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Recent entries

Kevin Hahn

Food Plotting

Spend $10 To Save Hundreds

Wed, October 17, 2012

A typical soil test can be conducted for around $10 per sample and in most situations only needs to be done every 3-4 years. When you consider cost of seed, fertilizer, fuel, and labor, a soil test is one of the cheapest activities you can do with your food plots. The information you obtain from these soil tests is the basis for determining the proper amounts of fertilizer and lime for your food plots and often means the difference between success or failure of your plots.

According to a survey conducted by Whitetail Institute company, the number one reason “other than lack of rain”  for food plot failure among food plotters was related to soil testing. With the exception of mother-nature not providing adequate rain, they found that 59% of the time these food plot failures were due to the fact that soil tests were “not” conducted prior to planting of food plots. Source: January 21, 2011 and personal communication with Wilson Scott, VP Whitetail Institute October 2012.

In 2009, the year we bought our farm, I immediately began converting some old grass pastures on our farm into food plot areas.  Because of the time of the year we took ownership of the farm, I only had time to plant brassicas (turnips and rape), some wheat, and some late planted clover and chicory mixes.  I did not take the time to conduct soil tests and instead decided to guess about the amount of fertilizer I thought would be sufficient.  I grossly underestimated the amount of fertilizer needed and all my plots were a complete failure that fall due to poor fertility.  These plots had little to no attractiveness to the deer due to the poor condition and quality of plants.  Next spring I pulled soil samples and soil test results revealed that my soils were a little acidic, but more importantly had extremely low levels of phosphorus (P) and potassium (K). The low P&K was no doubt the reason for my food plot failures the previous fall.  With the soil test results as my guide, I began building the P &K soil fertility back up and applied a little lime to adjust the pH (acidity) to more favorable levels.

Brassica plants in the front of picture are showing signs of nutrient deficiency on edge of food plot where fertilizer spreader missed.  Note plants in background with adequate fertility.  My experience has been that nutrient deficient plants are less attractive to deer.
brassica nutrient diffenecy food plot

This past week, 2-1/2 years after my first soil tests, I pulled another set of soil samples from the farm and had them sent to a local soil testing lab. The results will be used to fine tune my P & K levels and also to test the soil pH so that I will know what amount of fertilizer to apply (if any is needed) for next year’s food plots.  When I get the results back, I will post them and discuss how to read soil tests.
soil samples food plot

How to pull soil samples
Pulling soil samples is very simple to do. Regardless of the size of plot, you will want to pull multiple sub-samples from different areas in the plot and mix the soil from these areas to get one composite sample to send to the soil lab.  I always pull a minimum of 4 sub-samples per plot if the plot is ¼ acre or less.  For 1-2 acre plots, I will pull 8-10 sub-samples to get one composite sample to send in for testing. I pull my samples down to a depth of 7-8 inches.  Below are links with more information about how to pull soil samples for soil testing. You can also Google “soil sampling” and find more information.

Example of getting a composite soil sample from multiple sub-samples taken from the plot.  I use a small spade to collect soil samples to a depth of 7-8 inches.  All your tools should be clean, rust free and not be galvanized as this will contaminate your samples
soil sample food plot

Where to send the samples:
You can send your samples to one of following labs.  Call the labs first for rates and services, I would try to find a lab, if possible, that will also provide fertilizer and lime recommendations based on the soil test results.
• Soil testing labs:

There are companies such as Biologic and Whitetail Institute that provide soil test kits, will test your samples, and also provide fertilizer and liming recommendations, but I would call and discuss with them what you want before you send soil samples.
• Biologic soil testing:
• Whitetail Institute soil testing:

What analysis to have done
At a minimum, test for P, K, CEC (cationic exchange), base saturation, and soil pH.  Micronutrient analysis are also available, but usually for additional fees—For our Illinois soils, I rarely have micros tested if they charge more.

Food plot with adequate fertility. In 2009, this food plot had extremely low P and K levels.  Soil tests allowed me to calculate the appropriate amount of P and K to apply to this area to obtain adequate fertility.
food plot


Food plots: plan before planting

Fri, October 12, 2012

For most areas of Illinois, opportunities for planting food plots for deer is pretty much over for the year with the exception of cereal crops such as winter wheat, oats and rye. So if you have a bag of brassica seed that you are thinking about planting under one of your favorite stands, my suggestion to you would be to save the seed for next year and try to find some cereal rye and oats.  Winter wheat is another option, but you will probably have difficulty finding seed right now. 

