By: Colby Ward
Food plots, if done right can improve your property by attracting a wide variety of wildlife, offer enhanced year around nutrition, and are just fun to hunt. I like to plant seed mixtures that are palatable at different times and also mix annual and perennial plots into my management plan.
Annual plots offer explosive growth and are very easy to grow, but will typically only last one season. Annuals are plants like oats, wheat, soy beans, rye, and brassicas. My annual mixture of choice is Heartland Wildlife’s Buck Buster Extreme, which contains winter oats, rye, forage soybeans and three brassicas, hybrid turnips, forage rape and purple top turnips. Deer absolutely love this mixture.
Perennials on the other hand can take longer to get established, but will last 4 or 5 years or even indefinitely under the right conditions. My perennial choice is Heartland Wildlife’s Rack Maker Plus Chicory and Top Seed Trophy Clover. Both of these products contain mixtures of perennial seeds such as alfalfa, clovers, and birdsfoot trefoil which are extremely hardy and withstand high browsing pressure.
Follow these 10 simple steps for amazing food plots.
1) Site selection – Pick a spot that has the deepest, richest soil. Typically flat to rolling fields in lower elevations or close to river bottoms will be good places to look. I like fields that have lots of edge or follow the contour of the land, or long and narrow plots. This gives wildlife a sense of security and you’ll likely see more activity earlier in the evenings and later in the mornings in these areas. I also like to find locations that are in the center of my hunting property, which draw the game in and keep them on your property.
2) Soil test – Tests typically cost under $20.00 and only need to be done every few years. Soil tests will give you the knowledge you need to get the most out of your plantings of choice. Dig down 6 inches in the soil from 5 or 6 different locations around the proposed field. Take a sampling from each dig site and mix in a plastic bucket. Mix the soil samples together and draw a sample from the mixture and place in a plastic zip lock bag. Send to your local agriculture extension or agriculture university and they will have your results back to you within a couple weeks. The soil test will have fertilizer and lime recommendations tailored to the type of plants you are trying to grow.
3) Pick the right equipment – Once you have your site selected and know what you are going to plant, it is time to start the work. Picking the right equipment will make the job easy and give you a much better success rate. Having the right equipment also allows you to plant plots that are large enough to withstand the heavy grazing pressure you will likely experience, which is extremely important especially if you hunt in hog country. A plot too small can be completely wiped out in a few nights if 20 or 30 hogs find it.
I recommend you get a large enough tractor that you can mow, disc and spread the seed without too much effort. This year I used a Kubota tractor from Zimmerer Kubota which worked like a charm. Kubota tractors are powerful, offer attachments for every need and get the job done right. Trying to juggle a job, family and still get in as much hunting as you can, you will be thankful for using a Kubota tractor to get the job done right! Go to http://www.zimmererkubota.com/ to see a full list of tractors and ATV’s.
4) Mowing – Cut the grass and weeds prior to discing. I like to mow my fields a few weeks prior to discing with a brush hog or cutter, which makes mowing simple.
5) Fertilize – Your soil test will tell you your PH and exactly what type of fertilizer and lime to get the best results out of the plants you plan to plant. A farmer friend of mine told me to fertilize prior to discing, which will work the fertilizer down into the soil upon discing. I will report back if I see better results this way.
6) Discing – It is best to disc the soil 45 days in advance of seeding and then lightly disc a second time, right before seeding. If you don’t have your own equipment, you can get by with doing it all one day if you need to. It is best to break up the dirt enough to kill the weeds and prior year’s grasses and allow good seed to soil contact.
7) Compacting – Just remember the more compact your soil is the better results you will get out of your seeds. If the soil is too loose, you will not get the desired stand you are looking for.
8) Seeding – Broadcast or use a seed drill. A seed drill allows you to put the seed in the ground at the appropriate depth, but will work best with larger seeds. Broadcasting also works well. When broadcasting, I typically seed at a slightly higher rate to insure I get good coverage.
9) Cover and Compact – If you use a seed drill you can bypass this step. It is already done. If you broadcast the seed, now you need to cover the seeds. Seeds should be planted at a depth of 1.5 times the size of the seed. For example oat size seeds should be planted at a depth of ¾ to 1inch deep. If you are planting in dry weather and it is not supposed to rain for over 7 days, you should plant the seeds at a depth of 2 to 2.5 times the size of the seed. Seeds as small as clover, broadcast and leave on top of the soil.
10) Rain – All your work is done and now is time to get some water on your plots. Plan your seeding at a time, when rain is more frequent, like April and May in the spring and September and October in the fall. Monitor your weather channel and try to time you’re planting right before the storms come into your area.
With the right equipment you can plant quality food plots that will provide year round nutrition for your wildlife, attract and keep game on your property and allow you to implement multiple hunting strategies throughout the season. Heartland Wildlife Institute offers excellent annual and perennial seed mixes that will grow all across North America. Go to Heartland Wildlife Institute for more information.
Good luck with your plots and happy hunting!