New Food Plots on Poor Soils - Creating New Food Plots in Poor Soils

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					                      Creating New Food Plots in Poor Soils
                                    By Doug Garrison

        Have you ever wanted to make your hunting area more attractive to deer by
planting food plots? But what if your property is located in an area that has poor soil?
Can you clear a location and till in some seed and produce a food plot or are you just
wasting your time? You can create an impressive food plot in almost any locale but it
will take time and perseverance.

        Identifying the best location will be the first concern. There are several factors
that should be considered. A critical aspect is to locate an area with the best possible
topsoil available. Another factor is to evaluate the area that is the most level to ensure the
soils and nutrients will not erode. Also, locating plots near the center of your property
will concentrate deer movement into the area.

        Now that a location has been determined, the area and access road will need to be
cleared. For small hunting type plots, access may only be a path suitable for an ATV.
For larger plots, a road large enough for tractors, trucks and other equipment will be
necessary. The food plot area will need to be cleared of all brush, trees, stumps, rocks
and other debris. The goal is to leave as much topsoil as possible in the plot.

       The next step is to do a soil test. This indicates how much of an adjustment will
need to be done. The common thought is that fertilizer comprised of nitrogen,
phosphorus and potassium is all that is necessary. However, lime and organic matter are
our primary concerns with poor soil.

         Lime adjusts the soils acidity. When soil is acidic, it decreases the plant’s ability
to utilize the nutrients in the soil. (A Ph of 7.0 is neutral, anything lower than 7.0 is more
acidic.) For example, if a plot contained soil with a Ph of 5.0 and the recommended
amount of fertilizer was used, the plants would only be capable of using ½ of that
amount. Lime will need to be applied according to your soil test. The maximum amount
is 4 ton per acre tilled into the soil, 2 ton per acre spread over the soil not tilled in, per
year. One key thing to remember is that fertilizer is acidic and heavy applications will
lower the soil’s Ph.

        Organic matter is decayed plant and animal tissue. It helps to hold moisture and
nutrients within the soil. It is comprised of many different types of living microbes
needed to break down both dead plant fibers and fertilizer making the nutrients useful to
the plants. Having 3% - 4% organic matter in the composition is ideal. Animal manure,
if available, is an excellent way to build organic matter in the soil. Choosing the proper
plants can increase organic matter and nutrients in the soil. However, it may take 3 to 6
years to see an increase of just 1% in the organic matter. Since organic matter is located
in the upper level of the soil, you should never till the soil more than 4” deep.
        Choosing what to plant is the next step. There are numerous ads on TV and in
magazines depicting what type of food plot seed to plant. While these are great products,
they are best suited for good soil. Trying to plant clover, alfalfa, corn, beans and peas in
poor soil will most likely result in meager growth and wasted money. There are several
reasons for this. One reason is that most poor soils are low in Ph and it takes time for the
lime to have an effect. They are typically low in organic matter as well. Also,
undisturbed soil has numerous weed seeds in it as some weed seeds can survive 10 years
or more in the soil. Weed control will likely be a problem for the first few years.

        Buckwheat will be the first choice for a warm season/summertime food plot. It
will grow well in poor conditions, is fast growing and acts as a natural herbicide against
most weeds. Buckwheat has a deep growing and generous root system and it brings
minerals from deep in the soil to the surface to be used by future plantings. It is also a
great organic matter builder. This should be planted in the beginning of June.

        For the cool season/winter food plots, rye should be the primary choice. Rye will
grow in almost any soil condition and it also has deep growing root system. This plant is
also a good organic matter builder. Rye will grow late into winter and will be present for
the spring green up. This should be planted approximately mid August.

        Brassica plants can also be added to the rye planting. This includes forage rape
and purple top turnips. Brassicas do not grow as well in poor conditions but are an
excellent organic matter builder. They have a deep, heavy root system. However,
brassicas cannot be planted in the same field for more than 2 consecutive years due to
disease and insect problems.

        After years of these plantings, improvements should be seen in your soil test
results and plant growth. Then you will be ready to move onto other plantings. This may
seem like a significant amount of work and time, but when all aspects of soil conditions
are addressed, almost any type of food plot/plant species will grow. Then your food plots
will have maximum growth, high nutrition levels and be the most palatable plots/plants in
the area.

       This a quick look at creating new food plots. For additional information on food
plots and deer management see the NCPB QDMA Booth and Seminars at the Valley
Outdoor Cabin Fever Expo.

       Doug Garrison is the President of the North Central Pennsylvania Branch of the
Quality Deer Management Association. Contact:

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