Plot clearing and breaking virgin sod
The hardest time planting deer food plots is always the first time. Nature does a great job of covering every growable inch of earth with some type of vegetation. In creating wildlife and deer food plots, you need to reverse and overcome this. Having the right tools and correct approach will make this process manageable.
Clearing a new site
If your new deer food plot are in an open area, you can jump to the next section. If you are planting deer food plots among woods, you’ll need to clear the plot area prior to breaking the ground. This is a straight forward process, involving removing all trees and other debris from the plot. Our favorite time to do this is early spring before green up. The only required piece of equipment is a chainsaw. With this, you can take care of most clearing. A tractor or ATV and a chain will allow you to accelerate the process significantly. If you are planting in a heavily wooded area or have many stumps, renting a bulldozer is a great idea. They make quick work of the most overgrown area. If you decide to go this route, make sure you know all the areas you want to plot so you can hit them all in one day.
Recommended tools for clearing deer food plots: Tractor with loader, ATV, chainsaw, chain, bulldozer (optional)
When you’re clearing space for you deer food plots, you want to keep a few things in mind. First, you need to ensure the plot receives enough sunlight to grow the crops you intend to plant. If the natural vegetation in the area is ferns and other shade dwelling plants, you’ll likely need to open up the canopy some to allow more sunlight to enter. Also, keep in mind the how much space you will need for maneuvering during the planting process. If you’re towing a disc or other implement, you’ll want sufficient space so you don’t need to back up.
Breaking virgin sod
This can be one of the most difficult processes in establishing new deer food plots. A well-established sod can take a great deal of effort to break. However, with the correct approach, you can make this more manageable. There are multiple methods to break sod. Choose the one that is a best fit for you resources.
Method 1: Burn method
Our far away favorite method to create new deer food plots is through burning of the plot. This removes all above ground vegetation, and does a good job of weakening the below ground vegetation and roots. Check with your local conservation offices and verify you have any appropriate permits before burning.
Burning new deer food plots can be performed at multiple times of the year. Our favorite approach is to do this in summer, when vegetation is generally green and risk of the fire spreading are low. We start by spraying glyphosate on the plot area to kill all the existing vegetation. We then let it sit for 2 to 3 weeks to let that vegetation dry out. Once all the vegetation has dried out, you are ready to burn. Again, please contact your local conservation offices and research burning methods prior to burning. After burning is complete you’ll be left with a smooth planting area ready for tillage. You can use whichever tillage method you are best equipped for. Again, we prefer a rototiller, which works great with the burning method. The burning method is especially good if you have light weight equipment and tillage would be difficult with existing sod.
As an alternative to summer planting, you can burn in spring. It offers many of the same benefits. However, there are a few drawbacks that cause us to prefer summer burning. First, risk of fire spreading is often higher. Second, if the vegetation hasn’t turned green yet, you will not be able to spray glyphosate prior to tillage. This will require you to manage weeds after planting your plot, which is difficult for some deer food plot seeds.
Method 2: Clear and till
The second method of clearing sod in new deer food plots is more of a brute force method. It uses multiple passes loosen the soil. If performing this after green up, start by spraying glyphosate. Next, you’ll want remove as much of the above ground vegetation as possible. This starts with mowing the plot area, followed by raking and removing the cut material. While not absolutely required, raking the material will improve your ability to cut the soil and reduce the amount of time spent removing the vegetation from your tilling implements. Once you’ve cleared the vegetation, it’s time to start tilling. This is the part that will often take multiple passes. You don’t need a perfectly clean and cut seed bed, but you need to expose enough soil to get good seed to soil contact.
Method 3: Moldboard plow
While this isn’t a completely separate method from the above, it is one that is not frequently used. A moldboard plot is designed to cut and turn over the soil, even with vegetation present. Using a moldboard is best performed in spring, when the soil is soft and the sod not growing. You’ll first use the moldboard to turn all the soil. You then will need to use a disc to break up the turned soil.
Tools: Glyphosate, sprayer, burning tools, tillage equipment
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