Planting a Food Plot - Level 1
Choose LEVEL 1 if you have limited equipment and need suggestions on how to proceed. Ideally, you have an ATV or garden tractor with a small disk, some kind of seed/fertilizer spreader and a pump up sprayer. We would recommend that you find a tractor for hire to disk unbroken ground. That way, you can keep costs down yet dramatically increase your chances for success. With limited equipment your first few plots might not be award winners but you CAN STILL BE SUCCESSFUL in attracting and holding deer on your hunting property. Our goal at Tecomate is to maximize your success with the tools available to you. Ideally, we would like to see all our products professionally planted, as to reach the full potential of the Tecomate “System”. But, everybody’s got to start somewhere, and we’re happy you’ve chosen to start with Tecomate!
The following “keys to success” are formulated with a “LEVEL 1” criteria in mind. If you have access to a tractor and implements or a Plotmaster or other planting machine, we suggest you also review the information in LEVEL 2.
1) Soil Preparation and Lime
1. Soil Preparation and Lime
INFORMATION YOU’LL NEVER GET ANY OTHER WAY
This is an excellent time to find out more about your food plot with a soil sample.
Lots of food plots are planted each year without benefit of a soil sample, but it is very simple and inexpensive and can make a big difference in your plot. Collect the samples according to the directions from your county agent, deliver it for analysis (either to the office or by one of the many mail-in services, check the internet) and by the time your vegetation has died you’ll know what to do next.
Chances are good that you’ll need lime. Most soil needs lime to adjust the pH to 6.5 to 6.8 which is best for growing food plots. Find out Why Lime is Important. The best solution is to go ahead and try to break the ground up now that your plot is cleared of growing vegetatio. Then have the lime delivered according to the “tons per acre” information on your soil test results and then disk it into the ground more as you do your final preparations. The soil test is loaded with info on exactly what you need to do to have the soil in the best possible shape for your plot. Do as much of it as you can.
LOOKS AREN’T EVERYTHING:
Many first year fields are not the most attractive food plots when you’re working with limited equipment. You may have clumps of dead weeds sticking up, small tree stumps you have to plow around, rocks too big to move ..don’t worry. This is not a beauty contest, your trying to grow something for deer that’s good for them and good for you and you’re doing the best you can with the equipment at hand.
Soil preparation is an important part of any successful food plot, but don’t be discouraged if you can’t achieve the “firm, level seed bed” mentioned so often on planting instructions (remember, this is LEVEL 1). Certainly, the better the seed bed the better the chance for a successful plot, but don’t be intimidated into giving up just because you don’t have access to a hefty tractor and a variety of implements. The key is to break up the soil to the point where each seed can be surrounded in enough moist earth to germinate, so whether you’re using a small ATV disk, a garden tractor or pulling a disk behind a 4 X 4 truck (yes we’ve seen it done), keep going until the soil contains as few chunks and clods as possible. A few bumps and lumps won’t hurt either (as long as the soil feels “fluffy”) although seed may “pool” in these areas and grow in a tight cluster. Good smoothing can be accomplished with nothing more than a length of chain link fence with a couple of concrete blocks on top pulled behind an ATV.
Plant when soil moisture is adequate. Don’t plant and hope it will rain if you are experiencing drought conditions. Wait for rain, then plant.
Do your homework ahead of time and you’ll have a much higher level of success.
Have your soil tested
Fertilize according to the soil test.
Lime if needed to correct the pH.
Prepare a good, weed free seed bed
Plant into adequate moisture with inoculated seed if needed.
OK. You’ve killed the original weeds and limed according to the soil report and the plot your going to plant (now would be a good time to review a guide to plants to know more about what to plant and which category your plant is in). At LEVEL 1 you’ll have a variety of “unprofessional” options. You can 1) put a buddy on the back of the ATV with an open bag of seed and have him spread as evenly as possible. 2) Invest in a manual seeder that is carried over your shoulder and walk the field as you spread the seed (or put this guy on the back of the ATV) 3) Use a motor powered ATV spreader which works great but is hard to control as far as seeding rate goes.
4,840 square yards equals an acre so walk the length by the width of your field and count steps. Multiply length by width for estimated square yards and roughly calculate the size of your field. If it’s 2,420 square yards, you have about a half acre. If your seed covers an acre, use half a bag and spread the seed (by whatever method above) very thin and go back and forth by length then back and forth by width until all the seed is distributed.
DO NOT COVER THE SEED AT THIS TIME. We are going to add fertilizer and then cover the seed and fertilizer at the same time.
Fertilizer is an important part of your success but fortunately, if you’ve gotten the soil report as we suggested, you’ll already know how much fertilizer you need (and the formula i. e. 10-10-10) for the acreage you’re planting. If you don’t have this information, the bag of seed will recommend a rate as a standard amount. Remember, we don’t have the benefit of knowing the make-up of your soil. If all else fails, ask a farmer in the area how much fertilizer he would put on a particular plot. Chances are good his guess will be very close. Add fertilizer the same way you added seed, calculate the amount, set your spreader thin and criss-cross until it’s all spread. Do this before you cover the seed.
Cover the seed according to the recommended depth on the bag. If you’re limited to an ATV disk you’ll have to be creative. If you’re planting large seeds (like Lablab) you’ll need to set your disk to push at least an inch of soil over the beans. If you’re planting clover or a brassicas with very small seed, just barely tickle the soil with the disk or simply drive around the field over and over until the seed is packed into the surface by the tread of the ATV tires. Be creative.
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.