Images and story by Thomas Allen
You always reap what you sow; there is no shortcut. — Stephen Covey
I’d like to tell you that our club’s food-plot planting went off without a hitch. I’d like to tell you that all potential catastrophes were avoided. But that wouldn’t be the truth.
I can tell you that we did get it done, and done effectively. Plus, nobody got hurt and no property was damaged — other than egos. Only mine.
But I’ll get to that later.
In the last installment I talked about our task of remodeling, replacing and building new shooting houses. It took the entire membership group and a couple of months to complete the six new shooting platforms, but thankfully we got them done before it was time to plant.
In looking at the forecast for our region in advance of our planting efforts, things looked pretty good. There was several rain events coming up that would allow us to put Mossy Oak BioLogic seed in the dirt and receive the necessary moisture for adequate germination.
But plans that are dependent upon the weather often disappoint. Here’s what we learned this year.
Plan To Be Flexible
Alabama is notoriously dry in the fall; October is the driest month of the year making food-plot implementation a crapshoot. It’s also generally still pretty hot, so you have to be careful.
You often have a small window of opportunity for successful planting, and that requires knowledge of your local weather patterns and plenty of patience. Stay flexible, and when the right conditions appear on the horizon, be ready to hit it hard.
We watched the weather very closely and managed to get our 11 food plots planted with a good chance of rain forecasted a few days following.
After looking at last year’s planting log, and considering what specific areas grew the best, and we decided to experiment with a few changes.
To simplify that, our Alabama dirt is not the greatest dirt in the country. In fact, it kinda sucks. However, leaning on agricultural experience in my past as a native Iowan, I knew that field bottoms or depressions generally produced the highest yields.
That was because during rains, the sentiment would settle in the lowest spots generally creating very rich and fertile soil.
Applying that to our Alabama food plots, there were a few spots on our lease that were very similar to the areas I described above. That was proven to me as the Winter Grass Plus we planted last year grew especially well.
In looking back at last year, we planted BioLogic Maximum, some Deer Radish, Non-Typical Clover and Winter Grass Plus (WGP). The WGP grew very well everywhere we planted it, but the Clover didn’t take very well, and neither did the Radish the first time around, which I attribute to only where we planted it.
This year, we split several fields based on slight elevation changes and planted Maximum and Deer Radish in the depressions. Then put Winter Grass Plus on the high spots providing a very dynamic look to our food plots.
You’ll recall we have a gas line that splits our property. We planted WGP there last year, and decided to not fix what wasn’t broken. We added two food plots on the gas line, but stuck with what worked. And it’s doing fantastic.
I want to briefly speak on the patience factor.
I am not a patient person. I’m Type-A, overly controlling and hate to operate outside of a tightly regulated schedule. #sorrynotsorry
Not doing so has been known to make me grumpy. Deal with it. I deal with it daily.
(Ok, I have some things in my life to work on, but my “issues” helped get our plots in the dirt on time. Just sayin’.)
I’d have made a terrible farmer.
To be a successful GameKeeper, you must roll with the punches and make big decisions based on your own experience — and being willing to listen to others who have been there and done that.
There’s no room for pride in this game.
Thanks to insight from a couple respected men in my life, I was able to set my pride aside, check my O.C.D. tendencies and make decisions based on forecasted weather patterns. In other words, we took risks. But, knowing that October is usually very dry in Alabama, November can often be quite stormy.
I was encouraged to wait until the final week of September, at the very earliest, to plant. Too early, and the seed could burn up in the likely 100-plus-degree heat or get eaten by crows and turkeys. The necessary moisture that we would required might not come until mid to late October, so paying attention to the weather and preparing for a call to all-hands-on-deck when the time is right, was crucial.
The forecast looked right, and we had to make the decision, take the risk, plant and live with it. But an educated decision it was, and it’s paying off.
The morning of our official planting weekend started off with a little fellowship and a few Chick-fil-A chicken biscuits with coffee.
Who doesn’t love a morning like that?
In looking back at our summer prep, I chose to disc the fields once early since we didn’t have access to or budget for a sprayer to kill the weeds. That decision meant that a second trip across each field with the disc would be required before we broadcast seed.
Last year, all food-plot seeding was done by hand with the push-type spreaders, and by the start of the second field we decided we were done with that noise.
Thankfully, one of our members got fed up and headed for the local co-op. He returned an hour later with an ATV mounted battery-powered seeder. A $250 expense we didn't plan for, but one we all happily pitched in $40 bucks for — it was a lifesaver.
In fact, that turned a very tough multi-day effort for four to five men into a two-day task for two dudes. We also learned real quickly that the spreader would go through seed too fast if we weren’t careful, and that doesn't jive with a limited budget.
For our objectives, we hand-seeded all the Deer Radish and Maximum to assure an even and thorough broadcast. Yes, that can get tedious on larger fields, but it increases accuracy, and that’s critical when you only have so much seed to put in limited dirt.
I know this may seem elementary, but you have to understand in a club limited by a very tight budget you do what you have to in order to make things work. It basically took someone lighting a fire under our butts to make a tedious task more manageable.
I have a lifetime of uncanny bad luck — it just seems to follow me everywhere. While I fight it, I’ve learned to just accept it as normality.
On the second and final day of planting, I managed to get the 4-wheeler stuck, got the Tahoe stuck and got the tractor stuck. ANNND, after getting the tractor out of the hole it was in, I shut it off neglecting a reoccurring PTO safety shutoff switch malfunction that occasionally acted up.
And, of course with one field to go, it wouldn’t turn back on again via the ignition switch.
So we push-started the tractor.
Have you ever done that? It’s a task requiring a strong back and a weak mind, just like me. Plus it was a sight to see. (No video, sorry. I know you’re disappointed.)
But, even with those sketchy situations, we stayed the course and managed to get our 11 plots planted with Mossy Oak BioLogic, and they are now growing at a very impressive rate. Expect the unexpected.
The time to paint those ultra green leaves to crimson is coming. #rolltide
Below are two quick things to consider that will certainly help your land management efforts.
First, be sure to drag your fields after broadcasting. The drag system can be made of almost anything: An 8-foot piece of chain-link fence with a couple of cinder blocks on top will work, a big timber or log, an upside down rake like we used will suffice.
The goal is to cover the recently spread plot seed in a thin layer of dirt to protect the seeds as they await the needed moisture for germination.
This was critical for us this year because the two rain events we were expecting fizzled out and didn’t happen. Well, I shouldn’t say “fizzled out” because one was Hurricane Michael, which greatly affected a tremendous amount of lives along the Florida Gulf Coast.
But we only got a mild sprinkle out of the storm.
As the Club Manager, and a Type-A O.C.D. deer maniac, I wanted to gauge feeding pressure on our plots from the moment they sprouted. Seclusion cages were the recommendation of the fine folks at Mossy Oak. They allow you to keep a small chunk of your food plot from hungry deer, and it will continue to grow at a measureable rate.
This is valuable information when comparing plot-to-plot. In other words, you’ll be able to visually tell how much pressure each plot is receiving. I don’t anticipate this to be an annual experiment, but it's the kind of data I want to collect for a coupe of years anyways.
Bottom line is it’s working.
About the author: Thomas Allen calls central Alabama home, where he lives with his beloved wife, Kathryn, and two growing children, Tommy and Taylor. Follow Thomas on Twitter: @ThomasAllenIV and Instagram: ThomasAllen4