If you have limited equipment and are just starting a food plot plan please go back to LEVEL 1
1) Soil Preparation Level 2
2) Planting level 2
3) Fertilizer level 2
4) Repellents level 2
5) Herbicides level 2
SOIL PREPARATION AND LIME
Assuming you have a basic knowledge of farm practices and access to either a multi-task ATV farming implement or a tractor with various implements, here are 8 steps that need your attention in order to be successful. We have also included a wealth of information at the end of this section that is targeted toward those who wish to take deer nutrition to what we could call “LEVEL 3”
- Do a soil test, and then fertilize and lime as needed. You won’t believe the difference fertilizing and liming will make in both the attraction and production of your food plot! If the ph is lower than 5.8, which it probably will be if pines grow there, lime will greatly help. And, you can fertilize almost anything and make it more attractive to deer, but if you fertilize a desirable food plot, the difference can be astounding.
- Control competing weeds and grass. Weeds greatly reduce yield, utilization and the life expectancy of perennial plots. Thorough disking before planting and/or the use of selected herbicides will do wonders. Work hard to keep your plots clean.
- Prepare your seedbed well, making sure it is thoroughly disked, clean and level. After all, you’re “farming for deer,” whether using a 4-wheeler or John Deere tractor. The quality of your food plot will reflect the quality of your farming effort. Think of the seedbed as the foundation on which you’re building your food plot “house.”
- Choose the right seeds for your soils, climate and purpose. There’s a vast difference in food plot plants. Decide what you want your plot to accomplish and pick just the right thing for the job, meaning the right thing for your region, soil type, climate, equipment and farming expertise. Your food plot will be no better than what you put in the ground.
- Time your planting for optimum success. You need to plant at the right time of year and when the temperature and moisture are right for your crop. Wait for the ideal window and move quickly. Planting too early or late or in the wrong conditions will cost production … and maybe even the crop.
- Plant at the right depth. Big seeds like cereal grains, Lablab, Lablab Plus and cowpeas can be planted an inch or more deep, but small seeds, like clovers and chicory, can’t push through much soil and must be planted a half-inch deep or less. Generally, planting with a grain drill is preferable to broadcasting because depth and distribution can be better controlled.
- Larger, “fatter” plots yield more than smaller, narrow ones. You’ll have less production on plots under an acre in size and/or on long, narrow plots with lots of edge because of shading and competition from adjoining trees and brush. Yes, small, narrow plots are aesthetically pleasing, but when production is the goal, you need reasonable acreage and more “open” land removed from shading and edge competition to allow the food plot plants to really grow. The degree to which trees and brush can compete for food plot nutrients and moisture is tremendous.
- Plant sufficient acreage for the deer you’re feeding. Lots of people think because deer come to plots they are big enough, but there is a huge difference between attracting a few deer and actually feeding them. If getting nutrition to deer is the goal, you’ve got to have good production and plenty of acreage. If your plot is mowed down to ground level and looks like a well-manicured golf course, you probably don’t have enough acreage in plots. You need visible standing crop to feed deer. Generally, that will take about one acre of food plot for every 3 deer feeding on it. Small, isolated plots will get hammered.
Planting can be done in variations of two methods:
1) planted with planters or grain drills into conventionally prepared seed beds or
2) minimum or no-tilled in stubble or chemically treated land to kill the vegetation present. Cover seed to the recommended depth on the product planting instructions. You will notice that there is no planting recommendation for broadcasting onto unprepared seed beds. This can result in failure of the product to establish a satisfactory stand and perform to your expectations and our knowledge of their potential. We both are then disappointed.
There are many different materials which make up fertilizer whether it is in bags or bulk. The plant does not know the difference. It can only take up the fertilizer elements through its roots in certain forms and does not care if that form comes from ammonium nitrate or cow manure. Fertilize according to the soil test.
One note of caution: your recommendation may come back with no requirement for adding Nitrogen due to legumes in the mix. Monster Mix, Max Attract 50/50, Lablab Plus, Alfa-Feast and Ultra Forage Mix all have non-legume products included in the brand and these will require some Nitrogen to maximize their production until some of the nodules break down to supply this element. Chicory is non-leguminous and requires Nitrogen. Lablab is 100% legume products and if properly inoculated requires no additional Nitrogen fertilizer.
Ask for minor nutrients fertilizer if at all possible. This is more difficult in bagged products, but again these minor elements can be critical. There is an agricultural law called Liebig’s Law. What this law essentially says is the crop will be limited by the most limiting factor. In other words, a chain is only as strong as its weakest link.
Why repel what you’re trying to attract? Interesting question and a very big subject we’re going to try to keep simple. Some crops, particularly big seeded beans, peas and legumes are so attractive to deer that they’ll be visiting your plot before the young plants have had time to establish themselves. Cereal grains and brassicas will usually be OK with this early pressure so we’re talking mainly about products like Lablab and other big seeded legumes. Many Tecomate legumes are blended with other plants to help “screen” the young beans, but depending on the number of deer in your area, you may still need to use some kind of repellent as the plot begins to grow.
There are two basic ways to keep deer off of a young plot. Fence them out (usually electric), which is relatively expensive, or use a commercially available repellent. At “LEVEL 1”, with limited resources and equipment, you’re probably better off with one of many liquid concentrates you can find on the internet. Purchase and apply as directed and remember that rain will reduce its effectiveness.
If you have a high population of deer and limited food sources available, you’ll have your hands full keeping deer off your young plots. It’s a good idea in these situations to overseed your plot (plant more than we recommended) and plant as many plots as you can to spread the feeding pressure out.
Early pressure will kill young beans and Peas. These plants are called “dicotyledons” and if the growing tip is nipped out by deer, the plant will die. Considering all the work you’ve done to this point, don’t stop short of using a repellent to give your plot the best possible chance.
Herbicides are used to selectively kill unwanted weeds that try to establish themselves in your food plot. By killing unwanted vegetation, you make more of the fertilizer nutrients available for the food plot plant. You probably know the herbicide “Round Up” as one that kills most of what it touches in your landscape, but there are other selective herbicides that kill only particular categories of plants and they can be used successfully in your food plots without hurting your plantings. Obviously it’s important to do your homework on this subject to avoid destroying your plot. Some crops will not tolerate an herbicide so read the label carefully before proceeding.