After buying my first farm I just couldn’t wait to get a food plot established. The open 4-acre field in the front center of the property would be a good start until getting some of the timber removed elsewhere. I am by no means a farmer or a biologist, but being able to grow things from seed has always fascinated me. I decided to roll-up my sleeves, get my hands dirty and attempt to plant my largest food plot yet. I felt I had done my homework, researched enough and had plenty of knowledge to give this a try.
Previous experience taught me that following each and every step was critical for successful results. With past food plots, weeds would starttaking over,and I couldn’t understand how that was possible when I did everything I had read about. Rushing through or missing one step can cause months of work and preparation to be a complete loss.
Here is a simple, step-by-step process that will get your hunting food plots off to a good start. To have a successful seedbed from scratch it will take 35-45 days; so make sure you plan accordingly.
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 the rule of thumb is to shoot for a neutral pH.Whitetail Institute of North America has soil test kits and most agricultural feed stores can do soil samples for you at a low cost.(I sent my soil sample to Whitetail Institute of North America).
2. Mow the area where you want to plant the plot.
Mow it as short as possible without damaging your mower deck.
3. Spray the future food plot.
I went to my local coop and purchased a commercial grade weed/grass killer. They recommended Shredder E99 and Cornerstone Plus.
4. 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.
5. Wait 10 to 14 days and then spread your lime and fertilizer as recommended by your soil sample.
There are 2 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 delivered to your plot by the truckload. Your local Coop or AG store can help with letting you know who delivers bulk (pulverized) lime. It is also available in bags. If you are going to be planting food plots for many years, then 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 about 8-10 months. You will need to add pelletized lime to your plot every time you plant something.
6. Disk the lime and fertilizer into the soil.
I used a Ford Tractor with a double row John Deere disk. If the plot were small an ATV with a pull-behind disk would work. If it is a bigger plot, some local co-cops will rent tractors and plows for this type of work, or you can talk to your local farmer to hire the work out. Your local Coop or AG store can be a great resource for helping you contact people willing to help. When I leased a hunting property in Illinois I hired a local farmer to do a large food plot for us.
7. Wait 8 to 10 days for new vegetation to grow then burn it again with the same weed/grass killer.
If you feel like you have a good bed and there is no chance of weeds and grass to beat the growth of the food plot then you might be ok. I did this step on my food plot. In my area Fox Tail and Ragweedhas the tendency to beat the food plot and drown it out.
8. Wait 12 days andsmooth the area to prepare a good flat seedbed and apply your seed.
Ilightly disked first to loosen the dirt then used a cultipacker.Be careful not to disk too deep. (Remember, disking too deep at this point might lead to re-germinating the dormant weeds.)
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. Doing this step right before a good rain will also insure good seed-to-soil contact — so check your forecast and plan accordingly.
9. Finishing touch!
Once your plot gets going you may want to treat it with a grass herbicide such as Select, Arrest or Arrest Max. Arrest Max is a new product and I am hearing good things about it when it comes to Fox Tail and Ragweed. Mowing will also help control weeds and promote new growth that is more palatable. I mow around Memorial weekend and then again around Labor Day weekend. Make sure to raise the deck of your mower as high as it will go.
Note:Not all crops suggest mowing, so read up on your specific crop type before making that decision.