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GRANT: Last week, when I talked about planting fall food plots, it was hot and dry and no rain was in the forecast. This week, it’s still hot and dry, but the forecast has changed.
GRANT: There’s a couple of storms in the Gulf and the weatherman says it may swing up our way and bring some much-needed rain. So, we’ve started planting our fall plots.
GRANT: I feel my decision to start planting was risky. Those storms are a long ways off – 1,000 plus miles. And a lot of factors could cause them to deviate from the predicted path.
GRANT: But it’s the time of year we need to be planting. And after those storms, the real deciding factor for me – there’s no more rain in the forecast. In fact, the long-term weather prediction center shows this part of the USA, the Midwest, being in a long-term drought extending through the deer season.
GRANT: I feel like this is our chance and we’d better grab it. We’re putting seed in the ground. We don’t want those folks along the coast to suffer any damage, but I hope some rain comes our way.
GRANT: I’m standing in a plot we call Backdoor. It’s at the south end of The Proving Grounds and one of the newest we’ve created. It is surrounded by a huge chunk of timber. And last year we tried planting beans here and they did okay, but the deer kept them browsed very short.
GRANT: The cool season forage that we planted last August did much better than the beans and that’s typical. Beans are extremely palatable. Deer are just super attracted to ‘em and really browsed on ‘em.
GRANT: And in addition, our fall plot can get a little break if there’s a big acorn crop. Deer will leave food plots and feed on acorns if they are available.
GRANT: Based on my observations from last summer, I was hesitant to plant beans in here this spring knowing they’re so attractive that deer might damage them and not let them grow to their full potential.
GRANT: So, I planted an experimental summer blend. Using that strategy, I planted the experimental summer blend in the plots that, during the previous year or two, weren’t capable of producing a good crop of beans.
GRANT: My goal for that summer blend this year was to produce tons of biomass. I wanted a lot of organic matter per acre. And that meant most of the species in that blend couldn’t be very palatable or attractive to deer.
GRANT: I threw a few beans in there just because I love beans and added some other things. But I’ve got to tell you – they got browsed off pretty quickly because the number of beans per acre is obviously less in a blend than if you planted a monoculture of beans.
GRANT: The primary species that I was counting on producing tons of biomass – it’s very drought resistant, grows almost anywhere and, gosh, it will get six, seven, eight feet tall – was sorghum.
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GRANT: When you look behind me and see all this stuff laying down, it almost looks like a cornfield that got ran over, well, that’s the sorghum. I’ve never seen deer eat sorghum unless they were starving.
GRANT: Sorghum is a crop that grows with very little soil moisture, has a big root system. It can really get down and work on hard pans and, more importantly for my mission here, extract nutrients from deep in the soil profile, bring ‘em up in the vegetation, and then as it’s decomposing for that next crop, it’s a great slow-release fertilizer.
GRANT: And it’s shading the soil during this drought we’re in right now. It shaded it when it was standing and it’s shading it as a crop that’s been planting through and that keeps the sun from directly hitting the soil and reduces moisture from being evaporated.
GRANT: When sorghum is standing, it’s very easy for a no-till drill to go through and make sure the seed is contacting or being buried in the soil.
GRANT: Sorghum is a stem, a big stem, almost like corn, and doesn’t have many leaves close to the soil.
GRANT: So, when those coulters on the no-till drill go through there, it’s like combing hair.
GRANT: A big part of the Buffalo System is really increasing organic matter. Organic matter – organic, something that came from something living – is very valuable to the soil. And just one thing it really adds is for every increase of one point, or one percent of organic matter, your soil can hold about another inch of moisture.
GRANT: So, let’s say those storms come our way and we get an inch or two of rain. Well, if it’s just bare dirt – hard, bare dirt – a lot of that moisture will run off, especially on this slope. But with all this organic matter, you can see where it’s going to hit, slowly seep in the soil and stay right there until a root takes it up and the plant uses it.
GRANT: Building on that, I never want bare soil, another principle of the Buffalo System. So, when I look down, I see stems of the cereal rye and even clover that we had planted last fall.
GRANT: This is a relatively new plot. But I have fields here at The Proving Grounds that now have an organic matter level from the soil lab of four, five, six.
GRANT: Well that means these rocky Ozark hills can hold four, five, six inches of moisture and that’s a game changer.
GRANT: Remember, drought is a factor that kills food plots or production crops. By increasing the amount of organic matter in the soil, you have a bigger insurance plan, so to speak, against drought. If you can hold more moisture – keep it from running off and keep it in that root zone – even if you miss a rain or two, it’s a sponge in your soil and those plants can get moisture from that sponge.
GRANT: There’s all kinds of benefits going on here that might escape the casual observer. You notice that this crop, well, it’s a light brown. I can feel the heat reflecting off of it hitting me in the face.
