PREMIUM FOOD PLOTS FOR
BOW AND FIREARM SITES CREATED BY HAND HELD INEXPENSIVE EQUIPMENT.
The following suggested food plot type and method of creation is the result of trial and error started in 1982 with my first frost seeding experiments through the summer of 1998. I am excited and confidant from the results of the last few years in creating mini food plots and food plot shooting lanes in hunting sites without farm type power equipment.
Basic frost seeding is broadcasting june clover on existing pastures that have been depleted in lequemes. The broadcasting is done while there is still freezing and thawing occuring. Late February through early March is an ideal time period. I wait for most of the snow to melt and after a good freeze I broadcast the seed. This also is my choice of time to cruise the woods for a browse survey, look for shed antlers, and scout the deer. With most of the snow gone and the lower areas filled with water and frozen you can literally glide through the woods. Basic frost seeding on existing pastures works best if it has been extensively grazed or mowed the previous fall. This exposess the soil for the most important seed soil contact condition. The freezing and thawing action draws the seed into tighter contact with the soil. In addition the early spring rains make a slurry of the top surface of the partially frozen soil. This further enhances seed soil contact and the existing sod helps prevent water and seed run off.
I have never been satisfied with the results of my efforts with basic frost seeding in existing sod fields. Almost always the sod would be too much competition for the June clover to germinate and grow in the lower soil elevations or the soil and moisture too poor in higher elevations. The answer was obvious for the poor soil areas. Stay away from them. Since the lower soil elevations were usually the better soil types and had better vegetative growth, it was an obvious choice to concentrate there. Through the years I would put in variations of frost seedings and sometimes the results would encourage me to try further experimentation. Concentrating my experiments the last few years in developing food plots for seclusive hunting sites has led to the following type of food plot which I hope you try and have success with.
The following are the hand tools you need. A backpack type sprayer (3 gl. min.) with a hand pump which delivers pressure on demand (example, solo model No. 425 price $90). It works better with a 20" extension which allows you to spray a 10 ft. wide swath. I would recommend removing the existing plastic flat spray nozzle and replacing it with a stainless steel nozzle No. 8003VS which can be purchased at farm supply stores. This stainless steel nozzle should last you many years and it has a larger spray volume and wider spray path than the existing one. You need a hand operated over the shoulder broadcast spreader (example earthway model 2700A price $38). This type of spreader is used for both seed and fertilizer. It will broadcast up to a 12 ft. swath and can hold 35 lbs. in the zippered canvas bag. Lastly you will need a chainsaw. A small to medium size should be adequate. A stihl model 025 is lightweight but will cut 16" dia. trees.
Carefully select your sites (bow or firearm) even if it means abandoning your long time favorite hunting spot. Give consideration for access to it, heavy cover adjacent, nearby water source and soil type for maximum production. For your bow site you can clear out an area of 1/8 to 1/4 of an acre (75 to 105 ft. dia.) and/or you can create open travel lanes leading to your bow site. These open lanes need to be from 15 to 30 ft. wide depending on overstory. Your plantings should receive a minimum of 50% of the available sunlight. These cleared areas and open lanes are created by your chainsaw and you need not concern yourself about where the trees fall or removing them. Sometimes the more trash the better, it creates a sense of security. These open lanes can meander alongside a drainage in any length you prefer. For your firearm site your shooting lanes are obviously straight. If you decide to make the length of your shooting lanes about the same as your maximum shooting range or shorter, you can clear an opening at the far end as a feeding site. The size of this food plot clearing can be from 1/8 to 1/4 of an acre or larger. You would need to have most of the trees fall away from the shooting lanes to minimize trimming required for clear observation, unless you have the advantage of an elevated blind. These lane and open area cuttings could be a healthy winter activity.
