Getting started with food plots can seem like a monumental undertaking, but food plots are the single most effective way of attracting and keeping deer on you property. There is a lot to think to think about when starting new food plots. What seed should I plant? Where should I put the plot? These are just some of the questions that need to be answered. If you are a bow hunter you may opt for more smaller plots or harvest plots, and if you are strictly a gun hunter, you may be looking for a larger plot size. Harvest plots can be put literally anywhere and should be kept to a maximum size of 1/4 acre (35yds Wide x 35 yds Deep). Larger plots can be any size but generally should be limited to no more than 10% of the size of your property.
Whether you plot is big or small and whether this is first time or you have been planting for years, follow these 8 key steps to realalize the maximum potential of your food plot and your hunting success.
One of the most important decisions that impacts the success of a food plot is site selection. It is important to select a site that receives at least 50% sunlight during the day and is an area that does not generally hold water when it rains. Swampy regions where water does not drain well is not a good site for a foodplot. Another consideration is the terrain that is present. A good site is going to have a good concentration of dirt, not clay, and is generally free of debris including rocks and roots. We will cover the quality of the dirt in the next section, it just important to make sure there is at least 4 inches of dirt before hitting clay or rocks. The last and maybe most important consideration in selecting a foodplot site is the deer travel routes. A good spot can be an expanded clearing on a nature travel route. This ensures that deer are using the area and are very likely to find that area safe for feeding. If there is not a lot of natural sign and travel routes to work with, try to locate an area close to the bedding area that has cover or brush in between the bedding area and the desired food plot location. This will give the deer a naturally concealed travel route to and from the food plot and will help to encourage them to visit more frequently.
After selection of the food plot site, the next most important factor for success is the soil test. There are many different labs that can test soil for its pH value and make recommendations on the amount and type of fertilizer needed. Consult your local farm seed vendor for soil test locations or contact Horizon Innovation for recommendations. When looking at any new food plot site it is important to get the soil pH reading to understand the correct preperations required to grow a successful food plot. The optimal pH value is 7.0 but needs to be at least 6.0 to consider planting most types of food plot seeds. Any soil pH under 6.0 will result in poor germination rates and stunted growth of many types of plants. A pH of under 6.0 is typical for most new forest locations especially if the soil has not been treated or conditioned for planting before. When gathering soil for the test, take a 1/2 cup scoop of dirt from 4-5 locations in your desired area and mix together for the soil sample.
Before tilling, it is important to eliminate any weeds by spraying a glyphosate based chemical. This will help in the preparation time of you foodplot and will reduce the likelihood of weeds growing back once the plot is planted. Once an area has been sprayed, let it stand for at least 7 days before starting a till. Depending on the size and number of weeds present it may require mowing before beginning to till. This will reduce the amount of clogging while tilling. After tilling, it is not nessecary to spray a weed killer again, instead spray a soil conditioner to help ensure planting success.
Adding lime to soil increases the pH value and increases the effectiveness of fertilizer and germination rates of the seed you choose. Depending on the soil test results of your choosen site, it will most likely require the addition. Review your soil test results or consult with a agriculture professional for specific amounts. Typically it takes 1000 lbs of lime per acre to rasie a pH value by 0.5. Lime is available through your local agricultural dealer or available at most home improvement stores. Pelletized lime may the easiest to start with because it can purchased in 50lb bags and spread with a standard broadcast spreader. Once the proper amount of lime is spread in the plot area be sure to lightly disc it in the soil. It may take up to 8 weeks before results will show up in a follow-up soil test.
There are multiple ways to fertilize your food plot. Consult your soil test results for the recommended amount and type of fertilizer to add to your desired foodplot location. There are liquid and pellet forms of fertilizer that can be used on foodplots. Liquid types are sprayed directly on the plants and can be a very effective way to simulate growth midway through the growing season. Pellet type fertilizers can be applied at any time but most often are added before or during planting. Most fertilizers are listed by a three number sequence. The first number is the amount of nitrogen, the second number is the amount of phosphorus and the third number is the amount of potassium. Again, consult the results of your soil test for recommendations on the type and amount of fertilizer to use.
Tilling is nessecary in order to loosen the soil along with working in the lime, fertilizer, and soil conditioner into the soil. Tilling with the proper implements such as discs, cultivators, chisel plows and tillers. Tillage depth depends on the desired plants to be grown but typically is between 4-6 inches deep. Tilling deeper than 6 inches is not nessecary and risks bringing unwanted weed seeds to the surface for germination. Creating a seed bed of 3-4 inches is ideal for the majority of foodplot seeds. Read the planting instructions from the seed you desire to plant, as there should be a recommended tillage and planting depth.
Now it is time to plant your food plot. First start by creating a firm seed bed by cultipacking the foodplot. This will create an ideal seed bed to ensure the right soil-to-seed contact. Most small seeds and foodplot mixtures can be broadcast spread. Once the seed is spread evenly, cultipack one last time to ensure the seed is covered. Most small seeds only require 1/4" - 1/2" planting depth.
For larger seeds and row crops such as soy beans, corn, peas and oats, use a planter or grain drill to plant seeds at the required depth. This can be done with the use of a pull behind seeder or grain drill and can be also be completed with the use of a manual walk behind planter.
It is important to plant your foodplot with food sources that will ripen and be ready for the time of year that you hunt. If you are an early season hunter, clovers and brassicas are a good choice and will attract deer early. If you are a late season hunter, turnips and sugar beets can be a good choice for food sources that mature once the temperature drops.
If you have high deer numbers your plot will see a lot of grazing pressure and it is important to size your plot accordingly based on the size the of the resident deer herd. It is important to keep an eye on weeds and remove them as much as possible to promote growth of your desired plants. Adding fertilizer mid season is an effective way to promote continued growth of your foodplot. A great way to measure the grazing pressure on your foodplot is to fence off a 4ft x 4ft area of your foodplot and compare that growth against the rest of the plot. When establishing a new foodplot, be sure to repeat the soil test every year until the soil pH becomes stable around 7.0 mark.