Jun 7, 2017

Spring Is Here!

By: Steve Jordan

Our spring season in Wisconsin is the most welcome season of all. The fresh smell of the soil warming up and the smells of the blossoming fruit trees and other early plants makes you feel lucky to be alive! 

I get excited to start prepping my food plots for planting. During this time, I might use my brush hog to mow down some of my standing corn from the previous year. Years back, we would hand pick off the corncobs before mowing. Our land wasn't much of a deer wintering area. Nowadays, we attract deer from a long distance to winter here. There is rarely a corncob left by spring.

The winter rye and the turnip mix is as green as a well-maintained golf course and is a very popular hangout for deer, turkeys, geese and cranes in the spring. The alfalfa is trying to grow while the deer are doing their best to eat it just as fast as it produces another stem with leaves. 

As the spring rains slow down and the soil starts drying out, I will plant my first strip or patch of soybeans. Soybeans come up quickly and grow rapidly. The deer seem to enjoy eating on the greens throughout the growing season, but really prefer the young 3-4 inch plants. My strategy throughout the years is to plant a new strip or patch every three weeks during the growing season. This practice does two things. It always gives them their 3-4 inch plants to eat throughout the summer, and they migrate off from my earlier planted soybeans as the summer wears on. And by doing this my earlier planted soybeans get a chance to mature and ripen with 20-30 pods of soybeans on each plant! This makes for some great late fall and winter feeding for deer and turkeys.

I like to plant corn starting in late April and all the way up to July 4th. My corn seed consists of different varieties with different maturing dates ranging from 80 day corn all the way up to 110 day corn. By planting these varieties together in one field, I am able to attract deer early to pick through the stalks finding ripe corn as early as August. And some varieties are just ripening in late September and October. The exception to this strategy is when planting for a customer in late June or early July. I will use one or two varieties of an 80 day maturity corn to ensure formation of good corncobs on the stalks before a hard freeze. 

The only early plants I generally go to are corn, soybeans, sunflowers, and it seems more and more, pumpkins. I even purchased a pumpkin seeder for my tractor this year. A retired machinist east of Fond du lac, Don Schroeder (920-526-3510), builds these planters to fit on a three point hitch farm tractor set-up or will custom fit it to your garden tractor. This seeder will plant anything from pumpkins, squash, melons, sunflowers, and even corn and soybeans. With my seeder, I opted for some extra features and it still only came to $350. Call Don if you are interested in one. 

Now that it's springtime, we have some decisions to make. We want to save some areas of our food plot for later varieties of plants like turnip mixes, radishes, winter wheat, winter rye and others. These plants should not be planted until mid-July through mid-August. The reason for this is that these plants mature quickly and become old, tough and wilted by fall if planted too early. By planting these crops by mid to late summer, they are young, plush and tasty compared to every other crop and even the browse around the food plot. You will want to work on weed control in these areas right away in the spring and up until planting time. My most effective way is to plant these areas in Round-up ready soybeans. You can keep the weeds under control by spraying Round-up whenever you see weeds starting to compete with the soybeans. Once the calendar comes around to mid-July up until mid-August, you can work the soybeans under (all or part of them), and then plant your fall crops. Most weed seeds have germinated by then and your late crops should be fairly clean of weeds. 

Another way to keep the weeds down is to keep the patch worked up every couple of weeks until planting time. Or, you can keep it sprayed with Round-up until planting time. I lean toward the soybean idea mostly. It keeps the deer frequenting that area all summer long while eating a high protein crop. However, I do like to keep one strip frequently worked up every couple of weeks to give the turkeys a spot to make their sand bowls. 

I still get calls from guys that want to plant a small food plot that they think they have to get a farmer in to plant it. I agree that the farmer could be helpful to work up a new patch that might have a thick sod base. After it is worked up, all you need to do is spread some fertilizer and work it into the soil with a small disk behind a four-wheeler. Then broadcast your seed by hand at the recommended rate from the bag. Cover with soil only when recommended (like the bigger seeds). Note, the small turnip mix seeds should lay on the surface. Then you can pack your soil down with your four-wheeler tires or a small culti-packer. 

We all enjoy the fall, but the spring is very special. The leaves on the trees are all brand new and bright. The songbirds triple their variety of sounds with all of their mating calls. The Canadian geese fly proudly in big flocks announcing spring and a new year of nesting. The Milwaukee Brewers and their fans get ready for, hopefully, a great year with high anticipation. I could go on and on, but I am running out of field (space). Have a great spring and summer.