Nov 10, 2014

Recapping the Growing Season of 2014

By: Steve Jordan 

The spring of 2014 had some fantastic snow melt. The heavy snow protected the perennials from the continual freezing and thawing that occurred in the recent winters. The snow melted slowly so a large percentage of the moisture went into the soil due to very little frost in the ground. In the spring most of Wisconsin started out sort of dry, but mid to late summer had plenty of rain. This made it difficult to plant a lot of the plush early fall plots. Even though some were planted later on the calendar than normal, the conditions were ideal (moist ground, sunny skies, and 50-60 degree weather in the afternoons). Most plants germinated in 3-4 days and grew rapidly. 

All in all, 2014 was a great year for food plots. In my experience a wet year is much better than a dry year. Plants seem to stress in dry weather and lose their flavor. In very prolonged wet weather, the plants may be stressed but are still juicy and are still sought after by deer and other animals. Also, any replanting that needs to be done due to an area of drowning out will germinate quickly and look good in 2-3 weeks.

I am always experimenting with various varieties of plants along with combinations of these plants for a custom blended mix. One seed that is always in my low crop mix is the tillage radish.   This plant has very deep roots; it will pull nutrients that have accumulated or silted down too deep for our normal shallow, rooted plants to reach. The nutrients are then stored in the radish or carrot looking bulb. Any leftover bulbs that the deer don’t eat will decompose on the surface, leaving many nutrients on the surface for the following year’s plants that are in reach of their roots.

Through the years my fertilizer experiments have been interesting and rewarding. In this past year I was able to work with a company called Midwestern BioAg, a company that specializes in soil building and proper fertilizing of various crops. One very effective product was their slow release nitrogen pellet formula. In the past I would broadcast 0-0-46 on corn that was approximately one foot high, and ideally, right before a rain. Then I would apply it again when the corn was 2-3 feet high, hoping to hit a rain again. With BioAg’s slow release formula, I can make one application when the corn is approximately one foot high. The slow release pellets will break down gradually during future rains due to the variety of thicknesses of the hard coating on the fertilizer pellets. My contact for this fertilizer is Sierra Huey at 715-250-1837. 

On one experimental patch of corn I used cow manure and carp. That combination was amazing. The stalks topped out at 13 feet. Some large cobs of corn were growing above our heads and many of the stalks had 3 cobs. I was bragging about this corn to a retired seed dealer one day. He totally took the wind out of my sails. He claimed in perfect laboratory conditions a good quality seed would produce up to 7 ears of corn on one large stalk over 20 feet high. I would like to see that some day.

2014 brought a new visitor to our food plots east of New London. A black bear is a rare sight here, but they pass through along the Embarrass and Wolf River lowlands occasionally. A medium sized black bear passing through in September was very impressed with our sunflowers. He decided to knock down the whole patch to eat on a small percentage of the sunflower heads. We didn’t mind; he entertained us one morning by standing up on his hind legs to sniff the air. After a couple of days he was gone. 

Alfalfa, for the 4th year in a row, outperformed clover and all low crops as far as deer sightings and consistent grazing. A timely mowing rotation helps keep at least one alfalfa plot plush and young at all times during the growing season. 0-0-60 or straight potash is the favorite fertilizer for alfalfa. The color and flavor of the alfalfa will be enhanced by this relatively inexpensive fertilizer. 

With limited budgets for food plots like we all have, try to investigate what type of fertilizer your particular plant or plant mix likes. The general rule of thumb is to use an even mix (example 12-12-12). If you do some research on the plants being fertilized, you will get better results for your money. Maybe the even mix is not what your plant needs. 

I hope you’re having a great fall, and you are enjoying watching the deer and other animals in your food plots. A successful hunt is satisfying, but watching the wildlife can be just as enjoyable.