This is a guest post from acclaimed whitetail habitat consultant, author and deer hunter Jeff Sturgis. Enjoy! – MK
By Jeff Sturgis
As most bowseason openers are already here or coming shortly to a woodlot near you, a more undesirable season is also upon us: Food plot failure season. Are you experiencing this all-to-common season right now? Even with the wealth of high quality planting instructions available today, food plots failures happen even to the best of us for a variety of the following reasons:
1. Poor Planting Timing
2. Lack of Moisture
3. Weed Concerns
4. Extreme Browsing Pressure
5. Poor Seed Variety Choice
6. Inadequate Planting Methods
(and several other reasons too!)
Unless this is your first year of planting food plots, you likely have experienced most, if not all of the food plot failures that I have listed. For me personally, I experienced each of those within my first few months of food plotting, 20 years ago. There are two certainties in food plotting, including:
*Food plots will fail
*Nearly all failures can be salvaged
Are you experiencing an empty, dried up or weed-choked food plot failure right now? Then take comfort in the fact that there is still plenty of time to produce beautiful fields of green for you and the local deer herd to enjoy during the hunting season.
Food Plot Remedies
Would you believe that one of my personal food plot saves involved a late September planting and an October 1st snowfall? My field was created too late, frigid temperatures were on the horizon for my new UP of Michigan food plot and I was down to the last effective weeks to grow food for the hunting season. A broadcasting of nearly 300#s of Winter Rye per acre on the recently exposed soil grew a low, lush carpet of green following the moisture of a germinating snow melt and a week of warm early October temperatures. I was pushing it – but it worked – and here are some other practices that you can take advantage of.
1. Moisture Starved
Soybeans, peas and brassicas can lack appreciable hunting season growth depending on the amount of rain in your area. If you are still 4-6 weeks away from your expected first frost, try this:
*Broadcast 100#s of forage oats per acre and 10#s of tillage radish.
*2 Quarts per acre of glyphosate can be used to eliminate any weed competition
Tillage radish is one of the quickest growing variety in the brassica family, and the young oats will act as nurse crop to attract grazing pressure while the radishes become established.
*Approximately 2-3 weeks prior to your first frost date, add 100#s of Winter rye per acre to the oats and radishes
*If you are nearing your first frost date, add 200#s of Winter rye per acre
*If you are at your first frost date or even slightly past, add 300#s of Winter rye per acre
When you have nearly 100% bare soil exposed and little to no forage growth, this can be a great option for you! Even a light discing followed by cultipacking can be a great practice, in particular if you are unsure if rain is certain in the near future. The 2nd planting of rye (or first if you are running late) will easily germinate following a simple broadcasting, and will add volume and diversity of forage age to greatly add in the overall level of attraction.
2. Weed Choked
When weeds are overly abundant, the most important question is how much soil is exposed, and what kind of “weed” is it? For example if you can still broadcast seed onto soil, than you have several options. However, if the weeds are so thick that you can’t possibly broadcast seed on soil to insure adequate seed to soil contact for germination, then you will have to plow, disc or till to expose the soil. Another solutions involves the type of “weed” itself. Do you have leftover rye from the previous year? 4′ rye can effectively be cut with a brushhog, and then lightly disced to produce a stand of new rye. If your plot is too thick you will have to mow, but if enough soil is exposed you can follow these food plot failure saves:
*If you are still 4-6 weeks from your first frost, broadcast 100#s of oats, 100#s winter rye, and 10#s of tillage radish
*Spray 2 quarts per acre of glyphosate and then cultipack.
Gly is a post-emergence so you don’t have to worry about it damaging your seed. Also, you get only one shot at your seeding, because the weed growth will cover the ground and prohibit any follow up broadcastings. The dying and crushed weed growth will hold moisture and aid in germination for the seeds that lay beneath upon the soil.
*For timing closer to your first first frost date or beyond, use winter rye amounts between 200 and 300 pounds of rye, spray 2 quarts per acre (if weeds are alive) and cultipack.
Frost kills oats, so avoid planting oats (even cold hardy) if frost is in the immediate forecast. However if you have a few weeks left, the oats can offer a welcome increase in variety. Is spraying herbicide a challenge for you or a practice you would like to avoid? Simply brushhog to a low height and cultipack following your seeding. Although you can expect aggressive weed growth, the cut weeds will act as mulch and aid in good germination rates.
3. Over Browsed and Shrinking
Is the height of your forage being reduced by the day with the hunting season approaching fast? When you still have an appreciable amount of forage that is rapidly declining as each day passes, a quick jump-start is in order!
*If you are still 4-6 weeks from your first frost date, broadcast 100#s of Winter rye over the top of your planting of possibly beans, brassicas or peas. Add another 100#s per acre approximately 2-3 weeks later.
*If you are only a couple of weeks away from your first frost date, broadcast 200#s of Winter rye
*For last minute saves at, or just after your first frost, broadcast up to 300#s of Winter rye per acre
When you are trying to save a previous planting, a quick start of Winter rye can be an outstanding tactic! The young cereal grain germinates with a no nonsense attack of fresh growth that deer devour in the first 2-3 weeks. This actually reduces the pressure on your previous preferred planting of beans, brassicas or peas. With tender shoots being aggresively focused on, it’s not uncommon to experience additional growth with the preferred forage as deer temporarily turn the bulk of their grazing pressure elsewhere. I first used this method around 2002, and it was such a success over a previous brassica planting that I altered my planting efforts to include and plan for follow up rye broadcasting in later years.
The great thing about food plot failure save efforts is that as long as you can get quick growing cool season annuals such as rye, oats or tillage radish onto soil, you will find growth! I like to experiment with combinations to produce as much forage in the given amount of time through layering methods and multi-forage practices, as well as with total seed amounts. There is no “right” seed amount or planting timing when it comes to saving a food plot failure, so make sure to chuck traditional ag and food plot recommendations out the window! Although you may not be able to produce a tall lush stand with a smaller number of mature plants, you can definitely fill the space with a low, lush attraction of many plants. It’s not too late!
Interested in learning more about Jeff Sturgis and his food plot advice? Visit WhitetailHabitatSolutions.com