Jan 11, 2013

Corn/Sunflower Mix, a New Twist to Food Plots

By Steve Jordan

Through the years I have always had a nice patch of sunflowers.  They grow easily, look beautiful when they flower, and add nutrition for many birds and animals.  They also add a great cover or escape for pheasants, rabbits, and other critters from predators.  I try to include at least a half acre of sunflowers in my food plot rotation. 

This past year I included field corn in my mix.  The corn and the sunflowers are both tall crops, so they compete together fairly evenly for the sun.  The corn stalk is built very strong at the bottom and tapers to a thin tube.   It also has a light tassel, or flower, at the top.  The ear of the corn is located about halfway up the stalk for good weight distribution.  The sunflower has a very strong stalk also.  However, the sunflower head is located at the top and when growing on well fertilized ground, can get very top heavy.  Add to that a good soaking rain when the plant is mature, and many of the stalks will likely tip over or uproot.  A not fully developed sunflower head can lay on the ground and mold, potentially causing the spread of diseases to wildlife.  With a healthy corn and sunflower mix, I had very few sunflowers tip over. The sunflowers would lean on the corn and rest there all fall. 

The timing of planting this mix is important.  You really need to work on the weeds before you plant this mix.  It is essential that you work up this patch as soon as possible in the spring.  Follow this up a week or so later by continuing to pound the weeds.  Spraying and/or working up the ground is a good option.  Work on the weeds periodically, right up until planting time.  The first week in June is a great time to plant this mix in Wisconsin.  The corn and the sunflowers will start maturing toward early fall. 

Last year, I had gathered up five different varieties of sunflower seeds.  By mixing them all together, there was the Big Russian Sunflower, the Striped, two nice cluster flower varieties, and the Black Oiled.  One advantage to the sunflower mix was that some varieties would flower sooner, some a couple of weeks later, and some at the very end.  We had bright yellow sunflowers for a month and a half.  Had I just planted one variety, the flowering stage would’ve been done in about a week.  The birds and the animals also had a good variety to choose from.  Black Oiled sunflowers are definitely their first choice. 

The deer spent quite a bit of time in the corn/sunflower mix.  They ate on the corn more than the sunflowers, but they really seemed to enjoy the cover.  In the winter sunflowers are a great late winter food source.  In past years, by late January and early February, every sunflower head was eaten off.  The field looked like someone had pounded in 100,000 wood stakes.  The sunflower head must have some sweetness and protein in it.  The lining around the missing seeds and the little immature or undeveloped seeds are still in the head for nutrition. 

Last year’s mix was 70% sunflowers and 30% corn.  It worked out really well, so I will go with the same percentages this next year.  Your ground has already been worked up for weed control and should be plenty loose.  I like to take the disk and go over it lightly on a non-aggressive setting to even out the seed bed.  If there are deep grooves, some of the seed will be buried too deep to come up.  Once the seed bed is level, I will broadcast the seed lightly on the surface.  Remember, each seed, whether it is corn or sunflower, is going to turn into a very large plant.  Give them plenty of room.  The most common mistake I see in many food plots is plants that are planted too close together.  This will stunt the crop and not let the plant get to its full potential.  Broadcasting can be done with a pull-behind spreader, an attached broadcaster (like to a 4-wheeler), a hand crank broadcaster, or spread by hand.  Spreading by hand is like feeding the chickens.  I use the “by hand” method quite often with the large seeds.  If you keep your disk lines parallel with each other, it is very easy to stay in line for a uniform crop in your field.  Seeds are expensive and a broadcaster can fling seeds out of the plot with ease.  Once the plot is seeded, you can cover the seed by disking lightly (about two inches down).  Now compact it, if possible, with a cultipactor or roller.

I have many interesting seed mixes that I will share with you in future articles, but the corn/sunflower mix gets the most attention when visitors tour my food plots.  It doesn’t hurt to have 100+ songbirds chattering alongside your visitors.