Food Plot

If you have a well-established food-plot program on your hunting property, then you’re probably watching your summer crops come up or getting ready to spray glyphosate on your Round-up Ready soybeans or corn. If you don’t have a solid food-plot program on your hunting property, but you want to, then listen up to these vital first steps.

Soil Test

For some of you, this is probably that one step you’ve been ignoring for various reason. Some might not think it’s necessary, some might think it’s a waste of time and money, and some of you are just being lazy. There’s nothing sexy about this step. It’s like brushing your teeth or watching what you eat on a diet, it’s not fun, but absolutely necessary to a successful outcome. A soil test is not only going to tell you what nutrients your soil is lacking, but more importantly it’s going to tell you what your soil’s pH level is. And if that’s not enough, it’s going to tell you what you need to do to correct it — how much agricultural lime and fertilizer to apply to it. And, no, it’s not too late to do this now!

Preparing Food Plot
Lime not only saves you money on fertilizer, but ensures productive crops, too.

Most soils that haven’t been amended in the past will fall into the acidic range — a pH measurement of less than 7. The pH scale ranges from 0 to 14 (with 7 being neutral) and is a measure of acidity and alkalinity. Ironically, many food-plot crops thrive around the neutral range.

What happens if you plant crops in an acidic soil? If your soil has a pH of 6.0, then about 20 percent of the fertilizer you put out is never used by the plant — it’s completely wasted. If your pH is 5.0, then you’ve wasted 50 percent of your fertilizer application. A pH level of 4.5 (which is not an uncommon measurement in the Southeast) will waste 70 percent of your fertilizer. An easier way to interpret this, you wasted 70, 50 or 20 percent of the money you paid for that expensive fertilizer.

It’s nothing to pay $30 to $40 per hundred pounds of 13-13-13 fertilizer. You’ll typically need around 300 pounds of 13-13-13 per acre for common food plot crops, too. In comparison, 1 ton of lime cost about $30 to $40 and that usually includes the cost of renting the lime buggy from your local co-op to apply it with. The good news is, the lime will typically last for several years before another application is needed, too. For hard-to-reach food plots, where it would be impossible to haul a large lime buggy, MOULTRIE’S ATV SPREADER is the ideal tool for spreading bagged pelletized lime.

A soil test cost about $7 per plot. You’ll want to take samples for each plot and segregate them into separate bags or containers and label them for sampling. You’d be surprised at the difference in pH level between plots on the same piece of land. So, not only will soil test give you the instructions for amending your soil to ensure that your crops are nutritious and thriving, but they will literally keep you from wasting money on fertilizer cost.

Boomless Sprayer
A Moultrie ATV sprayer is ideal for herbicide applications on food plots.

Weed Control

You can start knocking down weeds in your fall food plots now. The first step is to bush hog the tall stuff down. Let the field sit for a couple weeks to allow a flush of new growth. Next, apply glyphosate (same chemical in Round-up) herbicide to the field with an ATV SPRAYER. This will kill off the weeds growing in the field and leave a mat of dead vegetation on top, acting like mulch in a flower bed, to help prevent future weed growth during the summer. Chances are, especially if you’re getting plenty of rain, you’ll need to spray the plot again in 6 to 8 weeks or so to knock back any newly sprouted seedlings. It’s always easier to kill young growing plants than it is mature ones. If timed right, your second spraying should take place about three weeks prior to disking your plots for your fall crops during the late summer or early fall.

Perhaps you did plant summer crops on your hunting property this year. There are a host of crops that are high in protein and provide valuable nutrition to your deer herd in the summer months. Summer forage crops include: soybeans, lab-lab and iron-clay cowpeas mixed with sunflower. These broad-leaf plants can be planted starting mid-April in the Deep South on through May and June farther north. The major weed competition in a summer plot is grass weeds. Fortunately, you can utilize a grass-specific post-emergent herbicide like Clethodim to kill grasses while leaving your crops unharmed. Again, you’ll want to spray grasses when young, so apply the grass herbicide about two to three weeks after planting. This will knock back the grass competition while the crops continue to rapidly grow in the intense sunlight, shading out any further weed development for the remainder of the summer.  

While it might be the offseason, it’s definitely not the season to take off when food plots are concerned. If you never pulled soil samples from your food plots, now is the time to do it. Once you get the results back, get that lime spread and disked into the plots. Not only will the deer respond this fall, but you’ll be proud of your beautiful, lush plots this season.