Itís time to plant fall deer plots

Friday, August 18, 2017

As deer season in Marshall County approaches, nowís the time now to start planting fall deer forage crops.

With the passage of each deer season over the past four years I have witnessed firsthand the difference in the quality of deer hunting on my small farm, which is owed to planting various deer food crops in August and September. And, since I include warm-season foods, like clover, the deer get quality nutrition on a year-round basis..

The first couple of years I hunted this property, I settled for a couple of 2 Ĺ-year-old 8-pointers and several does to fill my freezer. At the same time, I became familiar with several small bucks that I watched frequently during the season. These small bucks got a pass and I anticipated that several of them would eventually mature into quality animals. Patience and plenty of food kept the deer herd well fed has made a difference, with the last two bucks taken last season tipping the scales at 224 and 236 pounds live weight.

The first step in the process of planting food plots was to take soil samples from each field recently converted from scraggly fescue and broom sedge-choked old cow pastures and hay fields. The process was easy; takr a 5-gallon buck and walked around each field and collect topsoil dirt from various spots. The soil from a particular field gets mixed together, and a sandwich-sized bag of dirt from each field goes to the Marshall County Farmers CO-Op to be sent off for soil fertility testing.

When the results came back a few days later I learned that some areas needed two or more tons of lime per acre to bring the pH levels to appropriate levels for planting cereal grains.

Oftentimes, food plots get planted by some hunters without soil fertility testing beforehand, and thatís a mistake. If the pH level is too acidic plants canít properly uptake applied fertilizer, which can be a big waste of money and time. Soil fertility test results will also tell you how many pounds per acre of nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium specific crops need.

A call to the CO-OP had a truck loaded with lime headed to my farm and we wound up applying a little more than 30 tons of lime over about 30 acres. Some fields got more than others, while some needed none at all. Lime application needs to be made a few months prior to planting to give it time to work its way into the soil.

As planting time approached, I mowed each area. Two weekends ago, I rented a sprayer from the CO-OP and applied herbicide to kill off everything growing. A 2 percent solution application of glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup, will burn down just about anything growing. A two- to three-week wait is good to let plants die and dry up, which makes it easier for the next step.

Three years ago I bought a well-worn 7-feet-wide disc harrow to plow my fields. I paid a relatively low price for a Dearborn ďAlexander Fold-OverĒ disc harrow that was new back in the early 1953. With the abundance of rocks in Marshall County, this piece of equipment takes a beating every year. After a couple more seasons of repairs and replacement parts I will have transformed a 60-plus-year-old implement into a virtually new piece of equipment again.

Each field gets at least two passes with the disc to thoroughly turn the tired clay soil. Iím a fan of no-till planting, but my fields need what a disc provides by working decaying plants into the top layer of soil. Each year, the hard clay soils get easier to till as more vegetative matter get worked in.

To be continued....