Building Your Soil = Quality Food Plots
By: Steve Jordan
Years ago our food plots for deer consisted of corn and soybeans (usually leftover seeds from farmers). Sometimes wheat and rye were planted along with clovers also. Nothing else was available.
I was one of the first to try a turnip mix in our area. The bag of turnip seeds weighed eight pounds and it cost around $40. Eight pounds was recommended for a ¼ acre plot and the seed came from New Zealand. The recommend planting time for east central Wisconsin was mid August. I was way too excited and curious to wait that long, so I planted a little strip ten feet wide and forty feet long in mid June. Another strip was planted in mid-July and an adjacent strip planted in mid-August. The June strip had huge plants by mid-August. The bulbs or turnips were softball sized. The plant itself was two feet high with massive thick leaves. As the fall went on, the only patch the deer had any interest in was the young plot that had been planted in mid-August. Once a few years of planting a good turnip mix passed by, the deer had acquired a taste for it. Now I plant in mid-July with good results.
Twenty years have passed since my first experiment. Now we can purchase good turnip mixes from many sources. I like to buy turnips, canola, radishes, rutabagas, and other seeds in bulk and make up my own mixes for various soil conditions and deer densities. My mixes can also be blended for different budgets of landowners and land leasers that I am helping out.
Now that we have many varieties of plants or crops to choose from, we have to be proactive on our fertilizer programs. Every serious hunter has installed a food plot if the terrain has allowed for it. Now we have to have the most plush and attractive food plot to attract wildlife to compete with the competition from other food plots nearby.
I recently attended a soil building seminar in Appleton, Wisconsin. It included five hours of information presented by various speakers. The seminar was put on by Midwestern BioAg and QLF Agronomy.
Through my experiences in farming as a kid and planting food plots as an adult, the soil and growing crops has always fascinated me. Bob Yanda (Midwestern BioAg Vice President of Growth and Development) had some great points. He made the comparison with the tractors of the 1960’s and the tractors of today with all of their great technology. The latest tractors have GPS systems, computer tracking, and yield information on the go. Bob asked us why soil testing is still NPK and pH? NPK fertilizer is primarily composed of three main elements: Nitrogen (N), Phosphorus (P), and Potassium (K), each of these being essential in plant nutrition. pH is measuring the alkaline in the soil on a scale of 0-14. These have been the standards of soil testing for many years. Why hasn’t the soil testing evolved in the same way as equipment has? If you go to almost any co-op or fertilizer outlet today with your soil test from them, it will be NPK and pH.
Bob claims with his company’s labs and knowledge of today, a fertilizer blend should have a balance of all nutrients needed for optimal plant growth beyond NPK. It should include calcium, sulfur, trace minerals plus some carbon and sugar to feed the soil microbes and make more nutrients more available to the plant.
We have all used the pH of our soil as a guide. We were instructed to spread lime and after a minimum of six months, we tried to bring our pH up to 6.5-7.5. With MBA’s (Midwestern BioAg’s) program of balancing the soil with a number lower than 6.5, the nutrients are more available to the plant with less chance of it being tied up in the soil. A lower pH fertilizer also creates an availability of the nutrients for greater uptake in the root zone of the plant. A balanced soil structure will automatically adjust the pH to where it belongs. We have no reason to even test for pH with this program.
MBA’s fertilizer will not be the standard 12-12-12 or whatever mix you are accustomed to. It will probably be more like 5-14-16-11S or 10-28-32-22S-Mg-7Ca plus Zn, Mn, Cu, B and 1% chloride.
I know this is really involved and even boring and might seem unnecessary to some, but to me it is fascinating. Standard blend fertilizers average 20-30% chloride. Chloride can be harmful to the soil in those percentages. Standard blend fertilizers break down quickly with moisture and overload the plant all at once leaving nothing for the plant from mid-season to the end. MBA blends have slow release agents to break down throughout the growing season. To accomplish this, MBA’s fertilizers use the technology of applying various layers of coatings to allow for breaking down and feeding the plant at various times during the growing season.
Balanced, well-fertilized soils can withstand heavy grazing from deer. These plants will also handle drought, disease, and insect damage a lot better than improperly balanced soils.
This will be my third year with molasses sugar based liquid fertilizer. The sugar is a huge stimulant to the plant when applied to the green leaves and the soil. The deer are attracted to the molasses sugars, especially in the later growing season.
The topic of fertilizing can get very involved and not as interesting as other topics. But remember, healthy plants attract more wildlife and make the wildlife healthier. To build your soil is not a one-year fix; it is a process. I will quote Bob again from the seminar. “Leave your soil better next year than it was this year.” MBA will do your soil tests and make recommendations or you can send your samples to them. On my food plots, I took my least productive area last year and put on the recommended amount of fertilizer. This spring they will test it again and make another recommendation. I will also have them test a new location and start straightening that plot out. Eventually I will have all my plots in great shape.
Remember, well-fertilized crops will attract more wildlife than medium to low quality crops. There is a good chance that your neighbors’ crops will not be as well-fertilized and not of as high a quality. Have a great growing season.