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>>GRANT: Deer season recently closed here at The Proving Grounds but that doesn’t mean I’m not thinking about the deer herd and this time of year I want to check the quantity of quality forage and see if the deer are going to go through the winter in good condition.

>>GRANT: You probably know we put a big emphasis on managing native vegetation here at The Proving Grounds. But this time of year, native vegetation isn’t providing the quantity or quality of forage as it does during the growing season.

>>GRANT: Few native species are designed to be very productive during very short days and cold temperatures. This is why a really well-designed blend for a food plot can be such an important tool, not only for hunting over but for the quality of the herd where you hunt.

>>GRANT: I fear that too many hunters think about deer during the hunting season and just expect there to be big bucks and healthy fawns where they hunt next year.

>>GRANT: But late winter and late summer – because it may be droughty during the late summer – are the critical times to be thinking about deer herd management. Because that’s when they’re likely to go through a dip in nutrition quality.

>>GRANT: This is why it’s critical to plant a really well-designed fall blend where you hunt.

>>GRANT: Some people think of fall blends as simply a way to attract deer out in the open.

>>GRANT: That’s certainly an important mission. But I’ve got to tell you just as important in most food plots is the quality of forage after deer season.

>>GRANT: Now if you’ve just got a little hidey hole food plot, maybe an eighth acre or something, your mission is to attract deer to that area during the hunting season.

>>GRANT: Small plots simply aren’t big enough to produce enough forage to feed deer year-round. A really well-designed food plot blend will be what I call time released. It will have species that attract deer early, mid and late season. But let’s don’t stop there.

>>GRANT: It will have species – either the ones that we were talking about earlier or ones that are coming on now – that will provide high-quality forage from now until spring green up.

>>GRANT: You may recall that last week we assisted a fellow landowner just about 20 miles north of here. I really enjoyed visiting with him, but he had planted a blend and not enough acres that resulted in deer consuming everything. And this time of year his plots were lip high.

>>GRANT: And what I mean by that, I don’t think the deer could have got their teeth any closer to the ground to feed because their lips were in the way. The forage was literally about a quarter inch tall.

>>GRANT: And when I see that, unless there’s, you know, a big uncut corn field or something next door, I know that those deer will not have enough nutrients to express their full antler growth or fawn production potential this year.

>>GRANT: We worked with Chad and we’re going to give him the blends we plant here at The Proving Grounds and also, he’s going to a no-till drill because we want to increase the biomass on his ground.

>>GRANT: When your plots are consumed at lip high, that ground is getting colder or warmer or drier – there’s no protection there. There’s no layer of armor, so to speak, to cover the soil.

>>GRANT: When you look at this food plot – gosh, it’s boot tall on me or so. And if you see the wind kind of moving the tops, but it’s not getting to the soil level and there’s a lot of food here of several different species, even this time of year.

>>GRANT: There’s no chance for erosion here because there’s gads of roots every square foot. And the soil is covered. Raindrops are hitting forage, or current plant growth, before it hits he soil, slowing down so it doesn’t compact the soil or hit it with enough energy to cause erosion.

>>GRANT: I’m excited about that. But I’ve got to tell you, as hunter, I’m even more excited seeing the forage quality and the species variety that’s here right now.

>>GRANT: I chased a pretty good buck here this fall. I couldn’t quite close the deal. He was pretty much nocturnal. But I know that buck is still in the area and he’s got a lot of groceries to grow an even bigger set of antlers next year.

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>>GRANT: As soon as deer season gets over, Tracy and her dog are always out looking for sheds and right behind me at the other end of this food plot, I was out visiting my mom this weekend and I got a nice picture of a shed Tracy and the dog had found right out in the timber in the staging area for this plot.

>>GRANT: So when I get right down to it, right now I’m seeing a really cold-hardy clover. I mean, most clovers aren’t doing much this time of year. You can tell how I’m dressed. It’s cold and it’s been cold for several days. Had a little snow on and off.

