Native habitat makes us smile! Years ago this area was covered with eastern red cedar and offering no benefit to wildlife. After removing the cedars and using prescribed fire, the native habitat released its potential! Now there is a diversity of grasses and wildflowers, which are not only beautiful to look at but many species offer critters great cover and quality browse this time of the year. If you’re interested in a more in-depth look at the wildflowers and native browse that have been restored on our hunting property, watch this video.
Much of the poorest quality habitat here at The Proving Grounds was covered with eastern red cedar. Those cedars were allowed to take over areas that used to be open due to overgrazing and suppression of all fire.
However, there was a great native seed source. We simply cut and felled the cedars, allowed them to dry for two to three years, then burned them where they fell. A fabulous composition of native warm season grasses and forbs recolonized the area.
After the fire, the areas responded quickly, and in some areas — counting the rings on the cedars — that native vegetation seed had laid dormant in the soil for 75 or more years.
The state botanist helped us to identify over 176 species of native warm season grasses and forbs. The only maintenance I’ve done on those sites since the original fire has been additional prescribed fires on a three to five year rotation.
If you take degraded habitat – unless it’s been intensely plowed and that seed bank really messed with – if you use prescribed fire or whatever the appropriate technique is for that habitat, usually the natives will recolonize that area. And you have to go around and spot treat some of the invasive species, like sericea lespedeza to allow these natives even to expand.Cedar glades that became established on tillable land usually don’t have a good native plant seed base as it was disturbed during the previous tillage.
The value of these areas now to many species of wildlife, and the views created, and the value to hunters, is much, much greater than the value it had when they were covered with eastern red cedars.
Missouri is blessed with a great Department of Conservation. All states have a similar department. I hope you’ll reach out to them and check out the resources they have to offer to assist you in establishing native habitat on your hunting property.
Planting into a standing, green crop has many benefits! The cool season crop we planted late last summer has protected the soil and fed critters all fall, winter and spring.
The forage has now bolted and produced lots of biomass on top of the soil and below (roots). This results in the perfect time release fertilizer for future crops. The new crop will begin growing in a perfect environment and provide forage for critters during the growing season.
The table is never cleared, which is great for critters above and below the soil. This is what we call the Release Process™.
We will share more food plot updates as we continue planting and improving the soil health at The Proving Grounds.
I’ve been planting food plots for MANY years. Initially, I planted food plots using the traditional process of breaking the ground and either broadcasting by hand or using a planter. Then I started planting no-till food plots as it reduced that extra step of plowing. On moving here to Southern Missouri, the choice to use no-till was the only choice because our rocky soils are basically impossible to till/disk.
These days you’ll find us putting in our food plots with the Genesis No-Till Drill. The Genesis has been a great tool for me!
As time passed the additional benefits of a no-till food plot became clear. I continue learning and the best system – what I’ve done the past two years is to plant green – which means to plant into the standing crop.
This spring I’ll plant into the crop that’s maturing now. I’ll drill into it when the cereal rye seed heads are forming in the end of the green stalk. This is called the boot stage. You’ll notice the stalk swelling or pregnant with a forming seed head that’s not or barely visible.
Then after the planted seeds germinate and the standing crop’s cereal rye’s seeds are in the dough stage – formed but full of moisture – pop when squeezed I crimp the fall crop. This process produces the most weed suppression and soil health improvement.
The previous crop must be terminated somehow or it will slowly die and then it will be late planting the new crop. I use a Goliath crimper to terminate unless there’s a known weed issue.
If you don’t yet own a crimper, you can spray the crop just before you plant. Most folks use glyphosate – which is a better choice than turning the soil for the soil’s health and weed suppression. If there’s already a big weed issue, you will need to spray.
If the previous crop is thick, when it’s crimped it makes a huge amount of mulch that will suppress weeds and preserve the soil’s moisture like mulch in flower beds, gardens, etc. This mulch decomposes slowly and is a great slow release fertilizer as the decomposing plants (don’t forget the tons of roots below the soil) pull the exact variety of nutrients from the soil that other plants need. This is another reason I always plant blends that include a lot of species! Different species will extract different nutrients from the soil and release a mild carbonic acid to free up more nutrients. The Release Process doesn’t happen overnight, but I haven’t added/paid for any fertilizer in 7 years! Over time, I saved enough for the crimper and much of the drill.
We’ll soon be sharing more in videos about planting to show this process. As I’ve learned and advanced these steps, I call this the Release Process – as I’ve been amazed at how much of the soil’s potential has been released in a few years! The soil at my place is now literally dark and smells rich like Iowa soil and I live in the Ozark Mountains near Branson, MO!
This spring I’ll be planting a blend with 10+ different species that I’ve learned work together to rapidly improve soil health. I’ll get this from GreenCoverSeed.com and it will cost about $55 per acre plus shipping. They ship a huge volume so shipping prices are good. This seed cost per acre is a much better price than I’ve found elsewhere. I don’t believe the wildlife products are on their site yet. I helped them develop this blend based on my experience with food plots and their vast experience with more than 150 species of forage and grain crops.
By planting these blends and getting seed from Green Cover versus companies with fancy bags with a big buck on the front, there’s much more savings! Many food plot companies’ products are $100+ per acre. Green Cover – sales millions of pounds of cover crop farmers – has way better prices – typically about $50 per acre.
