One of the things you need to do before trying to start a food plot is get a soil test and find out what the pH level is. That tells you how much lime you’ll have to add, if any. It will also tell you what nutrients you’ll need, nitrogen, phosphorus, and the like. It’s relatively inexpensive. You get a soil sample and take it to your extension office, and they’ll get it tested and send you the results. How many pounds per acre of fertilizer you’ll need, and your lime, that’s very, very important. Otherwise you’ll be throwing your seed dollars away.
There are things that are easier to raise — the no-till or no-plow products are relatively easy. They’ll germinate where other things won’t. And the more you do with those products the more germination you’ll get. If you just clear the ground and toss the seed on top of the ground and don’t do anything else, you’ll get some germination. If you can drag a chain-link drag over the top of it, drag a chain over it, rake it a little bit, you’ll get more germination. You’ll have a higher quality plot.
What’s raised a lot around here is wheat. Deer actually prefer oats over wheat. I’ve raised oats, alfalfa, clover. I’ve used the no-till products. The oats, wheat, and no-till are the easiest ones to get to germinate and produce in Western Oklahoma or Southwestern Oklahoma where I am. The alfalfa and clover are not as easy. It takes more work, more attention, and you have to get it just right. Alfalfa and clover like a smooth, firm seedbed.
Most seed manufacturers recommend what they call a culti-packer. Most people don’t have them. It’s a piece of farm equipment that’s basically a big roller that rolls the seed into the ground. It firms the seed bed, pushes the seed into the ground, and gives a good seed to soil contact. To buy one, even a used one that’s only about 12 feet wide is about four to five thousand dollars.
Most people use a chain-link drag. Get an old piece of chain-link fence and a couple of 2×4’s, put a little weight on top of the chain link and drag it. That smoothes and firms the soil. Then you broadcast your seed out at the recommended rate and run the drag over it one more time. That incorporates your seed into the soil no more than a quarter to a half an inch deep, which is all it’s got to be.
So it’s really a pretty simple operation to do food plots but, there are several important factors. Number one is a soil test. If you don’t get a soil test, you don’t get the pH right, then you don’t get enough or the right amount of fertilizer in the ground. You’re going to throw your seed dollar away.
Site selection is another. You want your food plots relatively close to the animals’ travel area or their bedding area. You want water nearby. You also want different sizes of feed plots. You have true feeder plots, which are usually an acre or larger. Then you have hunting plots which are back closer to cover and smaller, usually less than an acre. They don’t have to be very big, but when you get down to less than ½ acre in size, they aren’t very effective, especially if you have a very high concentration of deer. They’ll keep it eaten down where it won’t really do them any good, and you won’t attract as many. So you want your hunting plots about ½ acre to an acre and your feeder plots at least an acre.