As the weather warms and we move towards the end of May it's no surprise that I've been spending a good amount of time thinking about our food plots lately. Despite the warm temps we've been seeing during the day I know that our property has still been seeing low temps and frosts in the mornings so I'm actually glad we haven't got started just yet. Aside from the weather holding us back, we aren't totally ready to get started yet anyways. We will get things ready to go here in the next week or so and hopefully be turning dirt and dropping seed soon.
We actually have three food plots on our property but only one of them is really on my mind right now. Of the three plots that we have, two of them are small kill plots and one of them is a larger "destination" type of plot. The bigger plot, known as the Plateau Plot, is the one that has my attention lately and is the one we will be focusing on first this year.
The Plateau Plot was put in for the first time last year and it was actually a joint project between our landowner and ourselves. Back in 2010 we put up a new fence to section off the area around the plot with the intention of eventually planting the area. Our landowner also turned a 40 acre field off our south property line from pasture to cropland. That field, which was planted to canola, saw heavy browsing pressure during 2010 and in the spring of 2011 our landowner offered to plant the 1.5 acre Plateau Plot for us as a way to try and curb some of that browse pressure.
The Plateau Plot as it looked in June of 2011. The canola was a huge attraction all summer long.
He planted the plot to canola, just like the 40ac field to our south, and it was definitely a win/win situation for us all. The plot was covered up in deer all summer long and while the large field still got browsed the plot certainly took some of the heat off of it just like our landowner had hoped. Obviously it was a bonus for us as well from a hunting standpoint and it was the hottest part of our farm for much of the year.
Our landowner has helped us out again this spring and has again planted the Plateau for us, going with canola again this year just as he did last year.
While we know that the plot will be a hot spot for us again this year we also want to address a few issues that we watched arise with the plot last year. With a year's worth of observation under our belts we are going to make a few adjustments to our plot plans this year to try and maximize the effectiveness of the Plateau Plot.
The plot was full of deer all summer last year and there was talk between the landowner and ourselves about harvesting the canola in late August and replanting the plot with winter canola. We liked that idea from a hunting standpoint as it would replace the fully matured canola (which isn't a great draw) and replace it with green, fresh canola as the hunting season rolled around. The plan ended up changing a bit though and our landowner decided to just till the mature canola under instead of replanting the plot.
This picture from the hunting season shows how little new growth there was once the field was tilled under. We hope to change that this year.
This plan did produce some new growth from all the canola seeds that were "planted" when the field was tilled but that young canola was still very small when the fall rolled around and was unable to withstand the first few frosts of the year. The plot was basically barren all season long and was not the food draw that we had hoped it would be.
In an effort to combat that this year we set up a new plan with the landowner for this year.
Rather than have him come through in August and disc the canola under we are going to hit it with the brush hog ourselves. When canola is harvested it is chopped off about a foot or so off the ground to harvest the seeds at the top of the plant. When the plant is chopped off like that it will start to produce fresh re-growth at the bottom of the stalk and the deer will hit that fresh growth all fall and winter. By mowing it with the brush hog we are hoping to replicate that harvest method and get new growth from the base of the stalks. Since we are not harvesting the seeds we will also be putting them on the ground when we mow and will hopefully see some "volunteer" plants start growing as well. Our hope is that by doing this we will increase the amount of forage that is available for the deer in the fall and through the winter as well.
In addition to mowing the field to try and get more new growth we will also be going one step further and introducing some turnips as well. When we are in the plot with the brush hog we will also bring the disc and plan on turning the middle of the plot and planting roughly a half to three quarters of an acre of purple top turnips in with the canola. We have planted PTT in the past and have had great success in terms of their growth and attractiveness to the deer. We are hoping that the mix of canola and the PTT will be a great attraction when the weather starts to get cold in the fall.
So far I have talked about changes to the plants in the plot itself but there is also one other change that we have planned for the Plateau this year. This change isn't about food or browse so much as it is about security and daytime usage.
As the name suggests, the Plateau Plot stands up above much of the surrounding land. The plot is on the edge of a short but steep rise at the edge of the pasture land. The only thing separating the pasture from the plot (aside from the fence) is the incline and a line of trees along the north edge of the plot. In the summer the leaves on those trees do a good job of creating a bit of a visual barrier that separates the plot from the wide open pasture. Unfortunately by the time the heart of the season comes along those leaves have fallen and the area takes on a very "wide open" feel.
This pictures shows the large open pasture that is to the north of the Plateau Plot. Hopefully plating a screen will help make the plot feel smaller.
To try and change that feel and hopefully promote more daytime usage, we are going to plant a screen along the northern edge of the plot.
This year we are going to use a commercially sold blend from Frigid Forage called "Plot Screen" which consists of sorghum, Egyptian wheat and millets. As the name would suggest it is specifically designed with visual screening with Egyptian wheat should provide us with a nice wall of vegetation that will help to close in the plot a bit and make it much more user friendly for the deer.
When it is all said and done the plan is that by the time October 1st arrives we will have a plot that has both canola and purple top turnips available for browse and is enclosed and protected by a nice 7 or 8 foot tall border of sorghum and Egyptian wheat. We are hoping that the combination of available food and a sense of security will have the deer comfortable using the plot and will help it to stay hot later into the year than it did last season.
As you may imagine, I am pretty excited to get this project going. I have a picture in my head of what I am hoping the plot will look like and can't wait to start working towards that end goal. It won't be long now before we are turning dirt and putting the seed in the soil. I can't promise that reality will match my mental picture but I can promise that we'll learn a thing or two along the way......and we'll share it all here on the blog. So stay tuned so you can see how it all works out.
Take care, and thanks for reading!!