Seeds and plants fill the local stores, and while we are all interested in what new blight-resistant tomatoes are being offered this season, it’s time also to think about what you are going to plant in your deer food plot. Full page ads in many of the sporting magazines promote brassicas and clovers as top seed, which can come with a hefty price tag. It’s not uncommon to see a bag of mixed grasses, legumes, and brassicas at $150 for 20 pounds. Lured by the potential for a big buck to be dining in your field, many pay this tidy sum only to be disappointed with the results.
My success varied until I joined the Quality Deer Management Association (www.qdma.com). The membership brought me six issues of their journal, Quality Whitetails, a high quality, well-written, magazine dedicated to the science behind producing quality deer, not just another “how-to” shoot deer mag. From this came my association with members of the NY chapter and my learning curve increased dramatically.
Most years, my four-acre pasture was just a walk-through for deer and turkeys and the rare pheasant. On the recommendation of John Rybinski, President of the NY QDMA chapter, I planted a quarter-acre plot of purple-top turnips. The only thing I did to prepare the soil was to rototill it to a depth of four inches. I over-seeded the area with five pounds of seed from Johnny's Seeds (www.johnnyseeds.com). I spread the seed by a simple Earthway hand spreader I purchased at Canal Street Hardware in Oxford. The first year I had a marvelous crop of turnips and turnip greens. The results were the most deer and turkey I have ever seen in this field in over 20 years. Five pounds of turnip seed cost just $26 with shipping. Indeed, my field was interspersed with weedy plants, but the turnips grew like wildfire.
Mistakes I made that year were simply not doing a soils test and planting too much seed in a small area. The recommended seed rate is one-quarter pound per 1,000 square feet. Basically on a quarter-acre, I doubled the seeding application with the five pounds of seed. Secondly, I never did a soils test to see what nutrients would be required for optimum growth. Soil testing is relatively inexpensive and well worth the investment.