In my humble opinion, I believe some of the worst terminologies to hit the food plot industry are "no-till" or "no-plow." It gives many consumers false hope – they think they can whip out some seeds onto a bunch of matted-down leaves near their treestand and grow a beautiful food plot. It doesn’t work that way. With that said, it is possible to grow a food plot under certain conditions by not turning the soil, but you will almost always get a better stand and higher yield by preparing a proper seedbed. There are many acceptable ways to do this, it all depends upon the tools you have and the conditions you’re faced with.
Twenty some years ago when I first started planting food plots, I used to borrow my mom’s hand tiller she used in her garden. I didn’t plant vast acreage but, even way back then, I had some very respectable food plots. I would simply use a trailer and an ATV to get back into remote locations, but really there wasn’t anywhere where this set-up wouldn’t work. Again, I was planting two acres or less. Afterwards I would be sweaty, sore and tired, but I grew some great looking plots. Garden tillers are available at most rental shops so anyone can have access to this method.
Because of the popularity of planting food plots and many consumers already owning ATVs, an explosion has happened in the ATV implement category. Unfortunately, I have found very few worth a darn. Most simply do not have enough weight to bust sod. Once you have the soil turned for the first time, then various models will do fine. But from my experience when breaking soil from scratch, with most ATV implements you will go through many tanks of gas and you’ll be sore, dusty and end up blowing brown stuff from your nose for a week after because you have to go over the area so many times to get the job done.
I’ve found two exceptions to the rule, one being the new GroundHog Max. This implement is different from all the rest. It’s actually mounted directly under the ATV’s rear-end and uses the weight of the ATV and driver to achieve direct down-pressure so it easily busts through the layer of sod. You use the 42-pound plow like a fifth wheel. You don’t need to trailer everything to the location, simply turn it around and go. ATVs weigh on-average 600 to 800 pounds, the unique design of the GroundHog Max uses this weight and the weight of the driver. The combined weight gives the downward pressure creating its aggressive cut. Some claim it is too small and not wide enough at 21 inches. But if you figure you can go three to six times faster than all other pull-behinds, you more than make up for that difference. In fact, this implement finishes the job faster. It shines when it comes to doing those "hunting plots" back-in, off-the-beaten-trail. You can even use this implement in reverse.
The other ATV implement deserving mention is the largest ATV disk made by Monroe Tufline. Their model ATVD71016 is 64" wide, has ten blades and weighs 498 lbs. You’ll need a 500 cc engine or larger to pull it with, but this ATV disk has the weight to "get ‘er done." It’s also unquestionably the best built ATV implement I have ever used.
With most ATV implements, I don’t think I would want to commit to doing over eight to ten acres per year. For larger tracts I would highly recommend a tractor. How much acreage you need to do would depend upon the recommended size.
The tool I use for 99 percent of all of my food plot work is a 48 HP John Deere 4-wheel drive tractor. A 73-inch tiller makes turning the soil quick work in most situations. It’s small enough and combined with the 4-wheel drive, I can get back into remote locations. But it’s also large enough and powerful enough so I can do some decent sized plots. This size tractor, often referred to as a "compact utility tractor," works great for almost any food plot chore. It is "tractor enough" to do as much as 40 acres of plots per season.
Any more acreage than 30 to 40 acres per season and I would suggest you go with standard agricultural size equipment. Tractors of 58 HP or greater that can pull implements wide enough to get the job done in a realistic timeframe. I must admit I enjoy my time on a tractor, but you get to a point where you simply need to get the job done.
It depends upon how much acreage you have to plant and how hard you wish to work, but where there’s a will, there’s a way to get it done. There are many acceptable methods to create a proper seedbed for planting. No matter what level you are on or what tools you have at your disposal, you can plant a successful food plot.
Todd Amenrud is the Director of Public Relations, Territory Manager & Habitat Consultant for BioLogic.