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!
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!
We’re very excited about this new hidey hole food plot. It will be located on top of a ridge on the edge of a hardwood timber and a south facing slope/bedding area.
This is a great travel corridor. Deer already naturally travel across the saddle in the ridge and along the edge of the timber and bedding area.
Adding an attractive food source will make this an ideal hunting location! We are simply terminating the vegetation with backpack sprayers and will broadcast Eagle Seed Fall Buffalo Blend seed right before or during a rain.
One thing I really enjoy is seeing how many worms are in our food plots. Why? Because there is a correlation between the number of earthworms in the soil and therefore deer herd quality. That’s because earthworms really improve the soil, making forage more nutritious…so more earthworms, bigger antlers per age class. Here’s a quick check of the earthworms in this food plot and a brief analysis of what it means.
I received a question from a client about planting spring food plots into a recently burned field. If you’re considering the same question or making plans to do a prescribed fire, here are a few points to make this a successful food plot:
Planting soybeans (or any crop) into a burned field is fine. The black surface will result in the soil temperature warming faster there compared to fields covered with forage or that have light-colored soil. This can be an advantage during the spring. The added heat would be an issue if the planting date is when the soil and air temps are high. However, the beans should make a canopy before the temperatures are warm enough to damage forage. A 90 degree outside air temperature can mean surface temperatures are well over 100 degrees on a black surface. Burning will reduce much of the above ground organic matter and therefore some of the moisture retention and weed suppression advantages of having the terminated vegetation (mulch) in the field will be lost. However, the past crop’s roots are still providing lots of organic matter as well as holding the soil in place.
Before initiating a burn on your property, please get the proper training. Use a backing fire when burning through hardwood timber. Backing fires are less intense and won’t cause as much damage to mature trees. Rotating areas to burn will create a mosaic pattern of habitat which is very productive! In your fire training you will have learned that it is of paramount importance to consider where the smoke will go! The best practice is to burn during a day with a great ventilation rate (the National Weather Service has a website with fire data). A good ventilation rate means the smoke will rise and move on quickly. This is much safer than burning when the smoke hangs in one area which can, in the worst-case scenarios, cause traffic accidents for which you can then be held accountable.
This link is to the National Weather Service’s forecast including fire weather. You should be able to refine the location by typing in your zip code or city name for an update to get current fire weather for your area.
Another website I frequently use this time of year shows the daily soil temperature. You can review it at this link, updating for your location. This is useful as I like to plant soybeans when the soil temperature is 60 degrees at 9am – the coldest time of the day for soil.
Questions about how to plant spring food plots? Grant held a Facebook live event where he shared what we are doing here at the Proving Grounds and answered viewer questions to help them plan their spring planting and improve their food plots…plus a few other questions related to deer and turkey hunting! Click below to watch the event!
We recently put up a Hot Zone Deer exclosure. This is a solar-powered two-layer electric fence that excludes deer from quality forage. We put this fence in a food plot we call Second House to exclude deer from browsing on some recently planted Eagle Seed forage soybeans.
Some folks ask why I would plant a food plot and then keep deer from feeding on a portion of it. The answer is simple. This technique creates great hunting opportunities. Deer are often very comfortable feeding in a small-sized plot. If the forage planted in the plot is very palatable to deer, they can limit its production or even consume all the forage before hunting season.
Protecting some or all of the forage in the plot from deer browse until I wish to hunt that area is a great way to create a bottleneck and stand or blind location.
I’ve used this technique for years and am always impressed with the difference in the quantity of food where it’s been protected versus outside the Hot Zone where deer have browsed.
This technique works on 5 or 5,000 acres and is an easy way to pattern deer for trail cameras and/or hunting! To see details on how to protect your own food plots check out this recent episode.
The forecast for Thursday included a good chance of rain after lunch. I waited just long enough to see evidence the forecast was likely to be accurate then Tyler, Owen and I went to quickly plant a hidey hole plot using a hand seeder.
The plot we planted was about 1/10th of an acre and extremely rocky! In fact, when most folks see this plot during one of our Field Events they can’t believe anything grows in that rocky soil.
