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Food Plots 101
written by Tracy Breen

Food plots that attract wildlife require planning, time and work. For a lush, green food plot that attracts wild game from miles around, follow these simple suggestions.
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Food Plot Basics

A healthy plot like this one is easy to spot because it is lush and green. Plots like this require a lot of time and work, but the payoff could be a big buck.

Still considered one of the most sought-after items today are food plot related things like seed, spreaders and ATV plow attachments. Modern hunters are attempting to grow food plots because the payoff could be a large buck in the middle of the rut. Problem is most of us haven't planted anything since the marigold flower we planted in a pot in kindergarten.

When it comes to tilling soil and planting seed, most of us don't have a clue where to start. Still, we give it our best shot and plant a plot anyway. Within weeks we realize that something has gone wrong. Hoping for a lush green field, we instead find ourselves overseers of a weed patch or, worse yet, a tilled dirt pit. This has happened to almost every deer hunter I know who has planted a plot. However, there is hope. 

Planning a Food Plot 

Once you've decided to plant a plot, determine how much money you can spend. The larger the plot, the more money it will cost to get the plot looking lush and green. Big plots are great, but if you're a blue collar American with limited funds and space, you may want to consider growing a smaller, more manageable plot.

Food Plot

If you own an ATV, a plot machine like this will quickly till a field and prepare it for seeding.

The next step is to decide whether you want a food plot to bowhunt over or a plot that you can watch deer from while providing them with the nutrition they need to grow a big rack. Most hunters want a little of both.

If you want to hunt over the plot, build the plot with hunting in mind. Many food plot experts preach that a food plot should be shaped like an hour glass wide on the ends and narrow in the middle. By hanging a stand near the middle of the plot, you can take a shot at a buck as he is funneled through. Remember: Smaller plots are easier to manage and make tagging bucks easier. When plots are the size of football stadiums, it can be difficult to control where the bucks come from.

After you have determined the layout of your plot, you will need to decide what you want to plant. The most obvious choice is some type of clover. Almost every seed company has some type of clover available for food plots, and clover is fairly easy to grow and provides year-round nutrition for deer and other wildlife, such as turkey. There are also more traditional choices such as corn and wheat.

In the last few years, more companies began offering brassicas, such as sugar beets and turnips. Some brassica blends even contain carrots, which deer love. Many hunters started planting brassicas because they typically get sweeter as the weather gets colder. Deer tend to leave brassicas plots alone until the temperatures dip below the freezing mark. In most of the country, the temperatures regularly dip below the freezing point early in November when the rut starts, making a brassicas plot the perfect place for a treestand in November.  

Planting a Food Plot 

Now that the basics are covered, the work begins. Most food plot pros suggest killing the weeds and grass in the area you plan on planting before you till the soil. There are a variety of weed killers on the market that will do the job effectively.

Once the weeds and grass are dead, it's time to till the soil. If you have an ATV, you may want to consider buying a plot machine. A plot machine will quickly turn a field into tilled soil that is ready for planting. There are a variety of plot machines available on the market. Ones that till the soil and have attachments make it more versatile. If you plan on doing a number of food plots over the next few years, a plot machine would be a wise investment. Other things you might consider purchasing include an ATV sprayer or an ATV pull-behind seed spreader. If you are on a budget, you could pick up a hand spreader or sprayer instead of the pull-behind models.

Large Food Plot

Large plots like this one require a lot of seed and time to put in but can bring in deer from miles around.

Many hunters overlook lime when planting a plot. I have watched several guys spend thousands on an ATV, seed and ATV attachments. However, they skimped on lime. One or two bags of lime won't do the trick when planting a plot. For a plot to flourish, the soil can't be acidic. To reach the point where it is ready for seed, most plots require a lot of lime. Without lime, your plot probably won't turn out the way you want it to. 

Minimalist Food Plots 

If you are on a tight budget or don't want to mess with the work involved in planting a food plot as described above, don't give up hope. Seed companies are realizing that most hunters are not farmers and have started producing seed blends that don't require as much work in order for them to grow. Many companies now make no-till seed blends that require nothing more than weed killer, a rake and a little elbow grease. When planting one of these plots, simply kill the weeds and grass in the area you want to plant, rake the area to expose the soil, and plant the seed. If you can't afford an ATV, this method is for you.

The minimalist plot is also a great option if your plot is in a remote location where bringing in water and lime isn't possible. Many seed blends available are drought-resistant, making them perfect for the hunter with a remote treestand where watering is out of the question. If you don't have a lot of green but want a green plot, pick up a no-till or drought resistant seed. You will have a better chance of having everything go right the first time. Many of these seed blends also tolerate acidic soil better than traditional seed blends.

Timing is Everything 

Most food plots are planted during the spring and summer. However, some seed blends begin sprouting within a few weeks. Those blends can be planted in late summer or early fall and still be up in time for hunting season.

Putting in a food plot requires a major time commitment. If you are serious about doing it right the first time, spend some time planning the perfect plot for your type of land. Don't head to the store and buy a seed blend without finding out if it will grow in your part of the country. If you live in a drought-stricken area of the country, a clover that requires lots of water won't work for you. If you live in the North Country where it gets very cold, purchase a blend designed for northern climates. During the research process, you may want to consider picking up a book or DVD that goes through the process step-by-step. Books and DVDs take a lot of guesswork out of planting a food plot.

A food plot is similar to a marriage. If you want it to work, you need to invest your time. If you follow these guidelines and resist the temptation to cut corners, your food plot should produce lush green food that deer and turkey love, and that could produce a trophy for you! 

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