Spring Food Plots

By: Roy K.Keefer
By: Roy K.Keefer

Spring is here and that means two things – turkey season and food plot preparation.  I enjoy both even though one provides a lot of fun and the other requires a lot of work.  I’ve been planting food plots for several years now on two different farms I’ve owned.  I’d to share with you some of the basics of the thought process and planning I’ve used through the years.

This is important for several reasons.  If you’re near a road that’s heavily traveled,  food plot nearby could spell trouble and attract trespassers.  I’d shy away from this location if I could.  But if you have no other choice, plant a screen of trees or tall grasses to block the view of the field.

If you have some land that’s already cleared, your work will be lessened.  If you have to clear timber and brush, you might consider renting heavy equipment to get it done.  I hired a dozer operator to clear an acre on our farm last year and the cost was reasonable.

Regardless of where you plant a food plot it has to have a reasonable amount of sunlight.  This is a necessity.  If you plant in an area with little sun you won’t like the results.

SIZE OF PLOT

Generally people talk in terms of “killing fields” and “feeding fields”.  The feeding fields are usually large – two acres or larger.  This will be the main food source for your deer and a place where they can feel at ease as they feed.  Killing fields are smaller, usually an acre or less.  I have such a field located in the middle of the timber on my farm.

If you have the ability to shape the field, I prefer the kidney shaped so I can place stands at the bends (pinch areas) in them.

Here clover proves an enticing draw for wildlife.
Here clover proves an enticing draw for wildlife.

WHAT TO PLANT

I like to offer food sources that will be available when surrounding farms have taken their crops out of the field.  At that time my farm becomes the local cafeteria for deer and turkeys; so I lean toward plants that will be green in the fall.  Clover has always been my go to crop.  You can do some research on the different types, but I use Ladino and red clovers.  A well maintained clover field will last five years.  Well maintained means fertilized, mowed and weeded regularly.

Buckwheat is another favorite of mine.  It will grow in less than ideal soil and will, in fact, improve it.  I like alfalfa, but most people don’t care for it due to the maintenance required.  It’s worth it though when you see how well the deer like it.

Winter wheat and oats are great for the fall.  When cold weather kills the oats, the winter wheat will continue to provide a food source.

Brassicas are commonly used, although I have no experience with them.  There are many plants on the market so do some research and you may find others that you want to try.  The big companies, Whitetail Institute, Mossy Oak, etc. have a wide selection of seed.  They generally cost more than seed from your local feed store, but I think they have quality products and are worth the money.

GETTING IT PLANTED

If your plots aren’t too large you can do a lot of the work with a 4-wheeler and some of the attachments that are available.  You need a sprayer, disc, harrow and seeder.  The harrow can be as simple as a piece of fencing weighted down with some concrete blocks.  I use a broadcast seeder which is on the front of my 4-wheeler.  I put it on the front so I can be certain it is putting out seed.  I’m fortunate to have a small tractor and disc and it makes quick work of my fields which total seven acres.

Soil preparation is important so work it until it is fairly smooth.  If you plant small seeds, such as clover, you run the harrow over it after broadcasting the seed being careful not to cover it too heavily.  One pass is all that’s needed.  A rule of thumb is plant a seed half as deep as the size of the seed.  Clover seed is about as large as the lead in a pencil, it’s not big.

OTHER THOUGHTS

It’s always best to get a soil test.  If you don’t you may be adding fertilizer that won’t be utilized by the soil and therefore not get into your plants.  PH is important, acidic soil isn’t desirable for nearly all plants.  I put three tons of quarry lime on all of my fields.  Your soil test will tell you what you need.

Before anything is done, you should spray a weed killer, such as Round Up or its generic form, so your plants won’t have to complete with weeds.  I have a 25 gallon sprayer on my 4WD and a larger 150 gallon for my tractor.

I don’t think you can have too many food plots, of course there are exceptions.  A general rule is 5-10% of your farm should be in food plots.  My farm is 166 acres.  As previously mentioned, I have 7 acres of food plots and 17 acres in wildlife vegetation (bluestem, oats, alfalfa and forbes).

The rewards of a well planted and maintained food plot are many.
The rewards of a well planted and maintained food plot are many.

Planting food plots can be as simple or complicated as you want.  Some people have made it into a profession and an obsession.  I’ve outlined some of the basics but you may want to get more into it.  If you need some help down the road, Quality Deer Management Association has an excellent website where you can get a lot of your questions answered.

There’s a lot of personal satisfaction in seeing wildlife feeding in fields you’ve planted.  And if you’re fortunate to harvest a deer or turkey, it’s an added bonus.  Last year I killed a nice tom in the spring and an 11 point, 152” buck during archery season on our farm.  Do I think the effort of planting food plots is worth it?  You bet.

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