Welcome back to our Food Plot adventure! Last time, we talked about all the prep work like why we wanted to plant food plots and where we were going to plant them. We also described the soil testing process and how we were going to improve the soil chemistry to make it more suitable for the plants to grow. Now we get into the actual hands on work portion of the story! This part is broken into 3 main steps: 1) Breaking ground and prepping the soil. 2) Fixing the pH. 3) Planting and fertilizing.
Step 1: Breaking Ground
We’ve got 4 food plot locations picked out, soil tested, and lime at the ready. So our next step is to break ground on the plots! Up at the cabin we have an old 1940’s tractor with a mowing deck attachment that we use to mow the roads on our land. My dad hunted Craigslist and found a good deal on an old 2-blade plow that could hook up to our tractor. We used this to break open the ground and cut through all the grass and shrubs in our plot areas.
Turns out, that’s more difficult than we thought. There’s a bit of a learning curve to plowing correctly so it actually breaks up the sod and doesn’t just make a huge mess. And we may or may not have gotten the tractor stuck….twice. But, in the end, we got it done and learned better for next time. By the end of all the plowing, it was almost like we knew what we were doing!
Plowing the ground open is only the first step in breaking ground. Next, we have to break up the sod chunks and loosen up the soil. For this, we needed to till up the soil by using a disker.
My dad, master of craigslist, found another deal on a disker, seeder, and cultipacker combo that could be towed with a hitch. This was the perfect little tool that could be towed behind an ATV or UTV (or another vehicle of your choice) and disk up the soil. The disks cut up the grass sod into smaller chunks, which kills the grass and loosens up the soil.
The little disker was working well, but it was taking longer than we thought to break up all the sod chunks created by our rookie plowing attempts. We were looking for a way to make things go a littler faster, and we found an unlikely solution. This requires a little back-story… As long as we have had the property (30+ years) there has always been a rusty-old disker sitting on the side of one of our roads. It has been there so long that it had little shrubs and bushes growing up through it and we refer to that road as “the old disker road”. Well, we had the bright idea of trying to see if that old disker would still work.
We took the tractor over and hooked it up to the old disker. It didn’t have the correct attachment hook-up so we just made it work with a heavy chain and a metal clevis. We put the tractor into low gear and tugged on the old disker, and shockingly, we were able to drag the disker out of its 30+ year resting place! And even more astounding, it still worked! Almost all of the blades even rolled and it seemed to be working correctly. One or two of the discs were seized up, but after spraying a little anti-seizing lubricant on them they broke open!
Now we were in business! With both pieces of equipment working, we made short work of the sod and had a level plot of loose soil before we knew it. Now, on to the next step, fixing the pH.
Step 2: Fix the pH
Remember those 50lb bags of barnlime we talked about in the Food Plots Part I post? Well, now we have to evenly spread all 50 of those bags across the fields….by hand. It was a lot of work, but we all did our part walking the fields with the bags of lime, spreading it out as evenly as we could while simultaneously trying to inhale as little dust as possible. It was a lot of heavy lifting, but we got it done. Once all the lime was spread across the fields, we gently disked it into the soil to mix it thoroughly.
Ideally, you would place the lime at least a month before you planned on planting because the chemical reaction takes a while to raise the soil pH. We were able to place the lime ahead of time in 3 of the plots, but in the 4th we ran out of time and only did it a couple days before planting. Better late than never I guess.
Step 3: Plant and Fertilize the Food Plots
After the lime had sat for a month, the time to plant the food plots had finally come! We wanted a plot that would be producing food in the fall months, so after a little internet research and a few price comparisons, we landed on buying two different seed blends: PlotSpike Forage Oats and PlotSpike Forage Feast. The blends had a mix of oats, forage rape (which is a horrible name for a plant, but it is what it is), clover, chicory, and peas. We liked the idea of a seed blend because then you have a variety of plants that mature at different rates and the deer can feed on them for longer.
The PlotSpike Forage had standard recommendations for the specific fertilizer blend and quantity that works best for the plants. We just followed those instructions and ended up getting a few bags of 17-17-17 fertilizer. They also recommended that you place the fertilizer at the same time as planting to make it as effective as possible.
This was the easy (and fun) part of the food plot process. We simply loaded up the seeder’s hopper and drove across the plots spreading the seed and fertilizer as we went. The seeds had an optimum planting depth of 0.25”-1.5” so after we spread the seed, we went back over everything with the cultipacker a few times to press the seeds down and ensure they had good contact with the soil.
All the work was done now and we just had to sit back, pray for rain, and hope we see plants starting to grow. We got lucky and had a couple of gentle rains the week after we planted so the seeds sprouted right away! Every time we go up north now, we always want to run back and check the plots just to see how they’re doing.
It’s really exciting and satisfying to watch them grow. And the deer and turkeys seem to like them too! We see their tracks crisscrossing the plots every time we look, which validates all the hard work we put into establishing the plots.
We learned a ton along the way and will be much better prepared for next year when we replant. Every year the soil will continue to improve as we add nutrients and the plants will do better and better!
I hope you guys enjoyed the story of our food plot dreams! Now the last thing that’s gotta happen is we have to shoot a deer out of one of these plots! Stay tuned for that! Good luck out there this year.