Sep 10, 2016

Applying Fertilizers and Weed Control to Food Plots

By: Steve Jordan

As food plot enthusiasts, we tend to follow the lead of the great and successful farmers in our area. We see them preparing their fields in the spring, planting and taking care of their crops throughout the year. Most of us don't have the time or resources to get our crops to the high yield level of our farmer friends. High yields are not a big advantage for us, but we do want quality crops with good color and high protein levels to attract, hold and make the deer in our area healthier going into a possibly tough winter. 

One crop that I really struggled with early on was corn. The local farmers had healthy, thick, tall corn with great color. Mine was wimpy and a pale green with small cobs. I quizzed the local farmers and learned about the importance of nitrogen while the corn was in its early stages. You can spread granular nitrogen on your crop in its early stage, ideally right before a rain. If you don't get a rain, a large percent of the nitrogen evaporates into the air. You can also apply a liquid fertilizer high in nitrogen. I have applied either granular or liquid fertilizer and sometimes both when a crop just doesn't look good. 

This year, too much rain in the first part of the summer stunted and killed many food plots. Some of us had to switch gears and replant those areas with our turnip mixes or wheat and rye. These fields started out in the spring as being soybeans and corn. If you have areas that die off where there were big puddles, you can just keep the weeds out by spraying Round-up or the equivalent. After mid-July, you can broadcast a good turnip mix in these areas. These seeds can just lay on the surface and the first rain will germinate them. Winter wheat and rye can also be planted in these areas all the way through September. These seeds can lay on the surface like a grass seed or be worked in to a depth of an inch or so. 

Let's go over some of the spraying methods I use for applying weed control or liquid fertilizers. I have a 25-gallon Fimco sprayer (purchased at Fleet Farm) mounted on the trailer hitch of my UTV. The spray boom is mounted 26 inches above the ground for uniform coverage, and there is little to no drifting of fertilizers or chemicals due to wind. I do not spray on very windy days. I have an on/off switch up front. My coverage is 15 feet each way from center. The boom is only 4 feet long, and the two end nozzles spray down and out. If I have all nozzles open, I can cover 30 feet in one pass. What I like to do on most plots is turn off the driver's side nozzle and then ride around the edge, just inside the food plot all the way around. It doesn't matter what shape the food plot is in. This keeps all of the spray inside the food plot. After I have the outside edge sprayed (approximately 15 feet wide), I can open up the driver's side nozzle and cover my 30 feet without risk of getting too close to the edge and killing a plant or a tree outside of the plot.

Also, a backpack sprayer is very handy if you have muddy conditions or if you don't want to run over your crop. If you want more control of what gets sprayed and how much spray you use, the backpack sprayer is very efficient, especially on small food plots. 

If the weeds are really thick, you can coat them heavier by walking slower and when they are sparse, you can pick up the pace and walk faster. If you are using the UTV, you simply slow down in the heavier weed areas, and if the weeds are fairly sparse, travel the standard speed of 4 mph. 

I like to wear disposable rubber gloves when spraying or mixing chemicals. The black rubber gloves used for milking cows are very comfortable, easy to get on and off (Fleet Farm sells these). When I spray, even in hot weather, I like to wear rubber boots and a flannel shirt in case I inadvertently get into an unexpected gust of wind or make a mistake while spraying or adjusting nozzles. 

In addition to the backpack sprayer and the 25-gallon sprayer, I also have a 10-gallon sprayer with a 12-foot hose and wand. This sprayer is used for liquid fertilizer exclusively. I keep it in the bed of my UTV. I can pull up with my UTV along a strip of sunflowers, turnip mix, or any other crops that are not Round-up ready, and give them a boost with a good liquid fertilizer. Remember, the healthier and tastier the crop is, the better you will be able to attract and hold more animals. 

Liquid fertilizers applied to the leaves of the plants can travel down to the roots in a few hours. Any fertilizers that missed the leaves and settle to the ground will seep down to the roots in the very next rain. 

Most liquid fertilizers are soil builders. Whenever I am spraying Round-up, whether I am spraying a new plot or an existing crop, I will always add liquid fertilizer to my Round-up. This controls the weeds and builds the soil in one application. 

Something else to think about is using artificial sweeteners to spray on the turnip mixes and other crops to attract deer to the plot earlier in the fall. I have been experimenting with this and am having good results. 

On one occasion, I was giving a tour of my food plot to someone and he commented on how large and plush all of my plants were. He asked how I did that. I explained to him that my fertilizer program was real similar to the program set up by Eddie Lacy's nutritionist (Eddie Lacy, running back for the Green Bay Packers). Lacy tried this in the summer of 2015 and it worked way too well. He got a little too big and plush and the nutritionist got fired. Have a great and safe fall.