If farmers grow whatever you are eating, then why not grow your own for your hunt? In this episode of Land & Legacy, we have Adam Keith to talk to us about everything we need to know about food plots. Adam shares the three factors of building a food plot while recounting the history of this million-dollar business. He also talks about the importance of soil health and outlines the reasons why you need to have food plots 365. Adam has so much information to share with you, so grab a pen and paper and take note!
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Land & Legacy Food Plot Part 1 with Adam Keith
Welcome to the third segment of Land & Legacy, Land Management by Matt Dye. We have Adam Keith, his partner. Adam is going to talk about the three factors food plots. We’re going to go into the historical aspects of food plots. Some may grow some corn. The farmer grows some corn and some beans or whatever you’re eating. Why not grow your own? You’ve got to grow what the deer want to eat when they want to eat it. There are some secrets to that. If you’re going to food plots, have them 365. Do the whole year and there are a lot of reasons for that that we’re going to talk about. Ladies and gentlemen Adam Keith. You can find him on Instagram and Twitter and Facebook under Land & Legacy or Adam Keith. Adam, welcome to Whitetail Rendezvous Spring series.
I appreciate it Bruce. Thanks for having me. It’s always a pleasure.
We’re going to talk about the history of food plots, the first ten minutes, fifteen minutes of the segment. We’re going to talk about where this billion-dollar, it isn’t a million-dollar business folks, it’s a billion-dollar business across the country in the creation, growth, tilling, curing, feeding, and everything to food plot.
It’s definitely a very popular subject. It’s probably one of the most popular questions that we get with our consulting company. It’s always the question of, “What can I plant to make my hunting better?” As people have thought along with Land & Legacy to know that we oftentimes talk about more than just food plots. It’s always trying to tie everything together, land management, conservation, but then the hunting aspect and improve the hunting success. That’s where food plots come in for us. Not necessarily the side of planting food plots to make sure our deer are healthy as they can be. It’s more a supplement of planting these food plots to give additional food but also make hunting success higher.Where the food plot comes down to is seed and soil preparation. Click To Tweet
Take us back to when you first started hearing about food plots. I know you worked with a grant for a long time, we were interns and did lots of things for them. Let’s go down memory lane because as far as I know, we hunt at Eddie’s corn, alfalfa or beans.
I don’t know the food plot history. We talked about before the interview. I would suspect from what I know about food plotting is farmers who are planting alfalfa, wheat fields, oats, and turnips, and they realized the deer were liking them. They realized, “Maybe I should devote a little area to the wildlife and have that to hunt over.” I would suspect that’s where food plotting originated. The first food plot that my family planted, I was right around ten years old. I’ve been planting food plots for about twenty years. I started planting oats, wheat and then turnips. It was a learning experience for me to start planting the first food plots because we didn’t know what the heck we were doing. All we knew was it was replicating a garden for the wildlife.
Looking back, the amount of work we did, I can remember one of the first food plots we planted and actually it’s still on the family farm. We call it the old food plot to where it was the original one. We would go in with the two-bottom plow, turn the soil all the way over, and then we would come back in with the disc and we’d have to disc it a couple of times just to get it somewhat smoothed out. Sometimes we had to harrow it, and then we would broadcast the seed and then try and drag it. There are a couple of food plots where early on we didn’t have a drag and we would cut down some red cedar trees and then drag them by hands to try and cover up the seed. That’s how far back it goes for me on planting food plots.
I remember the first couple of times we did that, we would go in and spray, hand spray Miracle-Gro on them. We were having big turnips. Unfortunately, at that time at the farm there wasn’t many deer. It would be a couple of doe groups and young bucks would come in, but we never saw any good bucks on those food plots. Looking back, it was because we were in there every time we went to the farm, which was almost every other day. We’d be in there poking around looking to see how it’s growing. It’s definitely changed a lot for us.