>>GRANT: But the clover looks green, lush and I can see deer are browsing on it. I’ve got my cereal grains, of course. Oats are pretty much gone; it’s been too cold for that, but they had attracted deer early on.

>>GRANT: I’ve got some wheat and a lot of cereal rye. It’s the most cold-hardy of the cereal grains. I’ve got brassicas. I’ve got forage tops still. Some of them have been killed by the cold, but others are still green and being browsed on and huge bulbs – huge turnips in here. And that’s providing a lot of energy for deer this time of year.

>>GRANT: One thing you’ll notice – there’s almost no weeds in here. Now you don’t expect to see a lot of weeds right now. But I don’t even see weed stems or really sign of it. And this will bolt, or grow a huge amount – sometime, you know, start bolting late February, March, certainly by April. Gosh, it will be this tall on me or taller.

>>GRANT: The ground is covered now and it’s going to grow, grow, grow. There’s really no chance for weeds to get in here and compete with the next crop.

>>GRANT: To preserve that, gosh, we want to keep that mulch on here. So we will do what we’ll call planting green. We’ll get the Genesis calibrated and hooked up. And come the appropriate soil temperature – probably early May here – we’re going to drill right through that tall vegetation. You’ve seen us do this before – get the seed in the ground.

>>GRANT: When it starts germinating, we’ll come back with the Goliath crimper and we’ll terminate all this vegetation; let the new stuff grow through and we’ve skipped those expensive inputs such as herbicide and synthetic fertilizer.

>>GRANT: You’re thinking, “Well, how can you get away with no fertilizer, Grant?” Well, I think we would all agree this looks pretty good. And it hasn’t seen any form of lime or fertilizer in over seven years.

>>GRANT: And that’s part of this system we use, right? We’ve got active roots in the ground all year long. And then when we terminate that vegetation, it’s just decomposing right there, putting the nutrients right back in the soil.

>>GRANT: A wide diversity of plants in the blend, the appropriate planting techniques and you can create an oasis of a food plot wherever you hunt.

>>GRANT: Every year I monitor my food plots throughout the year. Not only here but several of my friends and clients I assist with their work and I’m constantly learning.

>>GRANT: That’s why every year I tweak my blends just a little bit. It may be the same species, but a different ratio or maybe I find a new species to add to the blend.

>>GRANT: I’m always trying to learn and improve. We’re getting pretty good. And I’ll come up with my final recommendations, probably about February or so this year, and I’ll be happy to share them with you.

>>GRANT: For years, myself, and I think some other folks also, would walk out in a great food plot like this and just look at the top. “Oh my gosh, Grant, you’ve got all this great food and different species. It’s looking good.”

>>GRANT: But the last few years or so, I’ve learned to look below. And this is what I love seeing. This is mulch from last year – the last crop. It’s breaking down; it’s almost decomposing. So it’s the continual cycle of making new soil.

>>GRANT: It’s not just what you see. But it’s at the surface and the root system below the ground that really makes a quality plot.

>>GRANT: One critter that I really like seeing and hearing in my plots, well, that’s bees, of course. You hear all this about pollination. But a really good plot – not necessarily this time of year – but in the spring and summer, well, they’ll be having different species that flower. And bees, of course, need those flowers.

>>GRANT: I’ve got a good buddy, Mac. He keeps a lot of beehives here at The Proving Grounds in different locations. And when he started, he told me those hives made as much, or more, honey the first year that he’s ever seen. He gives us some of the honey, so I like that. And I like even more, the bees doing their magic here at The Proving Grounds.

>>GRANT: When you’re thinking about a good food plot, don’t get tunnel vision just on deer, but think about what you can do for the whole environment.

>>GRANT: I hope you have a chance to get outside and enjoy Creation and, more importantly, take some time every day to be quiet and listen to what the Creator is saying to you.

>>GRANT: Thanks for watching GrowingDeer.