Around the third week of May (wait for the top leaf of the bracken fern to unfold) spray with round up. I recommend when buying the round up you purchase it at a farm supply store in concentrate form. Price should be $50 a gl. At 1/4 cup of round up per gl. of water you should spray at least 2 2/3 acre per gl. This is $20 an acre max. Around the end of June spray again and only the vegetation that escaped the May spraying. Again around the middle of September spray the escapes only. You should not have very many and the cost is minimal. I am not pushing round up, but it is very effective, moderately priced and has a low toxic EPA warning label. It can be purchased and used by anyone. You do not need an applicators license. Follow spraying instructions, walk with the wind at your back or walk backwards to avoid getting your clothing wet. Wear latex gloves, face mask and change clothes after spraying. Have a gallon container of clean water handy in case of spills on your person. This food plot is the premium type and you do not plant during the year of spraying. The May spraying starts the decomposition of the vegetation (tops and roots). The additional escape sprayings assures minimal native vegetation competition and by next spring planting time there will be plenty of exposed soil to guarantee vital seed soil contact and yet enough dead sparse cover to help keep the soil cool and moist. Something like the straw spread on newly planted grass seed.
The following late winter, preferable the first half of March, broadcast your seed. You can also broadcast your first split application of fertilizer at this time. Broadcast 200lbs. of 7-27-27 (or similar) per acre if seeding lequemes. If not seeding lequemes broadcast 200lbs. of 16-16-16 per acre. Also its a good idea to broadcast 200lbs. of 16-16-16 into the surrounding woods at this time. You may have your own preferred seed type from june clover to rape or you can contact your county extension agent for recommendations, but whatever you do, plant the seed type that can germinate without being worked mechanically into the soil.
My preferred seed type is a meadow mix of lequemes. It consists of 3lbs. ladino clover, 3lbs. June clover (red clover), 3lbs. of alsike and 3lbs. of birds foot trefoil per acre. You will need to mix inoculant with the lequeme seed. A separate type of inoculant for the clovers (ladino, june & alsike) and birdsfoot trefoil is necessary. Purchasing the seed from a complete farm store may make it easier. Some will inoculate and mix the seed for you. These inoculants help the lequemes fix a major portion of the nitrogen the plants use through stimulating nodules that are attached to their root system. These nodules use nitrogen thats in the air and fix it to surrounding soil. This is the reason there is a difference of fertilizer used when seeding lequemes (7-27-27 vs. 32-12-12) for corn. However it has been shown that these nodules fix no more than half of the nitrogen that the plant is capable of using. So the obvious next move is to add nitrogen fertilizer to lequemes. Too much is not good, it makes the nodules lazy. I use 7-27-27, but if you used 16-16-16 you won't go wrong.
My recommended meadow mix of lequemes works well in most lower elevation soils, and can tolerate somewhat acid soil (5.5 ph). The ladino is the most preferred by deer and is self seeding. Ladino is nothing more than the native unwanted white clover you see growing in your lawn but is a hybrid and with a little luck can out live you. June clover is short lived (2 years) But is a good first year producer and nurse corp. Alsike also is a native type clover and is hardy and palatable. Birdsfoot trefoil is one of my favorites. It can take a long time to establish itself (3 to 4 years) But once established it can compete with aggressive native grasses. It is easily recognized by its all summer yellow blooms. It resembles alfalfa in appearance but is not as sensitive in site selection. Alfalfa needs a min of 6.3 ph, does not like its feet wet and prefers well drained medium to medium light soils. If you can grow it great! It's very nutritious and deer love it. Alfalfa does not reseed itself and needs good soil contact for germination (best planted with a drill and cultipacker). Birdsfoot Trefoil is more than a substitute for Alfalfa. It will grow in soil as low as 5.5 ph, can have its feet wet or not, reseeds itself, grows during the summer and dry years, is none bloating, less stemy than Alfalfa, has similar nutrient value and if well established is long lived (30 years or more). I can't say deer prefer it but from my years of close observation in checking actual plants consumed and watching deer graze in my neighbors Birdsfoot Trefoil field I don't have any reservations.
