Article provided by ProHuntersJournal.com member Jay Clawson
I am by no means a farmer or biologist, but being able to grow things from Mother Nature has always been fascinating to me. This year I decided to roll-up my sleeves, get my hands dirty and try to plant some small food plots to help enhance my whitetail hunting success this fall. I felt I had done my homework, researched enough and had plenty of knowledge to give this a try. But I quickly learned that all the knowledge in the world won’t help if you don’t follow a few critical steps.
After weeds started taking over my plots, I wondered how that was possible when I did everything I read about. Missing one step (or not knowing about a step) can cause months of work and preparation to be all for not. For you beginners out there who are interested in planting food plots for the first time, I want to help you learn from my mistakes, so you don’t make the same ones yourselves. Here is a simple, step-by-step process you can follow to get your hunting food plots off to a good start!
1. Get a soil sample and determine your crop. Neutralizing the pH of the soil is one of the most important determinants in planting a successful food plot. You need to have a fairly neutral pH to grow anything. Your soil sample will tell you the pH level and the amount of lime to add to neutralize it. Different crops do grow better when the pH is higher or lower, but rule of thumb is to shoot for a neutral pH. Most agricultural feed stores can do soil samples for you at a low cost (I got mine done at a local feed store for $12 dollars).
2. Mow the area where you want to plant the plot. Mow it as short as possible without messing up your mower deck.
3. Spray the future food plot area with a commercial grade weed/grass killer.
I would use a grass/weed killer that has 41% Glyphosate. Your local home improvement store sells this type of product.
4. Wait 10 to 14 days, and then spread your lime and fertilizer as recommended by your soil sample. There are two different types of lime, pulverized and pelletized, and both have different affects on the soil. Pulverized lime is the most common type used in planting because it keeps the pH neutral for a few years. You should re-test your soil yearly to make sure it is at the level where it needs to be. You can get pulverized lime spread right on your plot by a lime truck. Your AG store can help with this. You can also get pulverized lime in bags if you don’t need a lot or can’t get a truck to your plot. If you are going to be planting food plots for many years, pulverized lime is the way to go. Pelletized lime only comes in bag form and only neutralizes the pH for the growing season, which is typically six months. You will need to add pelletized lime to your plot every time you plant something. I used this form on my first plot because it was in bag form and easy to spread. I will be using pulverized next year.
5. Disk the lime and fertilizer into the soil. I used a small disk attachment for an ATV, but there are several options for doing this. For example, if the plot is small, renting a nice size tiller could be a good option for you. If it is a bigger plot, some local co-cops will rent tractors and plows for this type of small, “one-off” project. You might also try talking to your local AG store to see if they can get you hooked up with a local farmer who you could pay to do the disc work. AG stores can be a great resource for helping you connect with people willing to help.
6. Smooth the area to prepare a good flat seedbed. I would recommend using a cultipacker if you can access one, but dragging a chain-link fence with weight or roller will do.
7. Wait 10 to 14 days for new vegetation to grow. Then burn it again with the same weed/grass killer. When you disk the soil, you are essentially re-germinating the dormant weeds. This is where I made the mistake on my first food plot and did not kill the dormant weeds. After this grass/weed burn, do not disk or mess with the soil any further.
8. Wait 7-10 days, and then apply your seed. You must get good seed to soil contact for your plot to be successful. This is where a cultipacker is highly recommended. The cultipacker will push the seed into the soil giving it very good contact. Plus the cultipacker will not disturb the soil causing more dormant weeds to grow. Doing this step right before a good rain will also ensure good seed to soil contact, so check the forecast and plan accordingly. Finding and using a cultipacker was another step I did not properly prepare for on my first plot. I used a water filled roller, and it worked ok, but 30% of my seed never germinated.
9. Watch you hard work come to life! Once your plot gets going, you may want to treat it with a grass herbicide such as Select, Arrest or Poast a couple of times throughout the growing season. This will help control weeds. Mowing will also help control weeds and promote new growth that is more palatable. However, not all crops suggest mowing, so read about your specific crop type before making that decision.
I hope these simple steps help you get started in planting your own food plots and make you more successful next hunting season and for years to come!