Building Healthy Soil
Many food plotters focus on fall planted food plots. While these plots have their place for seeing deer and helping harvest deer, these plantings are for the now. Over 90% of food plots have imbalanced soils. They can be ether low or high on soil pH. They could be low or in excess in phosphorous and potassium. Almost always they are deficient in sulfur and micronutrients. Way to often people are not fertilizing to rebalance their soils but instead fertilizing just for the growth of the current blend planted. For long term success there needs to be more forethought.
I am a huge advocate for maintaining living roots as many months a year as possible. Soil should be an alive and thriving environment full of worms, fungi, and microorganisms. We see a fully alive soil by having food for these organisms. We need soil moisture, soil oxygen and plenty of food that can be broken down effectively. The same concepts for “soil digestion” could be applied for deer “rumen efficiency.” We want some fast-digesting forages, moderate and some slower to break down. The term carbon to nitrogen ratio is one more should be more aware of.
The ideal carbon to nitrogen ratio is 24:1. I have attached a picture of some commonly planted forages and their ratio. While this can get complicated the concepts are what I want people to digest. When you plant there can be some strategy that will help your soil as well as your pocketbook.
Some advocate for planting single species like buckwheat in the spring. That might be simple but that is bad science. When you plant in the spring, the “benefit” comes from the volume of cover crops grown and the quality of the breakdown of that forages. What looks good to the human eye is short sighted. A crop like buckwheat should be a companion crop, not the crop for blanketing the land. Buckwheat can yield anywhere from 2000-3500 pounds of forage dry matter per acre. Grains like oats, triticale, and peas all will yield 4000-5000 pounds of dry matter per acre. Many annual clovers also will produce yields over 2 tons as well. Buckwheat produces residue but the residue is broken down at a different rate and the result is lower levels of “good.” When one plants annual clovers, they are fixating nitrogen. When the annual clovers are terminated that nitrogen can be used by future plantings. This saves money on your out-of-pocket fertilizer expenses. You are “producing” some of your own fertilizers. Much natural. By doing this your soil pH’s will not drop as rapidly because you are not putting down as many “salts.”
For those of you who want the deer on your lands to eat in your early season food plots, there are benefits to planting a diverse soil building blend like my soil builder mix. The oats and triticale are providing digestible fiber. The annual clovers and peas provide higher levels of protein, calcium, magnesium and phosphorous. Those are important for lactating doe milk supply as well as buck antler development. Lastly, I do use buckwheat to get that rapid growth to provide an early canopy. This is even more important on lighter soils and sandy ground. When one terminates soil builder, you have a blend of forages with less than a 24:1 carbon to nitrogen ration as well as forages above the level. The overall blend will end up working together to feed the soil at a near perfect level.
When many look at a soil builder tag, they will see different things. What I want people to see is the overall benefit to deer and soil. The benefit to beast and soil goes way beyond the now. The strategy is not about killing a deer but doing our part to not kill the soil. That is conservation and doing our part to help our kids and their kids to see the same success as we have. Once topsoil is gone or dead it could take as much as a century to get it back.
My message is plant in the spring to benefit the fall. Simple enough.