I’m very confident you will enjoy and appreciate the Release Process and watching the soil and deer at your place improve in quality!
A while back someone asked me a question about how hogs affect deer and predator movement on their hunting property. As wild hogs become more prevalent around the United States, we will all have to consider this in our hunting strategies. This hunter had 600 acres in Georgia and wondered if pigs cause deer to move from the food plots, maybe not frequenting as much or if this make it more likely to have more coyotes on the property? He was thinking about setting up some corn feeders in August prior to the season. Here are the thoughts I shared with him regarding wild hogs:
What is quality cover? We recently toured a property in western Kansas to created a habitat and hunting improvement plan. During the visit we noticed several CRP (Conservation Reserve Program) areas around the ag fields.
From a wildlife perspective, these long, narrow areas of CRP do not offer quality cover. We often refer to such areas as “predator food plots”. All a coyote or raccoon needs to do is run on the down wind side of this area and they can locate every fawn and turkey nest.
To provide critters with quality/security cover, areas should be at least several acres large (+10) and not long and narrow.
We recently toured a property in Kansas that was boarded by a gravel road. About eight years ago this landowner planted eastern red cedar as a visual screen between the road and the property.
Though slow growing, the cedars filled in and created a great screen. Cedars don’t offer critters quality habitat but can be used as a tool for landowners that need to keep others from seeing into their property.
We’re monitoring soil conditions daily/watching the weather and hope to be planting soon. We want to make sure the soil temperature is warm enough. Here we can get away with planting earlier when planting green; when we’re not using as much synthetic fertilizer or herbicides or other products. Here at The Proving Grounds we have a lot of soil life — earthworms and bacteria. And they’re activity and respiration warms up the soil.
Soil health can be extremely complicated. But we can break it down really simply. It’s important to always keep the soil covered. Bare soil, naked soil, can be eroded. It can get too hot or too cold and it doesn’t hold soil moisture.
There are benefits to having a living root in the soil as many days as possible. And that living root, again, is using the top of the plant – photosynthesis – to pump very valuable foods and other items into the soil for the soil biology. And in turn, the soil biology is making the plant healthier.
At least during a portion of the year, there should be a large variety of plants having different root sizes and depths and, really important, different leaf sizes and different leaf heights. This will serve to capture all that sun before it hits the ground.
That diversity of plants also has different root structures. Some of them will be very deep and strong which will break up hard pans and allow moisture to move up and down through the soil as needed.
Following some simple principles in your food plot can mean you’ll have way healthier soil, healthier plants, larger deer and attract more deer in front of your stand.
It all starts with the simple soil health principles. Now, can you do this with synthetic inputs? Yes, of course you can. But, there’s a cost to that.
Tillage always means erosion; synthetic inputs usually end up in somebody’s water system somewhere. Following the natural system I call “The Release Process” is the healthiest and, in the long run, the least expensive process.
Check out Green Cover Seeds for the food plot blends we will be using this year. We’ll be bringing you more videos this spring with details on how to establish the best food plots at lower cost and that are better for the soil, the environment, and the wildlife!
Daniel recently worked with a landowner over the phone to develop a habitat and hunting improvement plan. This 120 acres is primarily hardwood timber that was logged 10 years ago.
There is currently little food (the current food plots have been browsed lip high) and no quality cover on the property. However, Daniel laid out several larger food plots to provide deer with more quality food and strategically designed smaller plots to act as staging areas. This design created a lot of edge and MANY bottlenecks. Once implemented, this property will hunt much better!
Daniel also prescribed that the low quality hardwood trees be terminated to allow more sunlight to reach the ground and encourage native grasses and forbs- creating both quality cover and browse. During this consult, they discussed the steps of prescribed fire and how to not only convert the timber to quality habitat but maintain it.
We are very excited to hear updates from the landowner as he begins implementing the plan and enjoys great hunting opportunities!
A wildlife management consulting client recently asked: On the Food Plots that we are going to make in the timber, what would you do with the trees we remove? Would you make a pile in the plots and then burn them ?
My advice to him:
The best plan is to have the trees and stumps removed and burned in the center of the plot. It takes a few tries and stirring the pile to burn everything but the stumps. Then I have the stumps buried in the center of the plot. Pictured below are the remains of one of our burn piles after creating a new food plot where the stumps remain after the burn.
Many folks try to save a bit of expense and push the pile to the edge of the plot. The pile often becomes a coyote condo and predators are living within yards of where you wish deer to feed. For me, it’s much better to do it correctly the first time.
Recently I was asked how someone should go about deciding whether to log a property in order to finance the purchase but also in consideration of what’s best for wildlife.
The question of whether to log or not is a personal/financial question. There’s no doubt that most hardwood logging for maximum profit results in a high-graded property. Essentially, loggers take the best and leave the rest. This would include the best mast bearing trees and leaving the immature, poor formed trees.
To improve the habitat, it’s much better to leave the best trees (oaks will grow very old in a healthy environment) and terminate the wounded and undesirable trees. When the forest canopy is full and not much light is reaching the soil use of double girdling and/or hack n squirting to terminate the low quality trees. The residual trees will be more productive and way more native grasses and forbs will grow (if there isn’t invasive exotics that will fill the void – such as bush honeysuckle, etc.).
When deciding whether to log or not, check out the neighborhood, properties with improved habitat attract way more critters than surrounding properties.
These are tough choices to make and I hope the above information provides a good foundation for the decision process.