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>>GRANT: It’s May 10th, and we just planted the first food plot of this spring season.

>>GRANT: We’re using a technique called planting green, which means we were planting right through a living crop.

>>GRANT: This is the crop that we planted last fall; had a lot of different species in it – peas and clovers and cereal grains and brassicas. And it was the tons of biomass that had fed deer from let’s say September. I planted in mid-August. So, September until now – and we planted right through that crop.

>>GRANT: There’s still clover and pea leaves out here. And I’m sure deer will browse in here this evening. But in a few days or a week or so the crop we’re planting will come up and grow right through this. So, we’ve never cleaned the table. Deer are conditioned to feeding here, and they’re going to continue feeding here throughout the summer.

>>GRANT: There’s huge advantages to planting green. We had another big rain this weekend. We’ve had several inches of rain in the last week and a half. All the local rivers are flooded. It’s a mess. But because we’re planting through this green crop that’s been taking moisture out of soil, we can plant right through here. There’s no mud issues.

>>GRANT: There are many advantages besides being able to plant when the conditions are wet. It’s forecast to be a wicked drought this summer. In fact, many are saying – many in the weather business are saying – that this summer may be equivalent to 2012.

>>GRANT: You remember 2012? It was the driest summer in memory for me – fires in places that normally don’t have fire, and a huge EHD outbreak. We’ll talk more about that later.

>>GRANT: I don’t know if that long-term forecast is accurate. Heck, oftentimes the three-day forecast isn’t accurate. But there are many advantages to keeping the soil covered with all this vegetation that we’ll terminate here in a few days with the Goliath crimper.

>>GRANT: So, there’s a drought forecast, but in the short-term forecast they’re talking about a lot of rain next week. And let’s say we get a big thunderstorm that dumps two inches of rain. Bam! If this was disked and bare soil like you see throughout much of the ag land, we would have erosion, nutrients, dirt, insecticide, herbicide, pesticide all running off and getting into our drinking water at some point. And it would compact that soil.

>>GRANT: Here, if the raindrops hit all this vegetation, it’s slowing way down. It’s just like a light sprinkle hitting the soil. There’s not gonna be compaction or erosion.

>>GRANT: And there’s another huge factor. Keeping the soil covered with all this vegetation keeps the moisture from evaporating out due to the sun’s heat. The soil temperature stays much cooler underneath all this duff than it would if it’s bare. In fact, we’ve shown in the past that the soil temperature – below all this duff on a hot July day – it would be in the 70s maybe low 80s, and just a couple feet away where the soil was bare, that soil temperature is about 130 degrees.

>>GRANT: One hundred and thirty something up there on the bare dirt, 78 where I raked back this year’s duff and last year’s duff.

>>GRANT: That difference in soil temperature between being covered or bare is a huge difference in how much moisture is lost through evaporation. If we can keep the soil temperature to about 78 degrees or so or less, we won’t lose any moisture to evaporation. And where it’s over 100 degrees or so, we could lose 100% of the moisture in that top portion of the soil.

>>GRANT: In addition to losing moisture, we can lose something that’s almost more critical, and that’s the life in the soil. Many microbes and small insects are very beneficial to the soil in many ways. But when the soil gets really hot, it can kill those critters. Keeping it shaded means they can thrive and do all their magical work to improving the soil and making nutrients available to the plants.

>>GRANT: One of my favorite things to do any time of year and everywhere I’m working is just walk around kind of at random, grab a big clump of the vegetation that’s growing, then pull it out of the ground. I could hear the roots coming off. And right off the bat here I see there’s a worm right here. I knew I’d find an earthworm in there. I’m sure there’s more in the dirt here. Rock right here, that’s not surprising. There’s another worm right here, probably a lot more.

>>GRANT: But look at this. You see the duff from past years covering the soil? That’s why I’m talking about armor on the soil. Gabe Brown, I think, coined the term “armor on top of the soil.” And it’s thick; it’s thick on there. Weeds can’t hardly come through. And then below it’s just roots everywhere. It’s just a mat of roots, and I can hear it just ripping off, just breaking off.

>>GRANT: And you don’t want your roots – you notice none of these roots are white. They all got dirt sticking to ‘em. And that’s a really healthy sign. When I see dirt sticking to all the roots – every one of ‘em, no white roots – I know I’ve got really healthy families of bacteria. We call them microbes working in the soil and interchanging between the soil and the root system. They’re actually taking nutrients to the plant.

