How to Start a Food Plot in the Summer

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Recently, I have had a couple of landowners ask me what to plant now that it is June and they haven’t planted their food plots yet.

Now that summer is well underway and we can get some very hot, dry conditions, it is too late to plant tender perennials like Ladino Clover.  Although the past couple of weeks were good for growing anything you want, with cool temps and frequent rain events, the hot sun will usually dry out your clover plants and kill them before they can get a root down to the moisture.  Then you will have a serious weed problem.  Thistles especially like the hot dry summer months to take over any bare dirt.

So, what to do.  In new food plots just created out of the forest, say, a log landing for instance, I recommend planting Buckwheat with Crimson Clover.

I know, I just said its too hot for clover, but with adequate rain, Crimson is a fast grower and tougher than other species.  It can fix 100 lbs. of Nitrogen per acre and provide 1,500 lbs. of forage as well as tons of green manure.  It will grow in a wide variety of soils and grows on poor sites.  If planted by mid-August it will over-winter and provide deer forage in the winter and green up in the spring.

crimson clover_Buckwheat

Buckwheat establishes quickly in poor soil, suppressing weeds and helps soil through aggregation (breaks it up) and is one of the grains that will also fix N  It also scavenges nutrients from the deep soil, especially Phosphorous and Calcium.  It decomposes quickly after killed, thus providing green manure for the future crop and helps build organic matter in the soil.

You can let it grow for 30 days and mow it, then plant a fall-planted perennial or let it go to seed in 45 days.  This will provide flowers for pollinators and seeds for turkeys.  The planting can be disked and allowed to resprout for a fresh fall forage or let go until next spring where seeds will germinate again.

This planting can be killed off with Glyphosate in late May and the field planted with summer annuals such as soybeans, corn or sorghum.  Wait as long as possible in spring for the plants to fix as much nitrogen as possible, cutting down on your fertilizer needs.  You won’t need to add N for beans but if you grow corn or other grains, you will save on fertilizer.

Buckwheat

Mix at 25 lbs Buckwheat and 10 lbs. crimson clover per acre.  Use a drill but if you can’t a Plotmaster type machine is good for this medium sized seed.  Or, lightly disk your plot after broadcasting 30 lbs. buckwheat and put 15 lbs. clover on top.

Another choice you may want to consider is Hairy Vetch.  This plant is winter hardy in Pennsylvania and will survive if planted by mid-August.  It also suppresses weeds and fixes N – over 100 lbs. per acre.

Hairy Vetch

Use a seed drill in summer – you can go down a good inch or more to get to the moisture and put about 20 lbs per acre on.  If you can’t drill, disk lightly and put on 30 lbs.

You can mix it with Triticale, Spelt, Winter Wheat and both will survive until spring and green up early.

You can then terminate it with Glyphosate or 2-4, D in late May and put in your summer annual or let it grow all summer and replant your clover in the fall.

These double crop systems are the way to go so you never clear the land of forage completely unless there is other forage available.

I once cleared a plot in the worst soil imaginable in Pennsylvania and put in a lot of seed.  the only plant that grew was the Buckwheat.  Every time I went up there to take a look, there were turkeys out in it.  In hind site I should have planted it heavy with Buckwheat/CC mix and let it go for a couple years before trying clover there.  If you have access to additional manure from a dairy farm, sewage treatment plant (Class A treated sludge) or chicken bedding, use that first.  then get a good stand of green manure going so you suppress weeds, build soil and feed game all at the same time.

Good luck with your planting activities this year!

 

 

 

 

 

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.

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