Gerald Almy: Time to test soils, fertilize and prepare food plots

Gerald Almy

The coldest March in 25 years didn’t make things easy for food plot aficionados. There are not too many projects you can do when the temperature is bitter cold, the wind chill is unbearable and rain and snow spit from the sky. The periodic showers have not helped much with the area’s need of rainfall, either. But they’ve been enough to make it hard to work the soil.

There are a few projects you need to get started on, though, and hopefully April weather will be a little more cooperative.

Overseeding plots that were thin or had bare spots in them is a good project. The freezing and thawing action of the soil and rain will gradually work the seed in a short way and soon it will be ready to sprout and fill in those empty spots in your perennial plots such as clover and chicory.

Clearing rocks and debris from plots or places where you’re planning to put one in is another good early spring undertaking. Another good project is to plant a few shrubs around the edges of your plots to make them more attractive to old, wary bucks that don’t like to march into a “clean” plot in the open during shooting hours. This will give them a sense of security and make them enter during shooting light.

Another extremely important project involves doing a soil test and applying lime and fertilizer. Lime takes a while to work down into the soil so it’s good to get it applied now if your pH needs a boost.

Hiring local farm and agriculture companies to apply it is the most economical way. I recently added several tons of lime to some of my plots and was pleasantly surprised at the bill, which came to less than $30 per ton applied. For smaller plots you can buy bags and use a spreader to distribute the lime yourself. Pelletized lime is a good choice and enters the soil quickly.

Another vital undertaking is to do a soil test. “When it comes to planting food plots, no other step offers the greatest potential to ensure optimum results and help save money as testing your soil through a qualified soil testing laboratory,” says Jon Cooner, of the Whitetail Institute of North America (whitetailinstitute.com; 800/688-3030).

“It’s simple and inexpensive and it provides information that’s critical to food plot success.”

The Whitetail Institute offers soil test kits and will turn around your report quickly with specific recommendations for crucial fertilizers, or you can go to local farm co-ops, and agricultural extension agents and they will test them for you. Try to collect samples from each separate plot site, since soil needs can vary widely from plots just a few hundred yards apart.

To perform the test you’ll need a test kit, a clean one gallon bucket and small clean shovel or soil probe. The test will tell you how much fertilizer you need of each type and lime requirements (tons per acre). Tell the lab what type of plants either grow in the plot or will be planted in it, so they can specify fertilizer needs for that particular seed, including nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium. “Not all forages need the same nutrients,” says Cooner.

Follow the instructions step by step, and don’t try to cut corners. “Take as many plugs from as many areas of the plot as your common sense tells you is necessary for the sample to contain a good representation of the soils over the entire seedbed” says Cooner.

Having the pH balanced and the right fertilizer added and tilled into your soil ahead of planting will ensure that the plants that emerge can extract the maximum amount of nutrients and minerals from the soil and transfer them to the deer and other wildlife that eat them. And that, in turn, will provide the healthiest herd of does and fawns and the maximum antler growth on bucks.

Take care of these preparations now and soon it will be time for the most enjoyable food plot project of all–putting seed in the ground and watching it grow.