Whitetails 365: Spring Plots on a Budget

By Tom Peplinski

In March, I wrote about how I use greens and grains to cover all my bases when putting in food plots. Soybeans have long been a staple for me because they are easy to grow and can be a great late season attraction. Then I went over why I am now including corn as a part of my yearly food plot offerings. For hunters hoping to have highly attractable food sources the entire hunting season, grains can be a very important part of the mix. But, grain food plots like beans and corn can be expensive for food plots. Available acreage can be a concern. Browsing pressure from smaller grain plots and high deer densities can make planting grain food plots almost impossible.

It is possible to put in grain food plots with limited resources and acreage. Growing great soybean and corn food plots doesn’t have to break the bank and doesn’t always require huge amounts of tillable ground and equipment. Today, more than ever, manufacturers of food plot equipment are making it easier to put in great food plots with just an ATV or side by side. And with the invent of electric fencing of food plots (discussed next month), it is even possible to put in grain plots on small tracts and in small plots. When I started out putting in plots over 30 years ago, corn and beans were not possible for me…mostly because of my ignorance with how to plant and take care of them. Not any more.

I think the most important part of any food plot strategy is making sure your food sources are located properly. With grain plots, I’m planting them mostly as a late season attraction. My green plots are the main attraction during most of the archery season…but I’m planting corn and beans primarily as a standing grain crop to hunt over during late muzzleloader season. For the late muzzleloader season, I want my plots to be as far away from my access points as I can get them so I don’t bump deer going in to hunt. I also want to make sure and locate the plots in a way that allows me to leave after an evening hunt. These are destination plots…and I will be hunting right over them. The critical point is this—locating these destination plots where you can get in, and get out undetected is the most important part of making these a success. With that in mind, I’ll also locate my stand or blind as far from the plot as I can confidently shoot. Grain plots are best suited in larger plots, outside of the timber or cover. Sometimes if it works out for you, they can be located directly adjacent to large agriculture fields which will help take pressure off your plots during the growing season.

The Seed
There are dozens of food plot seed suppliers that will gladly sell you corn and soybean seed for your food plots. Local agriculture seed representatives might be a good place to start. I found a guy years ago selling year old and off brand agriculture seed for great prices and I still use him today. The nice thing about today’s internet is you can just type in food plot seed near me and you’ll likely get a bunch of options. Welter Seed and Honey, right here in Iowa, is my tried and trusted seed supplier when all else fails. The point being, finding seed is not so hard anymore.
For soybeans, I will always choose a full season maturity group seed to plant. In the past, I’ve gotten some great deals on early maturing soybeans. The problem with choosing early season maturity is that the beans will mature and dry out very early in the season…then each time it rains, then subsequently dries out, the beans will start to shatter. Getting wet, then drying, then repeating this cycle is a major cause of bean shattering. Full season beans will rarely shatter. For most parts of Iowa, this means a maturity group III or even IV in southern Iowa. Then there’s the trait of the seed. Used to be that glyphosate tolerant beans were the thing (Roundup Ready)…now I’ve almost entirely switched to Liberty Link trait beans because of the glyphosate resistance of so many broadleaf weeds. So far, Liberty herbicide has controlled every broadleaf weed in my plots.

For corn, I’m also going with the Liberty trait primarily because I don’t want to clean out my sprayer when going between grain plots. After that I’m looking for the cheapest full season seed I can find. For southern Iowa that’s in the 115-day corn or so. If I have a choice, I’ll also take a taller variety which helps with keeping turkeys from hitting the bottom of the cobs as they hang on the stalks.

My first consideration with seed is their trait (for me that’s Liberty Link), the second is maturity, and last is price. Don’t be afraid to use year old seed. Your yield might be slightly lower, but not enough to matter for a food plot. I’ve already used soybean seed that was 2 years old without much notice.

Soil Tests
I’m not saying you shouldn’t, but I rarely soil test for nutrient requirements anymore. I simply replace the nutrients my grain plots will use. For 50-bushel beans, this means 190(N)-20(P)-63(K) is required. Because soybeans fix most of their nitrogen themselves (if inoculated…which you should do), I’ll typically add at least 20 pounds and 60 pounds of P and K respectively. For 180-bushel corn, 162(N)-63(P)-45(K) is required. In the case of corn, I’ll add at least this amount of nutrients.

I do soil test periodically for pH. I do this using litmus paper I buy off of Amazon. I simply take a soil sample, mix distilled water with it to make a muddy slurry, then soak the litmus paper in the slurry after a few minutes. The litmus paper will turn colors telling me what my pH is. I test and correct for pH about every 3 years with a goal of 6.5pH.

Planting Methods
If you don’t have access to sophisticated planters and tillage equipment, you can still plant beans and corn. A simple but effective way is to till the ground as best you can using a disc or other implement. I would say 50% soil exposure at least. Then broadcast by using some sort of spreader or by hand throwing the seed. For beans, 1 to 1.5 bags per acre, or 140,000 seeds per acre. For corn, 1 bag covers 2.5 acres or about 32,000 seeds per acre. Never go thicker than this with your seed…especially with corn!!! At this point you should also broadcast your fertilizer too. Then, simply disc in your seed and fertilizer targeting 2 inches deep for corn, 1 inch for soybeans. Using this method, it is impossible to get your depths perfect…don’t worry about it.

This is the simple disc, broadcast, disc again method and I’ve done it for years. I won’t argue that your yields will be the best, but they won’t be all that bad either. Using this method (and I still do today in some plots), I’ll easily get 50-bushel beans and 150-bushel corn, sometimes better. That’s not bad for a plot. There might be better methods out there to plant grain plots, but none that I can come up with requiring as little resources for the food plotter.
Next month, I’ll tell you how I protect my grain plots with an electric fence making it possible to plant smaller plots of grains.