is the.Are this is used over and over again.

We have been taking, taking, taking. 95% of the food that we heat comes from soil and top soil specifically. If this is what it looks like we may not get nutrients. It takes a thousand years to create three inches of top soil. A long time.

So how do we give the love?

It is great and common and easy to get, compost. This is materials that come from the earth, sustainable. And broken down to a useful, soil again, the difference between a topsoil used and compost. This is dark and rich, full of nutrients, biology. And holds moisture well. You can do it in your back yard or a garden center and buy compost.

And I’m not exactly a green thumb. So for the folks watching, if I can do it.

You can do it. So should we start planting something.

Yes. Great.

We have a couple of peppers here. We take a little bit of compost. So put it.

So a little handful in the hole there. You get the goodness by the man’s roots.

Goodness for mother nature.

And all right. That in the hole there. And then put a little bit more compost.

More compost.

And cover the top of the pot.

Part of is, just, you see the topsoil that is ragged and not doing too much for you, you have to show mother earth the love.

Yes. The compost is like the super vitamin and hold moisture and give the plant the nutrients it needs. And then fertilizer.

A kick there. It is a great way to get more nutrients around the plant.

All right. Thank you. My green thumb is upgraded quite a bit there. Happy earth day to you. If you would like to learn more about the great recommendations here for the soil, check out

Where to Buy

What does “Organic” mean in terms of compost?

How is compost anything but organic?

Recently we had a response to a blog post about our compost and how it is considered Organic.  The question was, “How is compost anything but organic? You put the term organic in front of it so you can charge more for the same thing.”

This is a great question!  This is an answer that is probably helpful to a lot of interested consumers about the necessity, purpose, or value of the “organic” label.

To a certain extent, you are correct: most compost – if it truly is compost – is what we call “lower case ‘o’ organic” – meaning it is made from natural, carbon-based ingredients like plants or manure.  We, too, have seen some other companies and products on the market that refer to their compost as “organic compost”, perhaps to – as you say – be able to charge more, but are nothing other than compost – and of varying quality.

What do we mean by Organic?

When Purple Cow Organics refers to its compost products as Organic (conversely, we use the phrase “capital “O” Organic” to describe Purple Cow products) we are referring to products that are approved for use in USDA Certified Organic production and/or OMRI Listed for Organic Use.  The process in which we craft the aerobically-made compost – taking into account time, temperature, turning – is highly standardized to insure quality and consistency every time.

UOMRI Green Logo smallnlike food, which gets the designation “USDA Certified Organic”, products like compost that are used in organic production need to be approved by a certifier.  Having a product OMRI Listed allows certifiers and growers expedite the approval process for those products.  OMRI is the Organic Materials Review Institute, which is a private, nonprofit organization that does independent vetting of products to make sure they are approved for organic production.  Our composting process and compost products are subject to one of the most stringent vetting processes to insure consistency, quality, safety, and sustainability.  You can see a list of approved (OMRI Listed) products at

Purple Cow compost not only meets, but exceeds the standards set forth by OMRI and the US Compost Council’s Seal of Testing Assurance (USCC-STA) in terms of maturity, quality, consistency, growing emergence and vigor, particle size, etc.

OMRI is the organization that we use for pre-approval, but there are others including NOP (

Thanks again for the question!










What is compost?

Compost is simply just organic matter that’s been broken down into a stabilized form, to provide nutrients as a fertilizer to soils.

Good compost is really high in organic matter. Organic matter is the broken-down material – a lot of carbon…can consist of humic matter that is good for soils, and it’s good because it does a few things – one is: high organic matter holds water really well.

Good organic matter also holds nutrients better. So, when you add nutrients whether they’re in the compost, or you add them as a fertilizer – especially in mineralized form – those nutrients will be held by the compost – by the humic matter in the organic matter, in the compost – so that it’s available when the plant needs it. It won’t be as easily leached out by watering or by rain.