General Principles and Questions to Ask Yourself
Size and Orientation
An ideal plot size is probably between 1/4 and 2 acres. Areas with abundant game may require more. As a general rule, plant one acre for every 100 acres of forest land (1:100). Also, a long rectangular plot shape is better than a square plot shape as deer prefer to feed along the edge of the food plot.
Try to find an area that is already clear or at least partially clear. If you have to clear a new plot area, make sure it is on the edge of cover or surrounded by cover so deer will use it the first season, otherwise, it may take them a season to use it habitually. Examples of good locations include woods roads and trails, beetle-killed areas, firebreaks, & right-of-ways. Also, sunlight is a major factor. Most crops require at least 6 hours of direct sunlight, so choose an area with limited tree canopy.
Plant a variety of crops to prolong food supply. Mixes are better than a single crop plant. You can purchase a mix or make your own using one of the “recipes” listed in the 2005 UF/IFAS Forage Guide (77KB pdf)
** Special Note: If you are going to plant clovers and have not limed in three years, apply one ton of lime (Dolomite) per acre and harrow it in as soon as possible. If you are on a newly cleared, wet, flatwoods site that used to be in a pine tree rotation you might have to apply two tons of dolomite per acre and harrow that in immediately. Also do not forget to inoculate clover, as this is a common cause of failed game crops in Taylor County and around the region. And remember, each clover has their own specific inoculant. Your best bet to determine lime and nutrient needs is to perform a SOIL TEST.
Be sure to drag and/or pack food plot area after you have broadcast seed on harrowed soil especially important for clovers to keep seedling from drying out on soil surface). You can make a drag using old using a piece of chain-link fencing wired to a round piece of galvanized pipe. You can make or buy a packer.
Once clovers and grains are up, apply fertilizer. Without a soil test you could probably get by with 400 pounds per acre of a 10-10-10 analysis fertilizer. Splitting up the fertilizer applications is typically best: once after the crop emerges (2-4 weeks) and again in December.
Questions to Ask Yourself...
Q: Is the land typically wet or dry? -- This determines the type of crop you should plant. If wet, you may consider white clover and/or rye grass in the fall; if predominantly high and dry, then rye and crimson clover.
Q: What is the general fertility of the soil and the history of the land? -- This determines whether you need to apply lime (Dolomite) to decrease the acidity of the soil (for clover) or simply need to apply Nitrogen (rye).
Q: Has the soil been cultivated in the past or has it been recently cleared? -- This determines if and/or how much you will need to apply lime to the soil. Also, for the crops you are considering, will you even need lime?
Q: Can you get heavy equipment to the area? --This may determine the size of the plot and also may have some influence on the type of crop you choose.
Q: For the crops you are considering, will the seed germinate on top of the ground (do you only have to scatter seed after preparation)? If any, what preparation must you perform, such as harrowing the soil?
Again, see our new Soil Testing Publication to find out how to determine EXACTLY what you need.
Q: Has it rained lately? What are the seedbed moisture conditions? This is critical for seed germination and survival.
Are you plating by hand? by truck? by tractor? What equipment is available for planting, fertilizing, and other field maintenance? -- This will likely determine the size (obviously, smaller size plots for hand planting) and even the type of crop (if the crop requires lime, how will you transport and broadcast without heavy equipment?)
With what? Did you perform a soil sample (see soil sample publication)? Do you need lime (Dolomite) to raise the pH? What is the cost? Is fertilizer required before and/or after crop germination?
Also ... Legume Inoculation is necessary for the successful establishment of most clovers on "new" ground. If planting clover, is it inoculated? Some clovers are pre-inoculated and others require that you add inoculant after purchasing.
Areas selected for food plots require a minimum of 6 hours of direct sunlight. So, the tree canopy in the area you choose to develop a food plot can mean the difference between success and failure.