>>GRANT: You know, phosphorus is very immobile in the soil. If you plant here and there’s phosphorus three inches away, it’s not gonna get there unless a root goes right through it. But microbes are real mobile in the soil, and they’re doing a big exchange. It’s too complicated to talk about now, but the plant is giving them carbon – all living things need carbon – and in exchange there’s an economy going on in the soil. In exchange for that carbon, the microbes are giving the plants what they need.

>>GRANT: And different families of plants will need different things, so you get this big economy going on in the soil. And then healthy soil will look like this. It looks like moist, rich, chocolate cake. This is just solid roots. I hope it’s showing up.

>>GRANT: We’ve just had several inches of rain – like in the last week and a half over five, six inches of rain – but that’s not muddy. It’s just like great soil. And that’s what happens when you have really healthy crops and healthy soil working.

>>GRANT: And I want to remind everyone, that way 10 miles is Branson, Missouri. We’re right here in the Ozark Mountains, known for poor soil, rocky, poor-bearing soil, and I’m looking at soil quality like Iowa.

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>>GRANT: You may think, “Well gosh, this is so much mulch. That new crop won’t come up.” But you can see the lines where the no-till drill went in and cut through the vegetation, like right here. And those seeds will come right up, canopy over this, and shade out any weeds that might want to compete.

>>GRANT: You might think that clover or brassica seeds are really small – and they are compared to corn or soybeans or something – but they’re not near as small as the seeds from like pigweed or ragweed. You almost never see those seeds. They’re like fine flour blowing in the wind.

>>GRANT: When you’ve got this much cover shading the soil, well those weed seeds don’t have enough energy to germinate. Remember they got that onboard energy, and they’ve got to get leaves up to photosynthesize to make more energy and survive.

>>GRANT: And when you’ve got this much coverage, there’s a small chance those itty-bitty weed seeds have that much energy onboard. So, all this mulch is making great weed protection, just like mulching around your flowerbed or your garden.

>>GRANT: Now we haven’t added any fertilizer to this field – lime or fertilizer – eight years now. This is eight years with no lime or fertilizer. Imagine that. Imagine the savings. That savings goes a long ways towards paying for the equipment and, of course, it’s healthier – healthier for the environment. We don’t have to use fertilizer because these plants you see knocked down here have been extracting nutrients from the soil. And over the course of the summer, these will decompose. Insects and bacteria will break them down and return all those nutrients into the soil for that next crop.

>>GRANT: Now, if it’s really dry, not much is breaking down, and the plants don’t need many nutrients because it’s very dry. And if it’s wet and moist and warm, this will break down quicker, and that’s when plants are growing quickest, so it’s the perfect slow-release, time-released fertilizer.

>>GRANT: We see all this; we talk about the tons of mulch or tons of forage produced out of this crop. But we rarely talk about the tons – oftentimes even more tons – of roots that are developed in the soil.

>>GRANT: This is where the no-till drill went through. You can see where it went through right there, so it made a clean break. Earthworm right there, another one right here. There’s earthworms all in here. I love seeing that. But if you remember a month or so ago, we’re out in Western Kansas. Now you would think Kansas has a way better soil than here in the Ozark Mountains, but I could take that soil out of the crop field, and it would just shatter like a brick. It would just break. There was no life in that soil, none, and here I can hardly get it to come apart because of the root system – the living root system. There’s another worm. These roots are holding it all together. There’s no chance of erosion. This is perfect – perfect situation.

>>GRANT: We’ve built this on top of rocks, and that’s why we grow such big deer and healthy turkeys because it all starts in the dirt. We used to say, “Big antlers start in the dirt” and that’s extremely true.

>>GRANT: The cereal rye throughout this field is probably average five feet tall or taller. Much of it was over my head, and we had wheat and oats in here waist tall or so. We had peas, winter peas, and brassicas waist tall or taller on me. We had clovers about knee high all through here – a lot of different species. And they’re all making a huge amount of roots. When you pull a chunk up, you see some of the roots, but you always hear it kind of ripping off because there’s little finer roots just going everywhere and going very deep. Those are totally undisturbed and staying in the soil. They will decompose slowly, building soil, and supplying nutrients for the new roots that are trying to make a living for the crop coming on.

>>GRANT: When you have a solid root mass like is obviously under this crop, there’s no chance for erosion. That root is a glue holding all the soil together.

>>GRANT: Those roots went down, and the most successful ones found nutrients, found water, and even more important – a subject for another day – are interacting with the microbes; and it’s the microbes that actually convert the elements in the soil to a water-soluble form of fertilizer that the plants can use. And this new root is gonna go down, follow some of those same root channels. You’ve got all those microbes there. They’re active and ready to roll. We’re never missing a lick.

