Food Plots For Dummies (Me)
When I started outfitting, I felt well-versed in all aspects of big deer hunting except one, food plots. I studied as much as I thought I needed. I mean, I did grow up on a row-crop farm in eastern Iowa. Boy, did I learn a lot since then. So, I will share my dumb moments and words of wisdom here as best I can.
First off, if you can buy back standing beans from the farmer where you want your beans to be, do it. Just do it. If not, I'll get you situated to have some quality beans to hunt over from September (or October depending on your state) through December into early January. The deer will truly dictate how long your plot lasts late in the year. My first bean plot was done like an idiot... I had a CRP farm where I wanted three acres of beans to go. I didn't spray. I didn't mow. I didn't burn. The day of planting, the friend I paid to plant it started with his tiller and went to town. This CRP was probably 18-20" tall and green. He tilled it twice, if I remember correctly, but a lot of CRP was still showing and surely alive. Then, with his bean drill, planted 100lbs per acre of beans. I don't think we finished the plot (gentle shallow till), but we might have. It rained the next day. Beans are resilient and grow almost anywhere in southern Iowa. Luckily, they came up and lasted. They wouldn't have lasted as long with my double-barrier fence (not electric, will touch on this later or in another blog post). We killed three bucks out of this plot and could have killed another 2-4 bucks if we had lower standards. The deer loved them. Why? I planted a more northern-type bean with a higher oil content than the area's norm, of which was RoundUp Ready (RR Gen II). I got lucky. If I was to do the perfect bean plot in southern Iowa where I know the soil is decent, I would spray, wait 2 weeks, mow, wait a week, burn, wait a week, till, fertilize with all-purpose 16-16-16 or comparable, till, wait a week, till, plant at a rate of 100-150lbs per acre of seed, and gently finish with a shallow till. The soil would be rather fine and loose at this point, so packing it might not be good. There will be plenty of seed to soil contact with a good rain. You want rain within 3-5 days after planting, if not sooner. Rain will dictate the success of that plot from there on out. If no rain comes, and no beans rise, refertilizes with 16-16-16 and lots of granular urea then till, wait until late July or early August before a big definite rain and plan a fall plot (brassica blend?). I have planted beans with a drill and with broadcast. Both work fine. Deer love RR beans. Do NOT plant Liberty Link or comparable beans. Deer don't like them. If you are my neighbor to any of my MDL farms, please, plant Liberty Link. I'll even help you with the work.
CORN PLOTS (Not Applicable)
Buy back standing corn from the farmer... Don't try to plant yourself unless you have the equipment, the right seed, and the right amount of money to properly fertilize the crap out of the soil. Corn loves nitrogen (urea, anhydrous, whatever...). Just pay the farmer. Trust me.
FALL PLOTS (BRASSICA BLENDS - MY GO-TO FALL PLOT)
This is much like beans except the timeframe. In southern Iowa, brassica blends need 45-60+ days to fully mature. Plant too early and the plants will ripen and turn sour. Plant too late and you won't have anything but a makeshift putting green (or bare dirt). I like early to mid August to be the planting timeframe. Wait until you know there is a good rain coming within 24 hours of planting time. The pre-plant labor is what is important. Prep the seed bed. Spray. Mow. Burn. Till. Fertilize with 16-16-16 and a lot of urea (soil test will recommend your rate), but I don't do soil tests. I guesstimate because I don't have time to do soil tests. Maybe someday. Get your stuff down, till, and plant at about 5-7lbs per acre. DO NOT OVERSEED! I learned the hard way the first two years of brassica planting, and I am still learning. However, I have it narrowed down on my farms. I planted my first repeat brassica plot this past season, and it did better the 2nd year, but it was also the first time I used fertilizer or urea. I am still debating on what that particular plot will be. It'll be beans or brassicas.
Never done one. If I were though, I would frost seed in early March when the Corona Virus isn't all over the place and every where is locked down. Frost seeding is great. You will need to mow your clover. Make sure you have a very clean seed bed. Plan on mowing the clover once it gets to about 6"-8" in height. The deer should help keep it tamed, but a second mow would probably help before the dry summer months. I will experiment with clover starting next year if I have time. I know there are herbicides that kill just grasses and not the clover, but I can't list them as I don't know them by heart.
Do you research. Go plant it. You'll learn one way or the other. That's how I did it. Entering our 5th hunting season, I am lightyears ahead of where I was in 2016 when we started. Yet, we have only killed one buck out of a brassica plot (last picture below), otherwise only corn or bean plots have produced shots. After all, the deer love them. Also, notice how I didn't talk about soil saturation (moisture/rain)... In southern Iowa, we have had severe rains and severe droughts, so it's all up for annual and periodic interpretation. I will post more specific posts as we do plots throughout the off season here, but until then, I'll be planning them out as best as I can.