THOSE DARN WEEDS!
Or, can they coexist and add diversity to our plots?
By Steve Jordan
I witnessed a small six-point buck grazing in a clover patch. Upon further review, after bringing him in closer with my binoculars, he was actually grazing on dandelion heads.
A well-fertilized food plot can have some very plush and tasty weeds. I have noticed a lot of grazing or browsing of weeds in a well-fertilized food plot compared to the weeds on the fence line or in other places.
Farmers use 90% or better of Round-up ready crops, and weeds are almost nonexistent in agricultural fields. Have you ever had the experience of “still hunting” in a standing cornfield? Years ago you would sneak through the field looking up and down every row with weeds usually belt high. You would be lucky to see a deer farther than 40 yards. These days you can do the same thing, but when you look down the rows you can see almost 100 yards each way, but rarely will you spot a deer. Chemicals have kept the field 95% or better weed free.
Those weeds in the agricultural fields years ago used to attract and hold many songbirds, field mice, pheasants, rabbits, fox, deer, and more. Now the agricultural fields aren’t nearly as attractive to wildlife as they used to be. When a farmer would combine these fields, he would generally work from the outside and work toward the middle. Some wildlife would burst out during that process, but when the farmer made the last pass in the middle of the field, it would be like a zoo with the variety of birds and animals that would be exposed. Today’s clean fields have very little wildlife living there.
Does this mean we should be more tolerant of weeds in our food plots? In my opinion, yes and no. I like using Round-up ready crops whenever possible. I use Round-up ready corn, soybeans, canola and sugar beets. These crops take between 80 to 100 days to mature. This could bring the weeds higher than your crop if not Round-up ready.
Broadcasting Round-up ready corn can make better cover than row planting. I use this method exclusively. I simply work the soil up to a nice even seed bed, and then I broadcast the corn and fertilizer with a pull-behind spreader. Next, I lightly disk in the seeds (about 1 to 2 inches), and then I culti-pack. With this method, you can eliminate most weeds, but still offer enough cover to hold a lot of animals.
The summer of 2015 was the year of weeds. Timely rains made weed control very difficult. Many plots were replanted due to out of control weeds. There is a limit to how many weeds one can tolerate.
Using the calendar to time your plantings will help keep your weeds from getting out of hand. Many turnip mixes are planted too early in the calendar year. For Wisconsin, mid-July should be the earliest you would plant these mixes. This window of time could extend to mid to late August. Keeping these patches weed free until the correct planting time will produce a healthier plot. You can either fallow the ground until planting time or plant Round-up ready soybeans earlier in the year to help keep the weeds out.
My turnip mixes have a great variety of seeds to add diversity to a food plot. I purchase quality seeds in 50 pound bags whenever possible. My turnip mix will consist of canola, kale, rutabagas, two types of annual clovers, buckwheat, winter rye, winter wheat, oats, three types of turnips and sugar beets. These seeds are small enough that culti-packing will press the seeds down for good germination. If you have the time and the space, you can get creative by planting soybeans, peas and large sugar beet seeds the same day in your turnip patch. Here is how. These seeds are larger, so they will have to be covered with 1 to 2 inches of soil. You will need to disk or till your seed bed, so it is nice and level. Now broadcast your larger seeds on the surface and add any granular fertilizer at this time. Next, cover seeds to approximately 1 to 2 inches. Now broadcast your smaller seeds (turnip mix) and culti-pack. If you don’t have a culti-packer or roller, you can track your plot up with an ATV or tractor to press in your seeds. Just keep driving back and forth until you’ve compacted your patch. If you plant all of this mix, remember to give these seeds some room. Thinner is always better than thick unless, of course, if you are on the Packer’s offensive line trying to protect Aaron Rodgers. Then thick and heavy is preferred.
Just to recap, “Weeds in food plots.” Weeds can offer food and cover for deer and other wildlife, especially well-fertilized weeds. Seed clusters from ragweeds are a popular finch food, and you will notice deer topping off the new growth occasionally.
Maybe we should lighten up a little bit and let Mother Nature help us with diversity in our food plots.