Planting food plots is certainly the “IN” thing and can be an enjoyable extension to your hunting season. There are a few questions that need to be answered before you get started.
What type of soil are you working with?
I strongly suggest a simple soil test before starting any food plot. Most food plot seeds will do best in soil with a PH of 5.8 to 6.5. Take samples from numerous places throughout the plot and mix them all together. Put the soil in a paper bag and send it off to the lab. I have had good luck with Spectrum Analytic INC in Washington CH, Ohio. www.spectrumanalytic.com.
Are you trying to feed deer, kill deer, or both?
Small plots of 1/8 to 1/2 acre near heavy cover can be deadly ambush spots. Plots of this size should be planted in clover or cereal grain. Conversely, don’t waste your time trying to establish corn, beans, peas, or even brassicas in plots of ½ acre or less. If however you have the acres and the money to plant a large destination plot (3-10 acres) you can do a lot for the health of the herd as well as holding a lot of deer on your hunting land. It is hard to beat a soybean to brassica rotation in these large plots. As we get into other segments I will cover the basics of how and when to plant these crops.
Do you have the time and equipment to get the job done?
I plant between 7-10 acres of plots every year. I have a very small tractor, 5’ tiller, 10 foot 20 gallon boom sprayer, 5 gallon backpack sprayer, 400 lb cone spreader, hand held bag seeder, and 8’ cultipacker. I fell as if I get a lot accomplished with the equipment I have. I would also consider my equipment to be the bare minimum for anyone tackling a field of 2 acres plus. Make sure you figure the cost of seed, fuel, lime, and fertilizer. It is much better to plant less acres RIGHT as opposed to planting more acres WRONG. Do not cut corners on lime and fertilizer recommendations.
The easiest plot for beginners in my opinion is a fall mix of cereal grains and clover. The mix consists of Cereal Rye, Winter Wheat, Oats, and Red Clover. The rate per acre is as follows:
Cereal Rye 50 lbs per acre
Winter Wheat 50 lbs per acre
Oats 50 lbs per acre
Red Clover 8 lbs per acre
Plant in late August to early September and fertilize with 150 lbs of 46-0-0 (urea) per acre. An estimated cost of 200 dollars per acre is what this mix would cost to plant. This includes seed, fertilizer, round-up, and fuel. Lime requirements will be met based on soil sample results.
OK, now that we have all of our equipment and materials lets go over the how to of getting a great stand of cereal grain/clover mix in the ground. Start by spraying the field with round-up or any generic glyphosate product 2-3 weeks before your target planting date. Next you want to disk or till the field at least 48 hours before you plant to plant. This allows for any vegetation that was not killed by your early August spraying to begin to decompose. On planting day simply broadcast the 150 lbs of cereal grain mix onto the field. Follow this by broadcasting the 150 lbs of 46-0-0 onto the field. Once all the seed and fertilizer is on the field you are now ready to incorporate it into the soil. This may also be a good time to add 500-1000 lbs of pelletized lime. Make sure that when you disk or till the seed into the soil that you lightly cover the seed. A depth of ¼ inch is ideal. It is much preferred to cover the seed too lightly as opposed to burying it too deep. It is now time to cultipack the field. Once the field is cultipacked you want to spread the 8 lbs of Red Clover on the plot with a hand seeder. Clover is a very small seed and you need to take caution to not spread it to thick. It is easy to go through 8 lbs and find that you have only covered ½ or less of the plot. Take your time and walk it twice if you have to. When the clover is on the field your final steps are to cultipack the field twice more and clean all equipment that was even close to fertilizer. Water is a good start but a coating of oil works best for disk blades, tiller tines, and cone spreaders.
The Red Clover will do ok in the fall as an attractant. Where it really shines is the following spring when it is one of the first plants to jump onto the scene. This is at a time when deer are in need of nutritious food. Especially pregnant does. It also adds much needed Nitrogen back into the soil.
The cereal grain mix on the other hand will be a deer attractant all fall and winter. The oats will be a deer favorite from the time they sprout right up until the first hard frost. The rye and wheat will take over at that time and feed as well as attract deer throughout the winter. The rye will also be one of the first plants to green up in the spring. If you are new to food plotting or a seasoned veteran this is a great recipe for plotting success.