Food plot seed selection is often divided into spring and fall. A better division is 1) early spring 2) late-spring and 3) late summer and fall.
It's too late to put in early spring plantings, so let's look closely at what should go in from May through June, the second category. For this time of year the best plants to put in the ground are annuals. You want crops that come up quickly, grow fast, offer protein-rich forage in their leaves and are drought tolerant, thriving during hot, dry summer months.
This boils down to three main choices: cowpeas, forage soybeans and lablab. These plants all provide a large amount of forage and often grow so thick and tall that they offer cover as well as food.
All three of these should be planted ½ to 1 inch deep, after making sure the pH level is adequate and adding a fertilizer such as 5-10-10 or similar. If you haven't grown any clover in the plot before, add a more balanced fertilizer such as 19-19-19, with more nitrogen.
Cowpeas are an acceptable choice, but my best results have come with the other two options for summer annuals -- soybeans and lablab. We'll look at lablab in a later column. This week we'll focus on the single best summer annual of all -- soybeans. The main thing to realize is that there are two types of beans -- those traditionally grown for seeds and seed products and those grown for forage. The latter are best for deer plantings, because they are bred to be resistant to foraging and continually produce more green leaves as deer (or cattle) eat them down.
Several companies make forage soybeans, but none can compare with those sold by Eagle Seeds. These include two proprietary seeds created by a husband and wife team, the Doyles, who both have doctoral degrees in soybean science. These are called Large Lad and Big Fellow, as well as a new mixture of the two called GameKeeper. The names are well chosen. These beans grow especially large leaves -- up to eight inches.
The plants also grow incredibly tall and dense. They can reach seven feet or higher, and can grow so thick that deer not only feed in the plots, but actually bed in them because they offer great cover. Food and cover -- there's not much more than that to keep a buck happy during the summer.
One study showed a crop of Eagle Big Fellow and Large Lad produced seven tons of forage per acre. The beans are drought tolerant and can be treated periodically with Roundup without harming the plants to keep weeds controlled. And as everyone knows, weeds are the biggest problem in food plots.
Eagle soybeans are also drought-tolerant, surviving even weeks without any rain and continuing to grow because of a deep taproot. Large Lad has been chosen by the Mississippi Fisheries and Wildlife Department as their official soybean for wildlife plantings. It's not only tolerant of heavy browsing, but is also resistant to most foliar diseases, phytophthora root rot and stem canker. I've planted these beans for three summers now and am constantly amazed at how fast and large they grow.
Plant the soybeans 50-75 pounds per acre. You can mix them with corn, but they do best when planted alone. Another plus of these beans is that they produce forage far longer into the fall than most soybeans, which go to seed in late summer. Eagle beans mature later and continue to produce high protein green forage for several weeks after most beans, until heavy frosts kill the plants.
Protect young plants for 4-6 weeks with either electric fencing or repellents such as Plot Saver. Alternately, you can simply plant so many beans that the deer can't destroy them all. After a few weeks of growth, animals can feed on them all they want and the plants will continue to thrive and produce more leaves and protein-rich forage
For more information on these plants, check out the company's website at eagleseed.com. They have also recently expanded into other food plot offerings and now sell a cereal grain product called Buck Monster Wheat and a fall blend called Broadside.
This latter product was developed with the assistance of Dr. Grant Woods, the TV personality and wildlife biologist. It includes soybeans to attract deer in late summer, then forage radishes as the weather turns colder, followed by wheat and turnips for winter sustenance.
Next week we'll look at the offerings from a new entrant into the food plot seed industry, a name familiar to most hunters and fishermen: Cabela's.
Award-winning outdoors writer Gerald Almy is a Maurertown resident.