Editor’s Note: Rodney Dyer of Deatsville, Alabama, a certified wildlife biologist, avid hunter and accomplished guide, works with Hunter’s Specialties in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, providing advice on wildlife and land management. This week, Dyer will tell us how to prepare to plant green fields.
Question: Rodney, most people at this time of year take their tractors and discs and start breaking ground in preparation to start planting green fields. However, isn’t there some pre-planning that needs to take place before you fill the tractor with gas, hook-up the plow or turning disc and get ready to starting turning the ground?
Dyer: Absolutely. Many times your pre-plowing efforts have more to do with the success of your green-field crop than your post-plowing efforts. The better your ground takes the seed and the more nutrients the ground has in it before you plant, the better your crop will be. So, before you even take the tractor out of the barn, have a soil test on each green field you plan to replant this year.
The soils on various parts of the property have different acidities. Always take a soil sample from each green field, and have your lime and fertilizer you plan to apply determined for each specific field you’ll plant. You want the pH of your soil to be 6.5 to 7 on a pH meter before you ever start planting. By getting your soil to this level, you can make sure all the nutrients in the soil can be released by the soil into the plant.
Question: What’s your next step before you crank the tractor?
Dyer: This step is one many hunters completely overlook. The weeds will have grown-up in your green field since the last hunting season. So, kill off the weeds before you till the soil. If you can start early in the season killing off the weeds before winter, then you shouldn’t have as much regeneration of weeds once you plant your green field. Weeds make growing food difficult. They actually can choke-out the plants you’ve put out in your green field because they can survive better under drought situations than cultivated plants can.
Question: What do you suggest using to kill the weeds?
Dyer: Round-Up is a generic term now because that’s the product most people use. Regardless of which brand name you use, when you get ready to mix-up your weed killer, you want to make sure you have 1% glyphosate. In the container of herbicide you purchase, there generally will be 41% glyphosate. So, you want to use 2% of the herbicide and 98% water to spray on the weeds. According to the instructions, you need to let the herbicide kill the weeds for 10 days before you begin plowing. But after 10 days, I prefer to burn those green fields, if I can do it safely, which gets rid of the litter on the ground and the residue. If you can’t burn the green field, mow it after you’ve killed the weeds, and then disc-up the plot. Then put down your lime, and finally, fertilizer.
Question: When should we start planting?
Dyer: In the South, we generally start around Labor Day. But in the Deep South – Alabama, Georgia and Louisiana – wait until after Labor Day before you plant. In the Deep South, you can plant until around September 15. Grains, like wheat and clover, usually grow better when the nights are cooler. The further north you travel, the more you can move these dates back. In the far North, you may way to start planting as early as late July or the first of August. On the Hunter’s Specialties’ farm in Missouri, we began planting the first of August.
Question: What should we plant, and why?
Dyer: I’ll start by planting Vita-Rack Spring Mix that contains perennial clover, which is a great source of protein and provides food for deer and turkeys year-round. I suggest planting 70% of your green fields with perennials, like the Vita-Rack Spring Mix and 30% of your green fields in annuals, like the Vita-Rack Fall Mix. Annuals will produce more tonnage of forage for deer than perennials will. You have to decide on your management plan.
Are you planting green fields to attract deer, so you can take them during deer season, or are you planting green fields to attract and feed deer, so you can produce more and bigger bucks? The best management plan is to plant food plots to attract deer for harvest and also plant green fields to feed deer during the hard, cold months when they’ll need more food. This reason is why Vita-Rack Fall Mix is such a great planting tool. It produces tons of deer forage that’s highly palatable to the deer.
Question: Okay, Rodney, let’s say we have a hunting club with five green fields. How many of those green fields will you plant in the Spring Mix and how many in the Fall Mix?
Dyer: I’d plant one field this year with the Vita-Rack Summer Mix and one in the Vita-Rack Fall Mix. Then I’d plant three of my fields in the Vita-Rack Spring Mix. I’d leave those three Spring Mix fields with the clover to grow for 3 years. I’d come in every year the clover gets high and mow it, so the field would continue to produce clover. Then every year, I’d rotate the field I planted in the Fall Mix with the field I’d planted with the Spring Mix. At the end of the third year, I’d plow-up my three clover fields and plant either Summer Mix or Fall Mix in them, while replanting one of them with Spring Mix. This way, by leaving your three clover fields growing 3 years and rotating your crops in your Summer and Fall Mix fields, your clover is putting a huge amount of nitrogen back in the ground. At the end of 3 years, when those clover fields become either Summer or Fall Mix fields, there will be a tremendous amount of natural nitrogen on the soil. So, when you plant your Fall or Summer Mix, you may need very little or no fertilizer.
Farmers have known the value of rotating crops for centuries. If we apply that same knowledge to raising green fields, we can produce more food on each one of the green fields we have every year. By using this type of crop rotation, you’ll always have food for your deer to eat when they come to your clover fields. The fields planted with Vita-Rack Spring Mix are like the corner grocery store for deer. Deer know they can stop there at any time to eat. The fields planted with the Fall and the Summer Mix will be like a major supermarket. The deer expect a full-course meal and plenty of it when they visit these fields. That’s the reason I suggest this type of rotation on the properties I manage.
Your deer herd will determine the best type of green-field planting for you in your area. But the formula I’ve given should be suited for most soil types and deer populations anywhere in the country. By keeping your Vita-Rack Spring Mix fields producing clover for 3 years, you’ll also attract turkeys because wild turkeys love clover. If you get grass in your clover fields, spray them with Poast Plus Grass Herbicide, and mow the clover when it gets a little high. Clover’s really easy to manage, and it saves money and the cost of planting a green field.