Quality Seed for Quality Food Plots
By Jessica Graham
Spring is quickly approaching. For Iowa hunters, that means they will be busy planning spring and fall food plots for wildlife. Food plots can seem overwhelming at times but one of the most important steps to ensuring a successful food plot is purchasing quality seed.
Bird Food Plots
Some hunters and wildlife enthusiasts will plant food and habitat specifically for Iowa’s fowl. A great way to enhance the effectiveness of your food plot is to improve the habitat around the food plot. Heartland seed offers mixes of perennials and native vegetation to help create and improve natural habitat. For instance their Essential Brood Rearing Seed Mix specifically creates prime habitat for Iowa birds. When planted in full sun, the mixture will reach about 2.5 feet in height. The mixture is adaptable for a variety of soils, making it an acceptable choice across the state. By combining wild flowers and legumes, insects are attracted to the habitat and provide food for birds. To help small birds thrive, the selected native grasses have a bunch root system which creates natural paths for baby quail to run quickly through the mix.
Mourning dove season is an exciting time in Iowa, especially opening day, September 1st. Doves love sunflowers, and Millborn Seed’s Final Flush is a blend of sunflowers to attract birds. The Final Flush blends together different varieties of sunflowers helping expand bloom time and seed maturity for an extended dove season. For this reason, Iowans can extend their dove season by planting a mix of diverse sunflowers.
If you are trying to attract quail and pheasants, you might think about planting some of the traditional sorghum and millet. Kester’s Wild Game Food Nurseries INC. has a Gamebird Mix. The blend incorporates different varieties of sorghum and millet to attract pheasants and quail to your food plot. The combination provides superb stainability through Iowa’s winters and will provide a 3 – 5 foot habitat for the fowl to thrive.
Whether you are a hunter or just enjoy nature, you can improve the attractiveness to quail, pheasants and doves to your back yard or hunting property. By planting native grasses, wildflowers, sunflowers, or sorghum and millet you will be improving and adding necessary food and habitat for bird to flourish.
Multi-Functional Food Plots
One of the all-around best food sources is clover and alfalfa. Clover and alfalfa can be frost seeded in the late winter or early spring, drilled, or even broadcast. Clover and alfalfa excel in the benefits to the soil and will stay green well past the first frost. Deer will paw through snow to eat clover during the first few snows in Iowa. Additionally, pollinators and insects thrive in clover, therefore turkey and other birds flock to clover and alfalfa fields for nesting abilities and for a high-quality food source.
When it comes to clover companies, Whitetail Institute is probably the first company that comes to mind. Whitetail Institute has invested years of research into producing quality seed and varieties. Imperial Whitetail Clover is specifically bred to attract deer and is supposed to be more palatable to deer. Nutritionally, it has a high protein content, which is critical for growing fawns and supporting mature deer. Whitetail Institute’s clover is also suited for variable soils, so it grows well in Iowa.
One less common variety, for a food plot is sanfoin. Welter Seed & Honey, an Iowa based company, and Millborn Seed both offer sanfoin as a food plot option. Sanfoin is often compared to alfalfa as both are perennial legumes often used for forage. It can be view as harder to plant than alfalfa as the seed is larger and it is not recommended to frost seed sanfoin. It would be better drilled or planted directly.
Welter Seed & Honey has found success in getting sanfoin established on some of Iowa’s tougher ground. It also is drought resistant and once established, sanfoin tends to thrive in Iowa. Sanfoin does not like wet feet; it does not tolerate wet conditions while in the early stages of growth. Once established however, it can handle wet soils. Like clover and alfalfa, sanfoin is fairly cold hardy and will stay green late into fall.
Planting clover, alfalfa, and sanfoin will create a food plot that is attractive to both deer and fowl. It also will stay green through the late fall and into winter.
Deer Food Plots
Some companies offer proprietary blends to make planting easy for hunters, while others offer individual species available too. Final Stand is a fall food plot seed blend by Millborn Seed. The mix includes peas, and winter grains. The peas provide a green growing food source and tend to be sweeter than competing soybeans. Winter grains are growing green and while most vegetation goes dormant in the winter, winter wheat and the winter grains will stay green and continue growing through the spring. The mix is used heavily by bowhunters to attract deer early to mid fall. Similarly, Arrow Seed has a Crunch & Munch blend that works well during Iowa’s early bow season. Winter grains, grasses, and rye work together to provide early season attractiveness for youth gun season and archery seasons. Another company, Kester’s Wild Game Food Nurseries offers a Fall Draw for early season success. The peas and winter wheat in Full Draw are meant to compliment the native vegetation and will support deer into Iowa’s gun seasons.
One of a whitetail’s favorite foods in the late summer and early fall is soybeans. The Eagle Seed Company is equally as impressive as their products. It is a family seed business and is run by avid hunters who are 4th generation farmers, and 2nd generation plant breeders. The company is passionate about research, hunting, and crops. Custom consulting is available to help hunters plant the best food plots. Essential items from Eagle Seed include Green and Gold, Top Five Clover, Clover Keeper and their Forage Fence.
Eagle Seed is nationally well know for their impressive forage soybeans. They beans tend to stay green longer in the season and hold their leaves longer than neighboring agricultural fields. Forage soybeans have more leaf area and can tolerate more browsing pressure than agricultural soybeans as well. An added benefit to planting forage soybeans is deer cover created. It is not uncommon for Eagle Seed soybeans to grow 6 feet tall. In turn, deer tunnel and bed down in the soybeans during the summer. Eagle Seed recommends a 2-5 acre food plot for optimum results, but can support small or larger food plots if necessary. The forage soybeans have sturdy stalks and stand well past maturity in the late fall and winter. If you are planning on planting soybeans, Eagle Seed’s forage soybeans will definitely benefit the quality of the food plot.
One other way to enhance your food plot is to add a screen around it. Deer like feeling safe and protected. Vegetative screens can help reduce social stress, and create a comfortable atmosphere for deer. Arrow seed has a unique blend of sorghums called Green Screen that will grow 10 – 12 feet tall to provide a screen when planted around the border of a food plot. The screen stands tall well through Iowa’s hunting season with decent standability through winter. Green Screen will thrive in Iowa soils, and can be planted in an open field to create added structure. Deer will gravitate towards the line of sorghum and walk along the edges. Arrow Seed suggests making designated paths for deer to enter and exit the field. This entrance can be placed near a stand or blind or stand to funnel deer travel.
Whether you are an avid hunter, or just a nature lover, planting food plots will increase the carrying capacity of your land. You can attract and support different wildlife on your land, but the first step is selecting quality seed to grow on your land.