Gerald Almy: Get set for spring food plots
Yes, it may seem early to get started on food plots in the Shenandoah Valley. But there are several important steps you should take now to be totally ready to put them in the ground quickly as soon as the weather breaks in spring. Neglect these preparations now and you’ll be playing catch up from the start when the time comes to sow seed in the ground.
Frost Seed: You can actually do some planting right now with the frost seeding technique. Spread seed in plots that were thin or others that were prepared to plant last fall. The thawing and freezing action of the soil will work the seed in enough that it will sprout once warmer weather comes.
I also like to devote time to rock and tree branch removal. Wind usually knocks down some branches that can damage tractor implements. And thawing and freezing usually brings more rocks up the surface that need to be removed. Gather them now, before they dull or break your tiller’s blades. The more rocks you remove, the more ground there is available to grow plants in.
Plant Shrubs: If your plots are in open areas, now is a good time to plant some shrubs leading to it from the nearest cover and along the edges. These will provide security for mature bucks to feel comfortable feeding in the plot during daylight hours. Good varieties include indigo bush, lespedeza, Chickasaw plum, raspberry, graystem or red osier dogwood and chinkapin oak.
Add Lime: This is the perfect time to lime your fields and plots. Lime requires a month or more to work down into the soil where it can reduce the acidity. Now is the time to get it applied. Local farm co-ops or ag companies can apply it or you can buy it by hand and apply with a spreader. Expect to pay around $25-35 per ton for lime applied by a company. I usually buy mine from Valley Fertilizer in Mount Jackson.
Test Soil: Probably the most important single thing you can do to make your spring plantings a success is to do a soil test. “No other step offers greater potential to ensure optimum results as testing your soil through a qualified soil testing laboratory,” says Jon Cooner, of the Whitetail Institute of North America (“http://www/whitetailinstitute.com”>whitetailinstitute.com; 800-688-3030). “It’s simple, inexpensive, and provides information that’s vital to food plot success.”
The Whitetail Institute sells soil test kits, or you can have tests done through local farm co-ops that utilize agricultural colleges. I had my last tests done through Rockingham Co-Op in Woodstock. They provided a quick turn-around and specific recommendations on which fertilizers, both major and minor, the various plots needed.
Make sure you use a clean bucket and shovel and gather small samples from several sections of the food plot to get a good representative reading. Also let the lab know what type of plant you’ll be putting in, whether it’s clover, soybeans, alfalfa or whatever. “Not all forages need the same nutrients,” says Cooner.
They will then recommend specific amounts of nitrogen potassium and phosphorous, as well as other elements such as sulphur, zinc, manganese, magnesium and boron. A fertilizer distributor can then mix the exact portions you need for your specific plots.
Having the right fertilizer applied before your spring planting ensures that the plants will be able to absorb the nutrients and minerals in the soil, grow tall and palatable, and transfer those to the deer and other animals that eat them. That in turn translates to healthier bucks, does and fawns.
Don’t wait too long with this list of food plot prep chores. Spring will be here before you know it.
Award-winning outdoors writer Gerald Almy is a Maurertown resident.