June 2006
Featured Articles

Food Plots for People and Wildlife

 
  Disc strips around the perimeter and a few strips through the center of the food plot for corn.
There was a colorful character by the name of Elijah that lived on land bordering our family farm. He was a 90-year-old bachelor who had served in World War I and knew how to improvise and live off the land because he rarely had money.

I spent one evening watching him plant corn on a creek bottom, and he planted three kernels in each step. I asked him why, and he said, "I plant one for the birds, one for the deer, and one for me." That diversified farming technique stayed with me for years.

Creating a food plot for more than just deer meat can be as easy as preparing the family garden. Planting corn in strips provides cover for wildlife entering the plot, and planted peas provide soil building nutrients and nitrogen since the plant is a legume. The best part is you can share the harvest with your family and the wildlife.

Select a site that will receive plenty of sunlight. For instance, if you plan to plant a plot down an old logging road, you can do what’s known as "daylighting." This is where you thin out trees along the road or firebreak creating the sunlight needed for optimum growth.

 
Emerging corn in a food plot  
Next, conduct a soil test on the area, stating on the soil test form what you intend to plant. If you plan to plant nothing but peas, for instance, the nitrogen requirement listed on the soil report will be less than if you were planting nothing but corn. Your county’s Extension agent is your best source of information on soil type and testing. Also, your local Co-op will have bulk quantities of lime and fertilizer that will allow you to correct soil deficiencies.

Sweet corn such as Silver and Golden Queen can be planted in central Alabama from the middle of March to the middle of June. Corn yields are the highest when the seeds are planted one to two inches deep. If you plant the seeds too shallow, you’ll have a poor anchoring system, and during dry spells, the corn will suffer from water stress and nutrient deficiencies.

The corn can be drilled, broadcast seeded or planted in rows. Drilling corn takes about 12 to 20 pounds per acre. If you broadcast seed corn, once you’ve spread the seed, disc back over the seeds to cover them.

Corn will reach maturity between 65 and 90 days depending on temperature and rainfall. For corn, make sure the soil pH and fertilizer requirements have been met. Corn responds well to nitrogen.

The cornrows provide ideal travel corridors and concealment for wildlife. Also, the ears that you don’t pick can last into autumn for late season forage. Once the ear has drooped over, the shucks will act like shingles helping prevent rot to the ear from rain. This will extend the forage season for deer on into autumn in the form of dried corn, and the dead, standing stalks continue their job as cover.

 
  Katie Acker stands in front of a strip of mature Silver Queen corn.
If you have an already existing food plot, disc strips through the plot for corn planting. A strip that goes around the perimeter of the food plot as well as a few strips through the middle will provide ideal cover and travel as deer feel safe entering the plot.

If the corn is planted as a single crop, strips can be mowed which will take the ears to the ground making more food available for turkeys and other birds at the end of the summer. If the corn is planted in strips separated by stands of peas, leave the corn standing for deer food and cover. Whether you are planting sweet corn or field corn, your Co-op carries many varieties to choose from.

Southern peas such as Pinkeye Purple Hull and Mississippi Purple can be planted successfully April through July in rows 42 inches wide and four to six inches between plants. Planting in rows will take 30 to 40 pounds of seed per acre. If the seeds are broadcast, use 100 to 120 pounds per acre.

An old saying says that peas planted the first full moon in June perform the best. In addition to your Extension agent, the representatives at your local Co-op can help you choose the heartiest and best tasting varieties of peas for your area.

 
Bow hunter in corn where the stalks were left standing. Ideal cover for deer is provided by the stalks, and late season forage is provided by the dried ears.  
Peas are tolerant to acid soils, and since peas are a legume and contain the nitrogen fixing nodules on the root system, they are tolerant of low fertility. For instance, a good dose of ammonium nitrate (34-0-0) will make the plants grow green and lush but seed production will suffer because much of the growth energy is consumed in leaf and stem production. Planting peas is also a great way to condition the soil for subsequent plantings of cool season food plots.

Deer will browse the leaves and eat the pea seeds. Turkeys and other birds eat the seeds, and the pea plants provide ideal cover for quail. The peas that you don’t eat and the wildlife miss will remain on the vine for late summer or early fall browse.

Sunflower is another warm season plant that both people and wildlife can enjoy. Dove, turkey, and other birds eat the rich seeds from the flowering head at maturity. Also, travel corridors and concealment are provided by the large stalks.

If you run out of time to get peas or corn in the ground for your family and for wildlife, extend the growing season with greens. Once the first few frosts appear, the sugar content in these plants will improve the flavor and make the greens more appealing to both people and deer.

Fall plantings for turnips are August 10 through the first of October. For mustard, plant August 15 through September 5. For kale, plant August 15 through September 15. Collards can be planted late July through September 15. Share the bounty with your family and the wildlife. Plant a people plot this summer.