February 2015
Outdoor Life

Food Plotting in February

Leave at least a 30-foot wide border at the field edge when bushhogging to provide cover for wildlife and nesting areas for turkeys.  

February certainly feels like down time when it comes to wildlife. The rush of deer season is over, and turkey hunting doesn’t start until March. February is, however, an ideal time to get a head start on your food plots.

Sweeten the Soil

Most plots planted in wooded areas in Alabama will be deficient in lime. In forested areas where no cultivation has taken place in years, it’s not uncommon for a soil analysis to call for three tons of lime per acre. Bulk lime is much cheaper than pelletized, but bulk lime requires a large spreader truck or trailer to put it out. It would certainly be worth your time to widen access roads through the woods to accommodate the spreader truck. All lime products and spreading implements can be available through your local Quality Co-op.

The only true way to know exactly what your soil will need is through a soil test. Take multiple samples from each plot, mix the dirt in a clean bucket, and put the soil into the boxes to be analyzed at the lab. This can be done for the cost of a bag of fertilizer.

Another extremely important factor in knowing how much lime, fertilizer and seeds to order is knowing how large your plots are. Many smartphone applications are available that allow the user to walk the perimeter of the property, marking points and doing a calculation. In the absence of technology and an intuitive eye, you can visualize a football field. A football field without the end zones is approximately one acre.

  Oats are a great companion crop with clover because it grows tall enough to provide security and cover for wildlife and it provides high-quality forage.

Prepare the Plot

If you can catch a few dry days in February, the plot can be plowed to allow for seeding and fertilizer. This is an ideal time to apply the lime to allow it to be plowed into the soil. It may take a few months for the lime to fully neutralize the soil.

During the dead of winter, the freezing and thawing of the soil will help work the seed into the ground making ideal seed to soil contact. When seeds such as white or red clover are sown in February, when the spring rains and warming sun do appear, the seeds can have a head start over the weeds. This is important because if the forage grows before the weeds, many of the weeds will be crowded out.

Select the Seeds

Your local Co-op is your best resource for high-quality seeds whether it is strictly wildlife packaged seed or seed combinations you select yourself. If you will be planting in February, an ideal choice in Alabama is either white or red clover. Both varieties have good germination rates and, if managed properly, will provide forage for quite a while.

Timing for Turkeys

Planting in February allows the land manager a chance to prepare for spring’s flocks of turkeys. Sometimes, the best things you can plant for turkeys in February are plots of clover. Once the sun begins to warm the forest floor, clover grows with thick coverage providing not only high-quality forage but also ideal bugging areas for turkeys searching for insects.

When turkeys hatch their clutch of eggs, the young poult’s diet consists 90 percent of insects for the first six months of life. These clover plots provide the greenery forage for adults and easy travel and insect holding areas for the young turkeys. These plots should provide wildlife forage well into the end of May until the rest of the woodland food sources are growing readily.

Remember to leave the edges of the food plot unmowed, and don’t worry about these outside edges growing up in briars and brush. This can be one of the best wildlife management tools for providing ideal nesting sites for hens. This process is called feathering. You simply leave the edges of your food plots or pastures unmowed and untended. This leaves a natural, protective border for wildlife.

Companion Crops

If you plan to plant a companion crop with clover, oats are one of the best choices. They provide plenty of high-quality greenery forage, abundant energy in the seed heads, and the oats grow tall enough to provide secure travel corridors for deer and turkeys. It’s not uncommon to see foraging areas become bedding areas when oats are planted with clover. Once deer feel comfortable traveling through the food plots, you may find flattened areas where deer are bedding in your food plots.

Monitor Mowing Times

When it comes time to mow your food plots or pastures, timing is critical when wildlife is a priority. According to Luke Lewis, National Wild Turkey Federation Biologist, it’s a good idea to create more nesting and escape cover for the turkeys.

"Do not mow field edges, but leave 30 feet of unmowed area during May and early June for about six weeks to keep from destroying nests," Lewis said. "Also, don’t let cattle, sheep or horses overgraze fields in early spring from April to June so hens can have more nesting areas."

This February, get a head start on your food plots and habitat enhancement. Your property will benefit greatly from your cold weather efforts.

John Howle is a freelance writer from Heflin.