Deer Hunting No Till Food Plots
Deer hunting food plots are valuable in attracting and holding deer on your land. Food plots range from some small plot scratched out in a remote corner of a woods with hand tools up to 10+ acre field prepared, planted and maintained with many thousands of dollars worth of farming equipment. I find myself, like most other hunters, to be somewhere in the middle. I have an ATV disc and a backpack sprayer that will allow me to plant and maintain 1/4 acre (or smaller) food plots. Note that such smaller scale plots will not produce the quality of some mega plot produced with thousands of dollars worth of equipment, but still you may produce a quality plot, and you may produce such plots without the need for large tractor access. And also note that "no till" really means no deep plowing or cultivating - if you do not surface till or at least rough up the surface, very little of your seed will germinate. The steps I took to achieve a good deer hunting food plot are given below.
Step 1 - Do an initial kill-off of taller weeds on your plot. It is best if you can do this when your weeds are between 6" and 12" tall. If you time this right, you can kill nearly all the weeds in one spraying. If you are using a backpack sprayer, insure that you spray all sections of your plot by inserting rows of stakes about 6-8 ft apart. Spray between the first two rows of stakes, then between the next two, etc, slightly overlapping each region sprayed.
Give this 3 days to insure that all weeds sprayed fully soak up the weed killer into the roots. Don't skip this step - If you do, you will find your plot reverted back to weeds in a season! Also note that you can buy herbicides at agricultural supply stores for a fraction of the cost of what you would pay in the garden section of a department or home store. I obtained 3.5 gallons of concentrate for a little over $40.
Step 2 - If Mow your area using a push gas mower or rider or mowing deck with your blade set up as high as possible. Remove excess clippings. Let this sit a few days to a week to regenerate growth.
Step 3 - If needed, spray again with weed killer. If your area had high grass, you will find that you missed many of the lower weeds and you should spray the entire area. Or if you got most of the weeds initially, spot treat as needed. Ideally, you want ZERO weeds growing in your plot. Allow this treated area 3 or more days for the weed killer to fully be absorbed before tilling.
Step 4 - Test the pH of soil from the top 4 inches with a kit sold at a gardening center - if it is much below 6.0, you will want to add some lime - an agriculture or garden supply store can help you with picking the correct amount and type. Surface till your area with an ATV disc. (Unless you at least rough up the surface, very little of your seed will grow) I used a narrower ATV 33" Disc Harrow I bought at Northern Tools since our soil is heavy clay. If you have sandy soil you could pull a wider disc harrow or even invest in a tiller to fully turn the soil. For me full tilling was not an option because my clay field never dried up enough. Also, you will have a very difficult time fully plowing and tilling a new field in heavy clay soil with anything less then a good-sized tractor. But even if you only surface till down 1 - 3", and effectively remove weeds and apply some fertilizer, you can produce a nice plot that can last a few years. If you have clay soil, note that you will have a very tough time disking this way with an ATV if it is very dry - wait for the soil to moisten up a bit. Plant in the tilled up the surface before the next rain so the seeds can settle into the loose topsoil (as opposed to topsoil knocked down by the rain). So watch your plot to find a good time to till and also watch the weather and do the planting with rain in the forecast.
Step 5 - After tilling up everything, mix your food plot seed with fertilizer to make it easier to broadcast. For 1/4 acre, 25 pounds of 10-10-10 fertilizer will work well. To calculate your acreage, use the food plot acreage calculator found here. If you hand broadcast (as opposed to using an ATV seed spreader), plan on using 2 or even 3 times as much seed as the maximum coverage indicated on the package. After you seed, it is a good idea to run a harrow of some sort, over the top, like the one pictured left. This
ATV Drag Harrow is available for around $100, including shipping. Pack your seed down. A cultipacker is designed to do this, but you may also pack it down by simply driving over all of the seeded area with an ATV. I used my ATV to pack my seed down - this will work fine as long as you make enough passes to pack down the entire area.
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