Every year it’s interesting to me to watch the bags of various food plot seed mixes start disappearing from the store shelves around the start of deer hunting season. For many of these mixes, it’s too late to plant them to have a successful food plot. 

I get questions from my deer hunting friends all the time about what and when to plant for deer food plots to enhance their deer hunting. So this brings me to the focus of this blog topic which is to provide some information about my experiences with planting dates of various crops to have an attractive food available during the hunting season. Granted, a lot of this information will be “after-the-fact” for this hunting season, but hopefully it will be useful as you start thinking about your food plots for next year, which for me will start in February.

On our own farm where I have enough acreage suitable for food plots and farm equipment available, I plant a variety of crop types to have some food available for the deer year-round. But, what is most important to me is to choose crops and planting dates to ensure that I maximize the amount and variety of food available during the deer hunting season which for me is October 1 through mid-January.

Though deer hunting season doesn’t begin until October 1st, I try to have highly attractive food sources available starting in September. By September, many of the natural browse and forb plants the deer have been feeding on all summer are maturing and becoming less attractive. Also at this time, Ag field soybeans, which were planted at the beginning of summer, are starting to mature and leaves are turning yellow which means that this major source of food is no longer attractive to the deer as green forage. September is a great time to attract, hold, and begin to determine deer movement patterns in advance of the hunting season if you can provide a quality food source.

To better illustrate how I choose food plot crops and select planting dates, I developed the chart below.  This chart shows various crops and planting dates and the time periods (illustrated with arrows) when these crops will be most attractive to deer. By choosing the proper combination of crop types and planting them at specific times, you can maximize attractive food sources during the months outlined by the red box (September through mid-January). On our own farm in Southeastern IL, I will typically plant most of the crops listed in this chart (many as mixtures). However, for other areas where I hunt and I have limitations on land, equipment, or time, I will usually only plant a few of these crops.

Food plot timeline

In addition to crop selections and proper planting dates, there is a lot more information I will be covering regarding which seed mixtures work together, planting populations, and fertility requirements for the various crops. I will be able to cover these topics as the year goes on and we approach the planting seasons for 2013. 

Below are some pictures from this year’s food plots. If it hadn’t been for the rains which came with hurricane Isaac, I am afraid I wouldn’t have had much to show here.  Refer back to the chart above to see planting dates and food availability timelines for each of these crops.

Grain and Greens.  When my May planted soybeans begin to mature and the soybean leaves start to turn yellow, I like to broadcast a mixture of cereal rye and oats into my standing soybeans.  The picture below shows the results you can obtain if the fall rains come at the right time. This allows you to provide both soybean grain and green forage at the same time on the same plot of ground.  Rye will survive through the winter to provide early spring green forage as well.  Oats, however, will eventually be killed by the cold winter temperatures.
deer food plot soybean rye oats

Fall Planted Buckwheat and Soybeans.  Because green soybean leaves are a great attractant for deer, I like to mix soybeans with buckwheat and plant around the first to middle of August.  August planted soybeans are a great green forage attractant and will remain so up until the first killing frost. Deer will feed on the buckwheat up until it begins to flower which is about 30 days after planting. Turkey are really attracted to the buckwheat grain, so that is another benefit of adding buckwheat. Because a killing frost will kill both the soybeans and the buckwheat, I usually broadcast rye and oats over the top of these plots around the first of September. You can’t see it in this photo, but there are rye and oat plants sprouted under the canopy of soybeans and buckwheat.  The first killing frost occurred on October 7th at this location, so the soybeans and buckwheat are now dead in these plots, but the rye and oats will continue to grow and provide green forage.
food plots deer buckwheat soybeans

Tillage Radish and Turnips. I planted more radishes and turnips than ever before because they are planted where I had lost my corn plots due to the drought.  I like to plant a mixture of about 80% radishes to 20% turnips.  The reason for a higher ratio of radishes is because typically turnips will need a couple of hard frosts to make the tops more attractive to the deer. This is a general statement about turnips that may not hold true for your farm because deer will start feeding on turnips before frost occurs in some areas.  Radishes on the other hand do not need the frosts to make their tops attractive to deer.  Deer will feed on the tops of both radishes and turnips until a hard freeze kills the tops.  I have found that I have to plant turnips and radishes around the last week of July through the first week of August to ensure enough time and growth to produce roots which the deer will feed on after the tops have been killed.  The radishes and turnips in this plot are over knee-high and are already producing some massive roots.
tillage radish food plot deer turnips