Organic matter is very nutrient rich and does a great job of holding soil moisture. That’s exactly what’s needed to convert this rocky spot into a productive food plot. To further this process, we planted Eagle Seed’s experimental soil builder blend in that plot during July.
July is not the “normal” time to plant crops in this area. However, with the heavy browse pressure on the food plot we had the opportunity to experiment. The purpose of the experimental blend was to not only feed deer, but to add organic matter both above and below the soil’s surface. The biomass above the soil is obvious to anyone looking at the plot. However, most folks don’t consider the roots that will decompose and become quality organic matter below the soil’s surface.
Just because the soil in your food plots doesn’t look like an Iowa crop field, a productive food plot can still be established by using cover crops that are designed to improve the soil quality while providing tons of forage that attract and feed deer.
By the time we arrived at the plot it was just starting to sprinkle with thunder in the distance. With that distant thunder as a motivation, it only took us a few minutes to broadcast Eagle Seed’s Fall Buffalo Blend. I can’t wait to hunt near this plot! For folks that doubt this rocky spot will produce quality forage, stay tuned! We’ll share pictures of this plot in a month or so, and likely film hunts there.
A common problem with food plots (any crops) is a lack of soil moisture. All forage crops need adequate soil moisture to produce lots of quality forage. Without moisture plants can’t grow or transfer nutrients. To compound this problem, food plots are often located in areas that don’t have great soils and therefore they don’t hold moisture.
Even if a decent amount of rain occurs, soil moisture can be rapidly lost if the soil is bare. A primary factor of how much moisture is lost is the soil’s surface temperature. Following are some results from recent research about soil moisture loss.
• At 70 degrees soil temperature, 100 percent of the soil moisture is used for plant growth.
• From 95 to 113 degrees, 15 percent of soil moisture is used for plant growth and 85 percent lost through evapotranspiration.
• At 130 degrees, 100 percent of soil moisture is lost through evapotranspiration.
It’s impractical to irrigate most food plots. However, it’s fairly easy to conserve soil moisture. In fact, many farmers in the north central plains are now producing huge yields of corn and soybeans without the expense of irrigating! They do it by simply using shade and wind protection to reduce soil moisture evapotranspiration. These farmers simply ensure that at all times there’s a living crop covering the soil and/or a thick layer of mulch created from the remains of past crops.
They do this by planting blends of cover crops that produce a lot of tonnage sometime during their annual crop rotation. The standing crop shades and usually conserves more soil moisture than it uses. They then plant their cash crop using the previous cover crop remains (biomass/mulch) to take advantage of the soil moisture!
I’ve been using this system to conserve soil moisture in the rocky, drought-prone soils of the Ozark Mountains. This system is actually easier in food plots because deer are used to harvest the crop. Unlike a combine used to harvest a farmer’s crops, deer don’t care if there’s a blend or plants of differing heights.
We experienced a wicked drought at The Proving Grounds this summer. During July we planted an experimental blend developed in partnership with Eagle Seeds. The design of this blend was to provide some quality forage for deer and improve the soil by adding tons of biomass that will be converted to mulch and then high-quality soil. The blend was also designed to shade the soil and conserve the very limited soil moisture.
The experiment was literally a huge success. It provided way more quality browse than a normal drought-stricken plot could and provided tons of biomass. We are now using a Genesis drill to plant Eagle Seeds Fall Buffalo Blend directly into the terminated summer crop.
It’s raining now but the forecast calls for the temperatures to return to the 90s with limited chances of rain. The ground cover from the terminated, experimental summer blend (which included seven different crop varieties) will do an excellent job of conserving soil moisture, shading the soil, and providing almost 100% erosion and weed control. This is a very easy win-win-win!
In addition, the decomposing vegetation from the experimental summer blend (which I call the Buffalo Summer Soil Builder Blend) will be very high-quality fertilizer for the fall crop.
Another advantage is the terminated crop is excellent food for earthworms and other beneficial soil life. Gosh – it’s easy to see why I haven’t needed to add any lime or fertilizer in five years and have greatly reduced the amount of herbicide needed!
If you’d like more information about The Buffalo System to produce better forage for less cost, check out this link to videos at GrowingDeer.com.