GRANT: But if this was removed and just the soil was there, well, that dark soil would be absorbing that heat, causing more moisture to be evaporated or harming or killing the seed.
GRANT: I mentioned that sorghum is extremely drought resistant and a good species if you’re trying to build soil in a small food plot where deer can easily wipe out a better-quality forage.
GRANT: Well, it was so drought resistant that it was green and just growing. And those seedheads were maturing before I got ready to plant because of these dry conditions and postponing planting a bit, that I decided to terminate the crop using herbicide.
GRANT: Now, I’ve said this in the past; I’m not anti-herbicide. I just want to use the least amount I have to. I want to be a good steward of the resource. So, we used two percent glyphosate and terminated this crop.
GRANT: Sorghum is one of those crops that if it smells glyphosate, it’s gonna die. So a light load of two percent glyphosate terminated this. And then we just ran a no-till drill through here, laid it down and planted at the same time. There was no need to come back and crimp this field.
GRANT: Whether you’re using herbicide or a crimper, when you’ve got a crop like this that’s making a bunch of seed, you want to terminate it before those seeds are hard and mature – before they’re viable.
GRANT: And everyone says, “Oh, why do you want to do that? You get free seed.” But you think about it. You plant just maybe 10, 15 pounds of sorghum and they’re making great big seedheads, so they’re yielding much, much more than that. It would be too competitive for any crop to do good.
GRANT: So, volunteer crops almost never work and you want to use the crimper or a herbicide to terminate that crop before it makes seed and competes with your next crop.
GRANT: You know, if you’ve got a straw hat and you keep it in your house and it’s dry and in the shade, it doesn’t break down; right? It just stays there, even if it’s untreated straw. But, out here in the sun’s UV, it’s breaking down this sorghum really slowly. But if we get some moisture and humidity on there, it will break down quicker.
GRANT: Any type of vegetation that’s laying down like this – again, like the Great Prairie – and buffalo would come over and trample it down – hence the name the Buffalo System. Well, it’s the perfect slow-release fertilizer.
GRANT: This is breaking down really slowly on days like today. We get a little rain, get a little moisture, it’s gonna break down quicker. As it breaks down, fertilizer, nutrients are going into the soil.
GRANT: A little bit of rain, the new crop just grows a little and a small amount of nutrients are released.
GRANT: A bigger rain – maybe we get a big thunderstorm – well, those plants can grow more and that bigger rain is going to cause this cover crop to decompose faster.
GRANT: The sorghum and other species in this blend spent all summer long pulling nutrients from deep in the soil profile. Well, they’re still here. They’re just laying down. And they’re going to be released as our new crop is growing. That makes a very attractive food source for deer in the area.
GRANT: This is my fall food plot strategy in areas where beans weren’t a good fit. But in our food plots where beans are a good fit, boy, they’re looking good. I can’t believe how good the Eagle beans are looking, given these dry conditions and our plan is to simply drill right through those beans.
GRANT: Again, they’re standing up like the sorghum. Not a lot of low leaves so the drill can just pass through there like combing hair. And the tractor tires – every now and then we’ll lay some of those beans down.
GRANT: But our experience is using a Genesis drill, we take the front coulters off when we’re drilling in beans. Because those springs will catch a few stems and rip a few beans out of the ground. But without front coulters, about 50 percent or more of the beans will survive.
GRANT: And that ends up with my favorite food plot. Bean pods on the cooler days, greens growing underneath on the warmer days – that is my favorite food plot system. And where it works, that’s my favorite choice by far.
GRANT: I’ll share with you, I’m a bit nervous. I’m really banking on the weather forecast being accurate and those storms tracking up this way. If something changes, well we’ve got seed in the soil.
GRANT: And even though we’ve got this great mulch system sitting on top, it’s hotter here than that seed being stored under the carport. And, no doubt, they’re not going to be quite as viable when we do get a rain and they germinate if we miss these storms and they lay here a month without a rain.
GRANT: This is a topic I’m getting bunches of questions about. “Do I plant? Do I not plant?” Of course, it’s dry in the Midwest, raining about every other day in the East, too wet for some guys to get in the fields.
GRANT: We’ll keep you posted on our observations and progress on our social media.
GRANT: I always enjoy planting season even when conditions aren’t ideal. Just think about a seed that looks dead. It looks inert.
GRANT: Put in the soil; the conditions get right. In a few days, it springs to life and produces such wonderful things for all humans, all critters on the planet.
GRANT: You know, it’s just a great way to get outside and experience Creation. But more importantly, I hope you take time every day to be quiet and listen to what the Creator is saying to you.
GRANT: Thanks for watching GrowingDeer.