Preparation pays off for wildlife food plots

Sunday, March 14, 2004

This is the second in a two-part series.

By Roger Frazier ~ Special to the Southeast Missourian

Seed-bed preparation is extremely important in the planting of a wildlife seed plot.

If you try to use shortcuts, it will show in the success -- or lack thereof -- of the plot.

It takes equipment to properly prepare a plot for planting.

I have used an ATV, a garden tiller, a horse-drawn plow and a Jeep as well as a tractor. I can truly say a tractor is by far the best. Purchase or rent a tractor with tillage equipment if you can. The seed bed will need to be tilled up and leveled prior to planting. Do not leave the plot rough and uneven thinking the rain will smooth it because this rarely happens. You then will be left with a plot that will be hard to plant and maintain in the future. My preference is to plow, disc and plant.

Soil amendments are a must if you plan on raising good, quality food plots. If you can, obtain a soil sample of the plot and take it to your local University Extension Office to be tested for fertilizer and lime requirements. There are some local fertilizer and feed stores that offer this testing as well. The cost will be about $10. You should ask them to test the sample and give recommendations on corn, milo, grass/clover mix, wildlife food plot, and what ever else you may consider planting.

When you receive the results you will know how much fertilizer and lime you'll need. These recommendations are given in pounds of Actual Plant Food for fertilizer and pounds of Effective Neutralizing Material for lime per acre. The only thing you have to remember is that the numbers on the bag of fertilizer is a simple percentage by weight of what is in the bag. An example would be 12-12-12. This means 12 percent nitrogen, 12 percent phosphorous and 12 percent potassium is the actual available plant food.

So if you needed 48 pounds each of nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium, then you would need to purchase 400 pounds of 12-12-12 fertilizer. You reach this figure by dividing the 48 pounds needed by 12 percent. That comes to 400, which would be eight 50-pound bags.

The soil test also will tell you how much lime will be required to bring the soil pH up to a certain level. This information will be given in pounds of Effective Neutralizing Material. The ENM rating given to lime is based on pounds of good lime per ton of bulk lime. If your soil test recommends 1,500 pounds ENM and the lime you are buying is rated at 500 ENM you will have to apply three tons -- or 6,000 pounds -- of lime per acre to meet the recommended amount needed.

A 50-pound bag of lime and fertilizer will not fulfill the nutritional needs of most food plot plantings. I prefer to apply the lime several weeks or months before the fertilizer so the soil pH will have time to change. This will make your fertilizer more available to the plants and therefore more effective.

After the site has been tilled and the fertilizer has been applied, it's ready for seeding.

A planter designed for the seeds you are planting is the most effective. Most of us have to use other means. Broadcasting the seed by hand or using a spreader is the option used most often. This technique works well if you use caution when covering the seeds and apply at the correct rate.

You may use a disc, harrow, old mattress springs, or maybe a tree top to drag over the plot, but remember to cover the seeds at the recommended planting depths. In general corn, beans, sunflowers should be covered about an inch and all others less than an inch. The rule of thumb is that the smaller the seed, the less depth you should plant it. The seed only has a certain amount of energy inside and it must reach sunlight before this energy is used up or the seed will die. The smaller the seed, the less energy available. For example, plant your clovers on the surface and allow the weather to cover it correctly.

Do not plant more than the recommended amount because in this instance more is not better.

What to plant? There is no silver bullet seed out there so keep your plantings diverse and avoid planting the same thing every year on the same acre. I normally recommend spending less on the seed and more on fertilizer and lime, because even the most expensive seed will not perform well on poor soils that contain no nutrients.

Roger Frazier is a private land conservationist with the Missouri Department of Conservation.

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