Back when I was growing up, I was born in New England actually, Rhode Island. My neighbor used to take me trout fishing. We went to his family farm. It wasn’t a big farm, 100 acres, 120 acres. It had the old building. I mean quintessential, once you think of an old rundown farm, but it had that crab apple. It had that apple orchard. That’s the first whitetail deer I ever saw. We’d go in there in the morning, slip in there, and they’d be munching or we go in the evening catching trout and there they’d be. They’d bounce away. This is back when there wasn’t a whole lot of deer in Rhode Island, but it was a perfect habitat. You think back and it’s just like that was a food plot. I mean the apple trees are deadly, right time, right season. We’re going to talk about that in the second part. You’ve got to give them what they want when they want it. I’d be interested for people to write you, how would they get a hold of you if they want to make some comments about the historical aspects of food plots?
I would be curious to hear how people got started on their first food plots. They can always shoot me an email at Adam@LandAndLegacy.tv or Info@LandAndLegacy.tv or just shoot us a message on Facebook or Instagram. Those are Land & Legacy handles.
Please do that because we’re going to go down this journey with Land & Legacy for a while. I’m going to do four series a year. They’ll be in one or two of them. We want good content but we want to give you what you want. Someplace along the line somebody decided to make a little food plot. Like you said they started on the alfalfa and said we got the old button stand. I could put a little thing there and dig up the dirt and throw some seeds and see what happens. It worked because it’s just unbelievable. This is the part where the food plot comes down to seed and down to soil preparation. We’ve talked about so many times, it comes down to PH value. Walk us through, if after they read a magazine and they lease some land, they’re going to have it for a few years, own some land and they really never did anything with it, what are their first steps for food plots? What do they need to do it right, not stumble along like you and I have and made all the mistakes in the books?Food plots are a huge benefit but, if you’re not looking at it correctly or doing it correctly, you’re doing more damage than good. Click To Tweet
We did a podcast on this a couple, I don’t remember, five podcasts ago. I talked about that process of what we did to the soil health by doing all of that. When you understand soil health, I’ll try not to bore everybody with this because soil is one of those things that it’s kind of boring. When you think about soil health, if it’s healthy you shouldn’t have to make the amendments. You shouldn’t have to add as much fertilizer and lime. It should be just everything they need right there in the soil. When you start turning and introducing oxygen and everything like that and killing off beneficial bacteria and fungi in that soil, it becomes really detrimental.
I think the first thing when you’re thinking about adding a food plot, you need to understand what’s the cost going to be. Do I have the equipment to do it? Understand the process to have a successful food plot because we see it all the time. Somebody plants a food plot, but the amount of expense, the amount of time and then frankly the amount of destruction they did to soil health wasn’t offset enough by the amount of growth and benefits they had to the wildlife. It’s more detrimental. Understanding all that before you plant a food plot. Do a soil test, test it to see how far off your soil health or your PH is basically and then look at the cost it’s going to take to get it back where it needs to be, where you can actually have a successful food plot.
We talked to Matt with that and that’s where the land management plan. Folks, if you’re doing food plots and you haven’t done a complete land management plan over the years, you’re missing out. Share with the folks why that’s a true statement.
When you look at the expenses that go on in land management as a landowner if you’re focused on just improving and trying to make a plan, one of your biggest expenses every single year is going to be food plots. You’re going to have to buy the lime and fertilizer. You’re going to have to do the soil test. You’re going to have to buy the seed then probably give herbicide. You’ll look at all the tractor time and diesel fuel and all that. It gets pretty expensive. There are ways to help offset that. That’s why a big part of our plan is always, let’s make the habitat as awesome as we can, and as beneficial as possible. Let’s give them this additional supplement in the world of food plots to where everything they need should be in the habitat from food year-round. They should have food from January 1 to December 30th to where there’s always food available. Have the food plots in case something goes wrong, you reach a drought, or something happens. That’s the way you should be looking at food plots in our opinion.
