Over the past few years we have been testing different cover crop varieties and planting methods here at The Proving Grounds. We do this to continue learning how we can improve the soil. Food plots are fun to hunt over, but food plots are tools. These tools work to transfer nutrients from the soil to wildlife. Plants take nutrients from the soil and air then produce vegetation that is consumed by wildlife.
Some excellent research (watch episode #296 here) has been published confirming that better soil and nutrition means bigger and healthier deer. So, as you may have guessed by now, cover crops are used to improve your soil! There are many ways that cover crops or, in our plots, Eagle Seed Broadside, improve the soil’s health. Some of the benefits are immediate while others occur over time. Nevertheless, these improvements help to increase the quantity and quality of the nutrients that are available to the plants (watch episode #288 here).
Benefits of Cover Crops
- Cover crops keep the soil covered – Covering the soil shades out and limits weed growth in food plots. This decreases the amount of herbicide needed to control weeds.
- Cover crops reduce soil erosion – Rain droplets do not drop directly onto bare soil, therefore nutrients aren’t washed away.
- Cover crops keep nutrients in the top layer of the soil – Having an active root system year round keeps nutrients in reach of the roots rather than sinking lower into the soil.
- Cover crops decompose – Once vegetation from the cover crop is terminated, it begins to decompose. This acts as a slow release fertilizer which benefits the crops to follow.
- Cover crops are a source of mulch – The decomposing cover crops act as a mulch. Mulch holds in the necessary moisture for the soil and root system.
- Cover crops build organic matter – After the mulch breaks down it becomes organic matter which improves soil structure and overall fertility.
Do you keep your food plot’s soil active all year round? If not, I encourage you to plant cover crops. It will increase your soil’s fertility and allow you to grow larger and healthier deer!