Are Your Ducks in a Row?
By: Steve Jordan
Planting food plots is done in many different ways. Some very serious food plotters have two or four-row corn planters to plant corn or soybeans, and some also have six to eight foot grain drills for the smaller seeds.
For years, I have been broadcasting seeds exclusively. This method can be done by hand by throwing seeds (almost like feeding the chickens on old western movies). You can also use a hand held crank or electric seed spreader or a pull behind wheel driven one. For bigger projects, you can hook up a PTO driven spreader to a mid-sized tractor.
One question I often get when I talk about broadcasting is, “Doesn’t it hurt the seeds when you drive over them while covering and/or culti-packing the seeds?” The answer is always, “No!” If you spread the seeds on concrete and run them over a couple of times, I would say you would do some damage. In the soil, the seeds just press down nicely without getting harmed.
I also get asked why I don’t use a grain drill for the turnip mixes, alfalfas, and other small seeds since I plant so many food plot acres in central Wisconsin. The main reason I don’t use a grain drill is that the average food plot is a half acre or less. One half acre of turnip mix is about a coffee can of seed which would barely cover the bottom of a six foot grain drill, and it just wouldn’t work. To fill up the grain drill with seeds and plant several different food plots at once is just not practical. Everyone’s land is different and is ready to be planted at different times. As expensive as these seeds are, hand spreading seems to be most efficient.
In the spring, when I am planting corn or soybeans for a fall or winter feeding of deer, I go through these steps:
- Work up the soil well.
- Spread your fertilizer and seeds as uniformly as possible, leaving plenty of room around the seeds to not overcrowd your plants
- Then work the seeds and fertilizer in lightly, to an inch or two, with a disk or tiller
- Culti-pack or pack soil down the best you can.
For my summer planting of a fall plot, I do it a little differently. In the past, I have written about planting soybeans every three weeks during the growing season right up through August. This keeps the deer eating on the young, tasty plants all summer and early fall. This allows for the older patches to seed out for winter feeding. Once my window for planting a good turnip mix comes along (mid-July through mid-August), I still have the chance to plant soybeans. Here’s how I do it:
- I work up the ground really good.
- Then, I spread fertilizer on the surface along with a light spreading of soybean seeds.
- Then, I disk or till to cover up the seeds and fertilizer to approximately 1-2 inches in depth.
- Next, I broadcast a good turnip mix over the top.
- I culti-pack or pack the soil the best I can.
The soybeans come up and attract the deer immediately and will keep them coming to the plot daily up until the first frost. After that, the soybeans die and the turnips thrive.
When talking about a good turnip mix, variety is the key. My custom mix consists of three varieties of turnips, two varieties of canola (rape), Swiss chard, two types of sugar beets, kale, two different brassicas, Korean lespedeza, crimson red clover, rutabagas and a forage radish. A turnip mix with this much variety encourages the deer to graze through the plot picking out different kinds of plants as the fall progresses. The deer hit this plot a lot earlier than a straight turnip mix. Now having soybeans coming up with my turnip mix really gets them in the plot early.
Now let’s move on to row planting. I am starting to become more of a fan of row planting. I have a one-row wheel driven planter that hooks up with a three-point hitch and works great. I like to plant 45-inch wide rows for soybeans. This leaves plenty of room for a late turnip planting between the rows. The turnips will have plenty of room and sun to get started. If you did a good job of weed control all summer, and just have soil showing between the rows, then all you have to do is broadcast a good turnip mix onto the soil. The first rain will start the growth of these new plants. Wheat or rye can be broadcast between the rows as another option with good results. You may want to alternate wheat and turnips every other row.
Forty-five inch rows planted in a pumped out reservoir in the spring for fall duck hunting works well. The wide rows allow the ducks to land and take off for a quick escape in the fall when flooded.
One disadvantage of row planting over broadcasting is in high deer density areas the rows tend to get eaten off clean because there is not enough plants to withstand the grazing. Broadcasting will hold up better in these areas.
Diversity and variety of different plants, along with row planting and broadcasting seeds can add to the quality of your food plots. There is no right or wrong when it comes to broadcasting your seeds or row planting. You can get your ducks in a row or use the shotgun method. Do what works best for you and your circumstances. Both can be very productive.