There’s a balance there. I hope you paid attention to what Adam said because the land itself is going to produce the food. If it’s missing, there are a lot of ways to get food on the ground without planting the seed. You might have feeders, you might have the supplemental minerals that you can do per your state regulation, great. You’re throwing in food plots. My thinking when I go back turkey hunting, I’m going to start to figure out basically kill plots. I’m going to hunt off kill plots this year because I kill a lot of deer on the farm and I want to see how big I can go just on the farm. We know there’s a big deer there but you never see them for a lot of reasons. I’m going to go to kill plots and set up a series of those and lose some stands to do that type of thing. The deer can live on that farm without ever seeing a food plot because it’s a farm. It’s producing. It has cover, it has food and it has water. The deer will never have to leave. Plus, we have a huge sanctuary across the street that hasn’t been ever hunted.
You make an interesting point when you say that about when we’re going back to my last statement. When I’m saying everything, let’s get everything there, a lot of times we don’t look at food in the form of young trees, young forest, the buds, the little tiny limbs, the young growth, the early succession or habitat, the pokeberries, the ragweeds, the blackberries, the greenbriers, all that is extremely good food. When I was talking about having food available that’s what I mean is having all that. If you want to do your supplemental feeding, you want to do the food plots, that’s cherries on top. That’s the added benefit. That’s what understanding how to manage the land to where you have that available. Whether that means harvesting trees doing TSI, letting young forest grow, basically, are very well. We just released it. Our last episode was Let There Be Light. It was devoted on letting sunlight reach the forest floor so we have all kinds of food available. That’s pretty much what it is. Food plots are a huge benefit but, if you’re not looking at it correctly or doing it correctly, you’re doing more damage than good.
You talked about the first inch in the soil. I used to fish offshore all the time in the first inch within the surface. Everything happens there. Fish had all the life and the sea was there because of the plankton, little things eat the plankton and the bigger fish, just a symbiotic relationship. You start thinking about that and it’s the same thing with the soil. We got plenty of time on this food plot intro here to talk about and get specific. Maybe somebody’s going to google some words. That’s okay because people understand the microbes and all the things that happen in that first inch of soil. If you mess that up, then you’re hurting. Come on Dr. Adam, let’s go to biology 203 or botany. No, it wouldn’t be botany. It would be biology, right?Trying to manage soil is very important, even more important than your food plot. Click To Tweet
Agronomy. I’m sitting here thinking about soil and I’ve heard this put a couple of times. It really catches my mind when you think about soil. I remember in college, soil science is what class it was. A guy walks in and said the first thing and the main thing you’re going to learn is that soil is not dirt. When he said that, I’m like, “What in the world?” This guy is off the rocker. It’s totally different. Soil is a living thing. Dirt is the stuff blowing in the wind. It doesn’t have life to it. That’s the big difference. When you think about soil, the lines that I often hear is the more we know about soil, the less we know. When you think about the amount of life that’s in soil, the number of earthworms and bacterium, things we can’t even see unless you’re using a microscope. There’s more life and health in one tablespoon of soil, healthy soil, true healthy soil, than there are living organisms on the surface of the earth. It gives you an idea that there’s more stuff going on down there than there is stuff going on up here. When we run a plow through there and we bring air and sunshine to that, we’re completely messing it up.
Trying to manage soil is very important. Even more important than your food plot. When you think about it, how important is the food plot? You may kill a buck off of it. The amount of damage that you’re doing to the soil for long-term damage, it may not be worth it. That’s where we stand for years out of plowing out the food plots and destroying soil health to where I’m fighting the problems now because there’s not really much soil life there. It’s hard for me to get a successful food plot without adding all these amendments of fertilizers and lime to try and get something to grow. The healthier the soil is, the less input you have to put as far as fertilizer and lime. The more unhealthy the soil is, the more fertilizer and lime it’s going to take to get crops to grow.
To help a non-farmer, when they go to Eddie’s farm, it’s a hundred-year farm. They’ve been plowing the same dirt, turn it over, rotating the crops, doing all that. Does he have to put every year more additive to make his crops grow and get a good deal? How does that work for farmers out in Kansas? They’re five miles square or miles square.
