The Best Summer Food Plot for Deer

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Cover Crop Food Plot Mix for Spring of 2018

After studying up on cover crops and talking to several successful cover cropping no til farmers, I have come up with a summer food plot cover crop mix that I will try this spring for both my established plots in PA and up in NY in a new plot.

This mix is designed to create a large amount of biomass both above and below ground.  It provides legumes to build up soil N.  The broad-leaf plants will develop deep taproots to draw phosphorous and nitrogen up from the deep soil and increase porosity.  The height and leaf arrangements are all different and the flowering dates are varied. The mix also contains cool and warm season species.  The plants will, if they make it past the deer to flower will provide tremendous pollinator habitat and attract beneficial insects.  Drought and poor weather should not affect the planting once established.

I decided to take the Sunn Hemp out of the mix as it did not perform well for me in previous trials and is expensive.

Trying a Few Plants for the First Time

Balansa Clover is a red clover with tall succulent stems that are palatable.  Phacelia is a pretty blue flowering plant that is a cool season species that is know to scavenge nitrogen and calcium from the soil. African cabbage is a very large brassica that is suitable for warms season plantings.  Its expensive so it had better do something or its out next time.

Buckwheat is just a cheap filler plant to help choke out weeds and provide pollinator food.  I never had much use for it as a deer feed.  This cover crop and the subsequent cover we plant for fall/winter should provide a massive amount of food and cover and build a healthy soil ecosystem that will grow anything we want to plant.  We could even plant some corn next spring and there should be plenty of Nitrogen to make a good stand of corn for the deer in winter.

I will be keeping track of deer use, growth and success in general of each of these plants and tweak the mix as we go along with our experiment.  I have a moist site, a site with mountain sandstone soil, a site with dry silty soil and a site at the PSU research farm with rich limestone soil.  I will see how it does on all of these soil types so it should be very informative.

10lb Cow Pea
10lb Soybean
2lb Sunn Hemp
1lb Fixation Balansa
1lb African Cabbage
1lb Dwarf Essex Rape
1lb Phacelia
1lb Chicory
2lb Sunflower
8lb Buckwheat

Plant at 38lb/A
Seed Cost is $1.61/lb

About the Author:

Wildlife habitat manager and consulting forester from Central PA. Studied environmental Agriculture specializing in wildlife management and Forestry. B.S. Agriculture, Masters degree in Forestry. 30 years experience in land investment, forestry and wildlife habitat improvement. Currently working as a Farm Bill Forester for Pheasants Forever on Game Commission and Golden Winged Warbler Initiative.


  1. Rob January 16, 2018 at 6:47 pm - Reply

    Really like your stuff. I am curious if the African cabbage would be a summer or winter crop planted in middle Alabama?

    • steve January 16, 2018 at 7:27 pm - Reply

      according to the description, it is tolerant of heat and low fertility/low pH. You should be able to plant in fall and it will grow all winter and into summer unless it gets wiped out. As with anything, just give it a try and see what works. You should be able to grow sunn hemp down there for weed suppression and N fixation.

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