NWTF Cookbook
Bowhunter checking food plot

Food plots don’t have to be expensive and complicated to provide successful hunts. Help is readily available and your ATV can do most of the work.

Food Plot Conveniences

story and photos by Mark Kayser

If you’ve lost your farming roots and need tutoring with your food plot, consider these conveniences to put you on track to more green acres

 

According to data from the 2010 U.S. Census Bureau, only 16 percent of Americans live in rural areas. If you don’t have a farming uncle to lean on, reach out. The NWTF is a great place to start. Regional biologists, online technical information and forum support can help you coordinate a plan not only on what to plant, but also where to plant and how to do it right. Regional insight is best since what grows in South Carolina may not thrive in Nebraska. NWTF members are always eager to share their success stories and product endorsements on forums. 

You can back up any advice by visiting your county extension office. The Smith-Lever Law of 1914 established a partnership with state land-grant universities and cooperative extension services at the local level. The goal was to inform people about new developments in 4-H, agriculture, home economics, government policy, economic development and even coastal issues. Experts can help you rate and prepare your soil, choose crops that will thrive, and possibly direct you to programs for habitat and conservation government assistance.

Researching resources available online

Many government programs, especially for habitat conservation, are directed through your local Natural Resources Conservation Service. Assistance, advice and financial aid may be available through federal programs.

Many government programs, especially for habitat conservation, are directed through your local Natural Resources Conservation Service. Assistance, advice and financial aid may be available through federal programs. This government agency offers a range of technical services and resources to conserve upland habitat, riparian zones and other parcels targeted for rehabilitation. Financial aid is a primary attraction to the NRCS, but another popular draw is the numerous technical guides that provide conservation information with a regional focus.

And don’t overlook the experience of your local game and fish office. Conservation officers, biologists and research staff can provide hands-on knowledge of wildlife issues, needs and habitat preferences. They’re in the field daily and see wildlife concerns such as the overgrazing of small food plots, or the effects of drought on certain crops.

Once your have a plan in place, your soil tested and seed purchased, it’s time to get busy. What? You don’t have a tractor, tillage equipment and a planter? Don’t worry. Many small plots can be prepped and planted via ATV and seeded by hand. If you don’t mind a little sweat equity, small plots can be accomplished totally by hand.

Nearly 1 million ATVs and/or UTVs are sold annually in the United States. If you’re one of the lucky owners then you have the starter kit for becoming a farmer. Your ATV can be teamed with a rear-mounted disk, harrow and seeder. You can also add on a tank sprayer or simply use a hand sprayer to apply fertilizer, herbicides and pesticides. Not including the price of your ATV, you can shop around and, for about $1,000, have enough implements to do the work. Before dropping any seed in the ground, get your soil tested. Home improvement stores like Lowe’s sell these kits and some state agricultural offices can help you determine the PH and whether soil will require additional preparation.

Also consider the possibility of arid conditions. Regional moisture deficiencies, upland ground and other factors could cause your crops to fail. Landscapers, golf course managers and professional wildlife managers may apply moisture trapping products to soil to help preserve available moisture. These environmentally-safe products are applied via a sprayer, hose-end applicator or by hand with a goal to help the soil hold water longer.

Photo of deer from hunt cam

Planting and maintaining a food plot requires some sleuthing that will cost you nothing but time and possibly a small investment in implements. The payoff for a bit of work could be a big buck or gobbler.

As you move toward a crop or cover to plant you’ll need to peruse a variety of options. A good goal is to provide year-round nutrition to keep wildlife happy and from wandering to neighboring properties where they may become the main course of a future meal. Perennial clovers can provide nutrition outside of the warm-weather windows while annuals such as oats, turnips and soybeans can provide nutrition from late summer through winter, and even into early spring. To take the pressure off plots or late-maturing varieties, look at companies that offer mixtures. Some offer perennials and annuals mixed together. Simply seed annuals back into the plot the following year to keep the overall blend the same year after year.   

Planting and maintaining a food plot doesn’t require a degree in agricultural science or taking out a second mortgage on your house for farming equipment. It does require some sleuthing that will cost you nothing but time and possibly a small investment in implements. Before you know it you’ll be on your way to a pair of bib overalls and a real green thumb.


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