When you think about farming, there’s so much money spent on inputs as far as lime and fertilizer. Every time you turn the soil, you’re exposing more weed seeds to where you’re just chasing your own tail. That’s where the no tail farming and the cover crops come in. It’s been a huge thing to where we always had the soil protected. That’s one of the biggest things is you’re giving armor to soil to where there’s not sunlight. Taking the moisture in, taking the life out of it. You always have something growing and cycling the nutrients back to the surface to where it’s not either washing away in the flood, or blowing away in the wind, or it leaks through the soil and getting so far down in soil profile that the roots can’t reach it. That’s why having something always growing, usually diversity is the best. With the cover crops especially to where there are always different plants pulling different nutrients and keeping it at the surface to where the next crop can tap right into the soil minerals and nutrients, and keep on growing.
It still perplexes me when I drive from Colorado all the way to the Midwest, just square miles of tilled soil. You can see them out with their John Deere, power stroked, supercharged, and cutting swaths in the earth and turn the earth over and leaving a fallow all winter.
Leaving a fallow all winter and turning that soil to dirt. I was turkey hunting out in Nebraska probably a couple of years ago. When the storm picked up, and also went around back into town, turkey hunting was over, and I can’t see ten foot in front of me because there’s so much dirt flying in the wind. That’s what the dust all was. I hate it because when you understand soil health and you drive across the country and you see miles and miles of turned soil, you think, “When are we going to learn?” That’s exactly what happened during the dust pool. We were plowing and plowing and we weren’t concerned with soil health, therefore we had a huge disaster on our hands. It’s definitely something that makes you want to throw up a little bit when you see all that turned dirt.
With my kill plots, and I mean they’re 100 square feet. They’re going to be positioned for the food plot and then the stand, positioned for the wind. Do I just go in with a rake, or do I put some lasso down and kill stuff?
I already know where you’re going with this.The healthier the soil is, the less input you have to put as far as fertilizer and lime. Click To Tweet
How do I do that 100 square feet?
This is the dilemma. When I started out planting food plots it was always, “We’re going to do what the farmers are doing.” We didn’t know any better. We were plowing, disking and broadcasting. That’s the way you did it. That’s the way papa did it. That’s the way you’re going to do it. As we started understanding, no-till drill. That’s the way to go. We want to use seed planters and never turn the soil. Unfortunately, 90%, 70%, who knows what it is, of food plotters are having access to no-till drill or have the equipment to use a no-till drill. We started trying to figure out ways to do that to where we could successfully plant without having to turn the soil, but we didn’t have the equipment. Using UTV implements, that was the big thing for us. Now we did like disking if we needed to, but we tried to completely eliminate that as well.
We started using rollers and cultipackers and timing it right before the rain. We would go in and broadcast the seed and then run the cultipacker or roller over and try and get that seed pressed in the ground where we had better germination. That’s where having a cover crop came in, even more important because we realized that if we were broadcasting on bare ground, our food plots didn’t have growth. There wasn’t a lot of protection for that young seed to where a lot of birds were coming in and carrying away the seed. It came into we need to do this in the spring, and always have some sort of cover crop, some diversity and have biomass.
We planted a mix of seed-like twelve species in the fall which as you know you can throw a weed out on the pavement. You get the amount of rainfall you need, the proper amount, it will grow to where it’s six-foot-tall, and it’s not even in soil. We planted all the fall crops and timed it great with rain. It grew up. In the spring, we had cereal rye four, five-foot-tall. We went in and we sprayed it with Vitasafe, killed it all and then we broadcast the seed and ran that cultipacker or roller over it, or even drag in some instances. We had a pretty good food plot.
We didn’t take any equipment other than that UTV or four-wheeler and rolled it over. Basically, what that batch for that fall cover crop did was it protected those young seeds at a young stage to where they had enough time to germinate and grow to where they weren’t getting nipped off by the deer. Also, they weren’t getting carried away by these birds before they germinated. There was more moisture being held underneath there to where they had plenty of moisture to germinate and then continue to grow up through that last layer.
