Last week we looked at the question of seed choice when planting food plots for wildlife. It's too late for early-spring plantings in the Shenandoah Valley, but it's time to gear up and make preparations for putting in late-spring and early-summer plants. Then just a month or two after that, it will be time to put in late summer and fall crops.
Soybeans are one of the best choices you can make for a pure summer food plot designed to provide maximum protein and nutrition for deer and other wildlife. Besides Eagle soybeans, recommended last week, another good choice is Cabela's Soybean Blend.
You may know this legendary company more for its hunting equipment, fishing gear and camping products. But the Nebraska-based outfitter has recently begun making a major push into food plot seeds as well as specialized tools and equipment for planting. In fact, they've set up a whole new division called Cabela's Wildlife & Land Management, which you can visit through a link on their website, cabelas.com.
Like other areas they've ventured into, the company hasn't taken this step halfheartedly.
"Most seed brands use a percentage of featured seed and then blend in grasses and other less nutrient-rich products to help drive the cost down. But this decreases the nutrient value to deer," says Cabela's Chuck Smock. "When you buy any one of our varieties, you get exactly what we advertise. Alfalfa is 100 percent alfalfa--no fillers."
The company also uses Micro-Boost in most of its food plot seeds. This is a product called Protinus that contains zinc, manganese and iron along with other inorganic proprietary ingredients to optimize the pH in the micro-zone around the seed. This helps release minerals that are bound up in the soil and unavailable to the plant. It also accelerates germination and enhances drought tolerances.
Cabela's Soybean Blend comes up quickly, grows fast and offers abundant protein-rich forage in the leaves. Best of all, it is drought tolerant, thriving during hot, dry summer months.
It 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.
Like Eagle soybeans, these beans are designed to produce forage, rather than seeds. They continually produce more green leaves as deer (or cattle) eat them down.
One strategy many food plot experts like to use is mixing these soybeans with other crops. You can mix them with corn, sorghum, buckwheat or black oil sunflowers. Those crops can take some of the pressure off the beans and allow them to get past the critical stage of four-to-six weeks where they can withstand heavy grazing pressure. But they also do well when planted alone if you protect them during these early weeks.
Another plant worth considering for summer is lablab. I've had very good luck some years with this fast-growing legume and now Cabela's offers a high quality version of this hyacinth bean. The key for success with lablab is to completely control the weeds before planting it, because there are no Roundup-Ready versions of lablab.
Like their soybean blend, Cabela's lablab is treated with Micro Boost to enhance germination and growth. Lablab was one of the first annual plants I ever put in the ground for a summer crop and it produced astounding results with lush growth of the high-protein plants to a height of about three feet.
Like soybeans, lablab is drought resistant, which is a great plus with the scarcity of rain we usually have to deal with here in the Shenandoah Valley during summer. It can produce protein levels in the green leaves of up to 35 percent. Although it will grow beans, it's the forage or leaves that whitetails really like to feed on.
Looking ahead as we get into July and August, another plant offering to consider from this company is their Cabela's Daikon Radish with Micro Boost. That plant produces tons of green forage, plus roots (radishes) that deer can feed on after they eat the tops. The roots also grow deep and help aerate the soil so that more water can penetrate and roots of future plantings can grow more easily in the looser soil. We'll cover that plant in more detail in a column in July on late summer wildlife plantings.
For both soybeans and lablab, try to protect the young plants for 4-6 weeks, or plant enough that the animals can't destroy all of them in their early growth stages. You can keep deer and other animals out with electric fencing or products such as Plot Saver that include a ribbon and deer repellent spray that works to some extent to discourage the animals from feeding on the plots. You can also spread Milorganite fertilizer, available at local farm co-ops. This sometimes keeps deer away for a while because of an odor the animals don't like.
Award-winning outdoors writer Gerald Almy is a Maurertown resident.