April 03, 2013
Question: "I have 6 acres to work with and 3 acres are pasture for horses. I would like to find a way to attract deer to my little spot. What can I plant in a small food plot to make a difference?" — Matt May, St. Charles, Mo.
What to Plant in Small Food Plots
I get this question more than any other, I think. People want to know what to plant in their magical acre food plot. In your case, you will need to first make sure you have some open ground to work with that is fenced off from the horses. There is nothing I am aware of that you can plant that deer love that horses will leave alone. They will destroy it. So first, make sure you have a decent fence in place.
My advice for most novice food plotters is to start with something that is pretty easy to establish and maintain. Have some success and then you can get more creative in time. So with that in mind, I would focus on clover in year one. Though it is more expensive, I would honestly focus on a custom blend from an established food plot seed company, like Biologic. In theory, the blends are selected to be grazing tolerant, cold tolerant and diverse enough that at least one of the varieties will will do well in almost any conditions (sandy, dry, wet, loamy, etc.).
You have to prepare the soil correctly and that starts with a soil test. Many food plot seed companies offer a soil testing service, so contact them first to see if they sell a pre-paid kit. Follow the advice of the soil test relative to lime and fertilizer (most local ag cooperatives will have help you here) and then kill the existing grass and weeds with RoundUp, wait two weeks and then till up the soil. You will need to take this step seriously and actually till the soil (using a tiller or disk) to get clover established well unless you have access to a no-till drill. If you till it, you can hand broadcast the seed, drag something over it (like a tree branch) to lightly incorporate the seed into the soil (very shallow) and then wait for rain.
You will need to do some research on the web to learn how to maintain clover, but you can normally get by with a mowing in roughly late June to control weed competition and then annual mowings for the next two years. Clover will play out in roughly three year so by the third or fourth year you are ready for something new. At that time I would suggest getting more creative with a brassica blend such as Biologic's Maximum, or something along those lines. But by then you will start to be more comfortable with the entire process and ready for new challenges. It is a lot of fun to do and will greatly improve the attraction of any hunting area — large or small. Good luck.