Tillage Radish Root. This is an example of the size of roots that tillage radishes can produce. The spade in this picture is 12 inches long.
  tillage radish deer food plot

Sugar Beets.  The jury is still out on the value of sugar beets on my farm, but I like what I am seeing. This is my second attempt at growing sugar beets. My first attempt was a failure for the weeds overran the plot. Early on, sugar beets are slow growing and don’t compete well with weeds at all.  Also, there are very few herbicides that are safe to beets which means that if you plant them in a weed infested spot, you will have some serious work to keep them clean. However, if you plant them in the right spot and are successful at growing beets, they can provide some massive tonnage of green forage for several months and also produce some very attractive roots. Beets are very cold tolerant and will continue to provide green forage until a hard freeze. The deer are just now finding the beets on my farm and as you can see from the photo, it appears they really like them for they are grazing them down to the dirt. 
sugar beets deer food plots

White Clover and Chicory.  When it comes to clovers, I prefer white/ladino clovers that have been developed specifically for whitetail deer.  White clovers don’t produce the tonnage that red clovers or alfalfa do, so white clovers are not a good choice if you are producing hay for livestock.  Assuming you are trying to grow deer and not cows, I recommend white clovers for they are easy to maintain, grow well even in shady areas, and don’t get stemmy like red clovers or alfalfa.  Below is a picture of a white clover and chicory mix that I planted in 2009 as a fire break around my switchgrass areas.  This particular spot is on the north side of the timber and is heavily shaded.  My clover stayed green in these shaded areas throughout the drought and provided some attractive green forage all summer long when the browse in the timber was drying up.
white clover food plots deer


Introducing blogger Kevin Hahn

Wed, October 03, 2012

hahn beets

Hello everyone, I am excited to announce that I will be starting a new Blog “Food Plotting” on the Heartland Outdoors website.  I hope that this blog will be of interest and of value to many of you and we will be able use this blog as a way to share information and ideas on the subject of food plots.

A little about myself.  I currently live in the Bloomington, IL area and I have been fortunate to have been able to work in Agriculture all my life.  I grew up working on the farm during my youth, then attended the University of Illinois where I studied Agronomy/Crop Sciences for my BS and MS.  After Illinois, I continued my graduate studies at North Carolina State University working again in the crop sciences field.  For the past 25 years, I have been employed with a private Agricultural company working as a field research scientist focusing on production agriculture.  During these 25 years, I have worked with a variety of row crops, fruits, and vegetables in numerous states throughout the Midwest, South, and East. 

About 10 years ago, when my son and daughter were old enough to begin hunting, I introduced them to hunting by taking them on dove hunts as my dad did with me.  I soon caught the hunting fever again after taking many years off to finish school and raise the kids along with my wife Becky. Soon our hunting interests expanded to upland, waterfowl and deer hunting.  It was during these times hunting with my kids that I began using my experiences with row and fruit crops to establish a variety of food plots to benefit wildlife and to enhance our hunting.  In 2009, we purchased a farm in Southeastern Illinois, close to where I grew up, and I have been busy over the past 3 years converting some old nutrient depleted fescue pastures and scrub brush areas into a variety of food plots and orchards to provide quality food for wildlife year-around. 

The picture is this year’s experiment with sugar beets.  Actually, this is my second attempt with sugar beets. My first attempt was a complete failure because I placed my plot in the wrong spot on the farm and the beets were over-taken by weeds.  As you can see in the photo, the sugar beets are producing some serious tonnage of very high quality forage as well as producing some nice high carbohydrate roots which should be very attractive to the deer after the tops freeze out.  The jury is still out regarding the value of sugar beets on our farm, so I will keep you posted. 

In addition to sugar beets, my food plots have included corn, soybeans, wheat, rye, oats, buckwheat, sunflowers, brassics, forage clovers, and fruit trees (apples, pears, persimmon).  Our farm is almost 2 hours from my home and I have food plots scattered around my hunting spots here in central Illinois as well so my focus has been on establishing these food plots in the simplest and most efficient manner.  What I would like to try do with this Blog,  is to share information about the activities I am doing with my food plots during the year in “real time” since many of you may be doing similar activities at the same time with your food plots.  This will hopefully create an atmosphere for sharing of information and also stimulate new ideas.  So with that,  I will give it a shot and adjust as needed along the way.


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