>>GRANT: These roots are still working. This plant is still alive until we crimp it, and that new root will come in there. And we’re keeping the water cycle going, and – something that’s rarely talked about – the nutrient cycle going.

>>GRANT: There’s nutrients in all soil everywhere, but many of them are not available for plants to take up. They’re in a form that’s not water-soluble. When we have really good soil like here and all this life – all this biology going on – the nutrients are water-soluble, plants can take ‘em up and use. And that’s why when you look at this – remember no fertilizer of any type in eight years and a crop any ag farmer would be proud of.

>>GRANT: This is all part of the Release Process – releasing Creation’s potential.

>>GRANT: Remember ever since people were roaming around North America – Native Americans, the early European explorers, whatever – no one was adding any lime or fertilizer, herbicide, insecticide, fungicide. They were growing crops successfully. Now, probably taking a few fish and sticking them in some corn or squash but no synthetic fertilizer.

>>GRANT: And we can do it again. We can heal our soil. We can make these plants highly nutritious for both wildlife and for humans to consume, but it all starts with how we manage the soil.

>>GRANT: If you’re just starting from scratch. Let’s say this is the first year you’re going to use what we used to call the Buffalo System or the more advanced Release Process, it’s not gonna go perfectly smooth. Here there’s duff on the ground. You can see the different color.

>>GRANT: If you’re starting with a field that’s been disked for many years or you just dozed out an area of trees making a new food plot, I strongly recommend doing a soil test, telling them what you’re gonna plant.

>>GRANT: A soil test doesn’t provide you a lot of useful information unless you tell them what you’re gonna plant, so they can make an appropriate recommendation. And then start by applying this first year 75% of what they recommend. So, for easy math if they recommend 100 pounds of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, let’s start the system and only apply 75% or 75 pounds.

>>GRANT: And then next year do another soil test about the same time because the soil conditions have changed. And next year only apply about 50% of what’s recommended. Do it again the third year and only apply 25%. And from my experience, by the fourth year, you’ll be weaned off, and you’ll have very productive soils, and they’ll get better every year. The soils here are still improving annually. But the secret is weaning off and planting very diverse blends and following those principles of soil heath.

>>GRANT: And real simply, you want to have the soil covered every day out of the year, growing plants if they can grow. If it’s 20 below, you’ve got the soil covered. You’re planting very diverse blends – not a monoculture – at least once a year.

>>GRANT: If you plant a patch of corn, your fall crop needs to be very diverse, because diversity is the secret to getting all the microbes kicked on and improving soil. If you only plant one plant – maybe a patch of cereal rye – you’re not turning on the whole spectrum of microbes.

>>GRANT: That’s why I like all my blends to have at least eight different species, if not more – and not just eight different species of cereal grains. Maybe you got rye and triticale and wheat and oats and barley.

>>GRANT: I’m talking about grasses, small grains, brassicas, clovers, forbs – like sunflower, soybeans, whatever. The more genuses in the blend, so to speak, the quicker the soil will improve, because that’s how it interacts with the microbes in the soil.

>>GRANT: I know it seems complicated, but we’re gonna bear down next several episodes talking about the Release Process and showing you these techniques, and the techniques we use by hand – spreading seed by hand – to improve these old, rocky soils here at The Proving Grounds to the super, highly-productive food plots they are today.

>>GRANT: I’m so excited about this process and sharing it with y’all so you can save money, get out of buying lime and fertilizer and herbicides and pesticides; have healthier soils, healthier crops, healthier deer – which means, of course, more fawns, bigger antlers, and – what we don’t talk about – healthier venison to take home to our families.

>>GRANT: I love taking venison just, you know, over the hill here 400 yards to my house, processing it, knowing my family and friends are gonna eat it – that deer are eating this that’s very natural versus maybe you’re in the middle of Iowa somewhere and five different spray trucks are spraying some chemical on the field and taking that venison home for my family to consume.

>>GRANT: It won’t change overnight, but it will change. And as I’ve learned more, I know the process to get these changes occurring quicker here at The Proving Grounds and on your property.

>>GRANT: Learning about soil health and these natural systems – the water system, the nutrient cycle, all these natural cycles – is a great way to enjoy Creation.

>>GRANT: And even more importantly, I hope you take time every day to be quiet and listen to what the Creator is saying to you and His mission for your life.

>>GRANT: Thanks for watching GrowingDeer.