That’s how we did it at first. I’ll say all that to say when you’re looking at little hill plots, these little transition plots and you’re trying to do this without disking it up or plowing it up. You do all that disking and plowing within this little food plot where it’s already fighting with some of the trees in this ramp around the edge or even in the middle of it. You’re going to already be lacking on moisture just because those trees are catching it before it ever reaches the soil. You’re disking and plowing and you’re taking what little moisture there was in that soil. You’re letting it out because of the air and sunlight. If you can figure out a way to catch that moisture by not turning the soil, you’re off to a better start. That’s probably second or third podcast to talk about where I think you said what’s best for those areas. They’re certainly seeds and blends to plant in those little areas. That’s really how we looked at it, trying to do that but it’s all weather dependent.
You can go out and plant with the no-till drill, which is honestly the ideal way of planting a food plot. It can sit in the soil for a few days without rain. Five days later you get rain, it germinates and grows. If you do that and you broadcast it and it sets on the ground for five days, it may not grow very good. By the time you did get rain, most of the animals had picked through and carried that seed away. That’s a big problem when you’re looking at trying to broadcast and roll or plant without a no-till drill. You’re more weather dependent. It can be done, but you’re going to have to watch the weather like a crazy man and go, “Is it going to rain?” You see a big storm cloud forming, you’ve got to get there and get the seed broadcasted out.If you can figure out a way to catch that moisture by not turning the soil, you’re off to a better start. Click To Tweet
I hope you’re taking notes, folks, because I’m doing it in my mind. I know that certain place, certain stands, and certain locations that we’re going to do definitely do that because sitting on the fields a great time of the year when everything’s right is great hunting.
Good food plot, it really is. That’s why we constantly say we don’t like food plots. We plant it as much as the next person but we look at it and go, “When and where.” Not just, “Let’s plant every acre in a food plot.” They’re very strategically placed.
The other thing that’s overlooked, and one of my buddies from Grandpa Ray Outdoors brought this up, is all your trails and old logging roads and access roads on the farm, where you walk from your cabin to your stand set. Every single one of those walkways is a little open. There’s a little sunshine, a little moisture. There’s a little of everything. You can plant that with specific blends. I don’t know what blends you need. Adam sure does. Think about that, and it’s really easy. Just take a little drag and turn over the soil and you drop some seeds and then you take a roller the same roll you do in your backyard when you plant seeds there.
When you’re smashing down the mow hills. That’s what most people use them for.
You do that and all of a sudden over time you’re going to have boards. You use perennials. You keep it every once in a while, drop some fertilizer on it. All of a sudden in a couple of years, you’re going to have some good habitat that they’re going to meander through and take a bite. Just by them pausing, you don’t have to do anything. You might have the shot. Do you have thoughts on that?
I will say one thing, that we see a lot is just because it’s an open area doesn’t necessarily mean it needs to be a great food plot either. Sometimes this is a problem with food plots, in my opinion. They get placed in areas to where just because it’s opening, but that’s the one opening that all roads go through and then they spider web out. Where no matter what happens where you’re hunting, you always have to drive back to that food plot. That’s probably not a good place for a food plot because the deer that do come to it, you’re rounding them out every single time. We try to place the food plots in areas where we can effectively get to, and hunt, and get out without the deer even knowing we were there. That’s the most successful way you’re going to have a food plot success is by hunting those areas or not disturbing it. When it comes to establishing food plots and getting those established, the first couple of years if you’re planting species there’s always a learning curb to where if you plant a food plot, the first few years only a few deer find it. It’s not a failure, it takes some time to get your condition to where that’s the best food source in the area and that’s where they start coming to.
With that folks, we’re going to end the first session with Adam Keith from Land & Legacy. How do people get a hold of you?
It’s Adam@LandAndLegacy.tv or Info@LandAndLegacy.tv or probably the best way to do that is message us on Facebook or Instagram. That’s just Land & Legacy. You can get right there on the website as well and that’s LandAndLegacy.tv.
Folks, I thank you for whoever joined us on Facebook Live. This will be up on my site WhitetailRendezvous.com in the weeks ahead with the series that I’ve been doing with Land & Legacy, Matt Dye and Adam Keith on Land Management and Food Plots. Thank you for joining us.