August 2005
Happy Hunting Ground

Happy Hunting Ground

At this writing, deer season is approximately 119 days, 9 hours and 36 minutes away, but who is counting? Most hunters’ thoughts are starting to turn toward hunting season and the things they need to do to get ready for opening day.

Where some hunters’ wives will dwell on what clothes they are going to wear at the next upcoming event, the hunter will worry for months about what rifle to take — not which boots will match his new camo. The hunter will contemplate what stand he should occupy on opening day, not whether or not his boots will match both his cap and gun case. To most hunters this lack of worry about such details makes him normal, to his spouse it makes him annoying.

So, if we are in what I like to call the planning mode for hunting season, lets look at the basics about fertilizer and lime and how they relate to food plots.

As lime is the most basic element to soil fertility, and therefore good food plot management, let’s talk about lime for a brief moment.

Lime is ground limestone. Limestone is calcium carbonate. In the soil the calcium portion breaks away and binds with the hydrogen atoms, which are negatively charged and reduces the acidity of the soil. The negatively charged hydrogen atoms are what cause anything to be acid. Technically, distilled water is an acid because it contains a concentration of hydrogen atoms. In the soil, these hydrogen atoms can and will bind up not only your fertilizer but also the other things the plant needs to thrive.

If you can afford to do only one thing to your food plots, lime them. Liming can free up plant nutrients in the soil that are unavailable at low soil pH.

Remember that changing the soil’s pH is a slow process because it is a chemical reaction. Fertilizers go to work fairly quickly because they are water-soluble and in most cases are almost immediately available for the plant to use. When lime is applied, it must react with the atoms of the soil to raise the pH. As a matter of fact, as the soil approaches neutrality, the reaction actually slows down.

A good rule of thumb is to lime early in the spring in order to begin the adjustment of your soil pH. Sometimes fall is the only time you have the opportunity to lime your plot. If this is true, then don’t expect to see immediate results.

Some soil labs will recommend two or more tons of lime at an application. This is not a good idea unless you are going to incorporate the lime into the soil. Lime lying on top of the ground will go to work slower because it must work its way into the soil and until it does that, it is vulnerable to wind and water. Always approach liming with the attitude that it takes time to adjust the pH.

The next question is what type of lime should I use on my food plot? The form of the lime depends only on your budget. Lime comes in two forms, pelletized or pulverized, and both are available in bags, but only pulverized is available in bulk at your local store.

Pelletized lime is cleaner, easier to apply and once the pellet breaks down the lime particles are smaller, which means you will get a little more efficiency in pH adjustment. Pelletized lime can be applied with 3-point hitch spreaders and ATV spreaders that are popular today. The draw back to pelletized lime is the cost.

Pulverized lime is much cheaper to use than pelletized and can be easily purchased in bulk for usually less than $50 per ton. The draw back to pulverized lime is the spreading method. If you try to use the previously mentioned spreaders, have your dictionary of curse words ready because you will need all of them and probably a few more before you are through.

Whatever the form of lime you choose, be sure to use dolomitic lime or dolomite as it is sometimes called. There is usually no price difference between dolomitic and “hi calcium” lime. The main difference between the two is the magnesium content. By law, dolomitic lime must have a minimum of 12% magnesium. Magnesium is very important to the plant. Magnesium is the major component of chlorophyll and chlorophyll is the engine of the plant whether it is a legume, grass or brassica. Most soil tests will advise you to apply magnesium unless you have recently applied dolomitic limestone.

Now that deer season is only 119 days, 9 hours and 36 minutes away (but who’s counting?) stop worrying about whether or not you should accessorize your hunting clothes and get your soil test done and start planning your fall food plots before football season throws you off schedule roughly 46 days from now (but who’s counting?).

Ralph Ricks is the manager of Quality Cooperative, Inc. in Greenville.