May and June are the months when deer hunters plan to put their food plots in the ground. Many believe that the sooner the better, but that is not necessarily true. Rainfall and soil temperature are key factors in the success of the food plot.
The first step recommended by everyone who plants a seed is to perform a soil test. A soil test will tell you everything you need to know about what your soil needs to grow your plants efficiently. I suggest getting soil samples from each plot you plan to plant, and if the plot is larger than an acre, get several.
Soil preparation is now the next step. The ongoing debate/discussion is, tillage or no tillage. I think both have viable applications, so let’s do a quick review of both methods.
It’s obvious that if you’re going to till your food plots before planting, you’ll need access to some farming equipment. I don’t necessarily mean a tractor and all the implements, however that will make the job a lot easier. But most of the food plot preparation can be done with an ATV and the tools that come with it.
Another drawback to tillage is the recent increase in fuel prices. Doing two or three extra passes on each plot will add up. You must decide where to draw the line on the total cost per acre of your parcels.
No-tillage is the method I prefer. This method promotes the natural growth of plants. Soil is built from the surface down. I think tilling interrupts that natural process. No-tillage leaves decomposing matter on the surface so that rain can leach nutrients into the soil naturally.
Another big advantage of no-tillage is the reduced erosion you’ll see. The two big contributors to soil erosion are wind and rain. By not tilling, you drastically decrease the effects of this problem.
The next question is, “What do I plant?” That’s a fair question, but it has multiple valid answers. It has been my experience to simply produce a food parcel that gives your deer what they cannot get naturally at your location.
For example, I think it is useless to grow corn and soybeans in a food plot on a row crop farm. You are simply providing the deer with more of something it already has. Think outside the box and always plant a mix of seeds to maximize your effective yield throughout the season.
Again, thinking outside the traditional box, I suggest surrounding your food plots with thick-growing food-producing plants. I like Sudex, sunflowers or okra. The deer love all of this and form a protective barrier around the rest of the plot.
This is a good place to quickly jump to mineral supplements. Adding the correct minerals in the correct concentrations can greatly improve the overall health of your deer herd. That in itself is a topic for a full article in the future, but I recommend you do some research in the meantime. I personally like Rack Daddy Minerals out of Columbia, Missouri. Adding the right mineral supplement program is a big step in the right direction.
Planting your plot
Let’s go back to the crops. Within your border cover crops, you should always have clover, wheat, and rye in your seed mix. These are better than oatmeal, in my opinion. Sugar beets, turnips and radishes are great as they provide sources of nutrition both above ground and below ground. Remember that the products I just mentioned are predominantly for tilled soils. Although some of these seeds can be broadcast, others will require a seeder or drill. Once your broadcast seed is on the surface, you should go back over your plot with a drag to cover the seed.
My recommendation for fertilizer and seed density depends on the results of your soil tests. I learned most of my food plot knowledge from the guys who developed the following practices when I worked at Beck’s Hybrids. Based on your experience, I like to start with 175-200 pounds of lime per acre, referring to your test results for exact amounts. Also, I put a couple hundred pounds of 13-13-13 fertilizer per acre.
When it’s time to plant, I plant a lot, expecting the deer to look hard. I use about 200 pounds per acre of my seed mix. Remember, this is the right seed mix for your location, but don’t be afraid to experiment. Come hunting season, you’ll be glad you did.