Planting in the woods in the trashy open lanes does not allow for mowing and this will affect lequeme productivity and longevity. Also the amount of grazing done by deer affects it. If your food plots are heavily used and the deer keep it mowed down throughout the summer it will affect its longevity. However there's a good chance deer will hit it hard in late spring, ease up on it during the summer and then hit it again in late summer and fall and that's just when you want them to. That summer break is most important for the food plot to catch its breathe and recharge itself. For this summer break to occur it means deer must have access to other nutritious palatible vegetation.
Fertilization of these food plots is encouraged. In addition to the early season first fertilizer application of 200lbs. as previously mentioned, I recommend another 200lbs applied around the first of August. The first application is for the deer. The 2nd one is for you. It improves your chances of seeing deer during the hunting seasons. If you can only broadcast fertilizer once make it the early August application with 300lbs. If you apply only once be prepared to broadcast at least 100lbs per acre in an emergency dry period, and make this an application of 16-16-16. If you have the time and inclination I recommend 5 applications, and this is more important the sandier your soil. Apply 100lbs. on the first of April, may, June, July and the first of August for a total of 500lbs. Fertilizer especially nitrogen encourages the plants root system to make more efficient use of water. Your food plot will have a spurt of growth in spite of an apparent lack of moisture. The more burned out your food plot looks the more it could use fertilizer. Liming for a minimum of 6.0ph in these trashy food plot lanes I realize is difficult and much more expensive. Your soil test may show an application of 2 tons or more of agricultural lime needed per acre. Lime is inexpensive and easy to apply when done in an open field and commercecially with large sized self propelled spreaders. This isn't the case if done manually with pellitized lime. Can you imagine manually broadcasting 4000lbs. on your one acre food plot with the cost going from $25 a ton to $200 a ton for pellitized lime. If you need the exercise go for it.
Note: The meadow mix of ladino, june and alsike clover along with birdsfoot trefoil is some what tolerant of a low ph (5.5). The clovers, june and alsike and birdsfoot trefoil are tolerant of a variety of soil types (from the lighter loamy sands to loamy clay). Ladino or white clover (many varieties available) prefers the heavier soils. I would suggest you initially plant the meadow mix along with a few experimental small single plant type seedings. Make note of which plant types do best and make adjustments in your future seedings.
I intend to continue to experiment with these easy to create food plots. Please let me know your results if you try these plantings or any deviation of them including different plant types used. Hopefully together we can improve on them. For additional information see our Mid-Michigan Branch QDMA web page http://members.tripod.com/~mmbqdm/index.html , for membership
information call 1-800-209-DEER, for my phone no. call 1-810-784-8090.
As noted I recommend you try this system which I feel is the most preferred. However many deer enthusiats want to plant food plots the same year of spraying. There seems to be no end to the variations that can be used in creating food plots. May I suggest you still plant the premium type in addition to one or more of the following methods which I have had success with.
1. Spray around May 5 thru the 15th., and broadcast a meadow mix of lequemes the following week.
2. Spray (3) times around May 15th, June 30th, and July 30th. Broadcast the following week with a meadow mix of lequemes, rape or your own preferred plant type. Note success dependant on adequate soil moisture.
3. Three sprayings with the last one Sept. 1st. Followed with a planting of oats, rye or wheat. My favorite is rye which is the least sensitive to soil type or elevation. Rye is high in protein (19%) and carbohydrates. Oats is similar to rye with wheat prefering the heavier soils. Planting rate should be (2) bu. per acre. Broadcast 200 lbs, of 26-12-12 per acre at time of planting.
Note: There is absolutely no soil disturbance throughout the process of establishing a premium food plot. The last spraying should eliminate all native plant competition. Disturbing the soil only brings to the surface new weed seeds that would be allowed to germinate.
Keep the fun in hunting
President Mid-Mich. Branch
Quality Deer Management Association