When the food plot craze was gaining momentum, there were all kinds of articles like this promising easy plots stitched up in a jiffy with nothing more than a sprayer, a few hand tools, and a bag of seeds. It sounded so good, I ran into my little fishing lease, and set my hand on fire.
What I found is that you definitely can Do it, but the results were poor and from a statue’s point of view, even the smallest plots ranged from very brutal to awful, especially if you wanted to plant larger seeds, such as beans, peas or corn.
So what has changed? Well, you still have to put in some time and work, but you can grow more deer larvae with as little as these two days. We’ve come a long way since I started, especially in the no-till plot area that suits the majority of anglers, who don’t have a lot of expensive equipment. Over the past two decades, Jeff Sturgess, founder of Whitetail Habitat Solutions (you can see it on YouTube) and author of Whitetail success by designHe’s perfected the Ultimate No-Till Food Plot System that makes even good-sized chunks of soybeans manageable for just about anyone. In fact, you don’t even need a rake.
Why you should try the endless pieces of food
First, no-till plots are easy—at least relatively. Even Sturgis, who now has all the equipment needed to create the large traditional plots, has 14 acres and counts no-till on his property this year. “No plowing is more efficient, and the results I get are absolutely good,” he says. Ironically, now that he owns the big tractor he once dreamed of, he mostly uses it around his house. “I prefer not to plow my hunting property.”
Sturgis gets most of his food plot work done with no more than an ATV with sprayer, booster and hand dispenser attachments. But you don’t need to to get started. “The sprayer on the back, the manual dispenser, and the right timing are really all you have,” he says. “You may be restricted to certain crops to begin with, but you can have great plots right now.”
There is another great advantage. “With no-tillage, you’re building up that top layer of soil instead of ripping it up,” says Sturgess. Pinching and plowing erodes topsoil by wind and runoff, while simply killing existing vegetation decomposes debris and root systems that hold the top layer together while returning nutrients to the soil. “You don’t dry out that top layer either,” he adds. “Dead plants act as mulch and retain moisture, so they get higher germination rates.”
It is not possible to get around the fact that no-till involves a large amount of spraying, and therefore a large amount of chemicals. But Sturgess sees it as a trade off. “No practical method is perfect. Conventional cutting food usually includes some chemicals as well. With no-till you are not using any close amount of fuel, and you are improving rather than stressing the soil in the long run.”
The perfect no-till way to cut food
The key to Sturgis’ no-till system is buckwheat. For decades, people have used it as a summer crop to improve soil and prevent soil erosion. Sturgis’ moment came in eureka when he discovered he could sow directly into perennial buckwheat and then pulverize the plants down over the seeds, creating mulch. It worked perfectly – not only for small seeds like brassica and cereal grains, but for larger seeds like beans and peas as well, which usually need to be covered with soil. All without the need to plow the land.
Sturgis now uses this method on the vast majority of his no-till plots, typically planting half the prepared area with the brassica mixture and the other half with beans and peas, turning the sides each year. The fact that this is July 1st as I write, means that you may have to wait until next year to implement his full program, depending on your situation. If you already have a stomach area, you should be fine. Even if you don’t, Sturges says, it’s never too late to have successful no-till schemes by fall. “For some crops, you can simply skip the buckwheat step this year and plan to pick it up next spring.” Either way, you need an area where the vegetation has been killed and there is some bare soil showing up. So, let’s start from there.
How to prepare a plot of land ready for food
Let’s say we’re assuming the worst, and you start with an open stretch of land that hasn’t been worked out in years. You have thick weeds, ragweed, golden rod, and the like to contend with. In this case, Sturgis will make three sprays of glyphosate (2 liters per acre, diluted), four weeks apart. “Usually, I will spray first in May, then in mid-June, and again at the end of July.” He also adds lime and fertilizer as needed during this period. “By early August, this area is ready for cultivation.”
However, you do have some wiggle room. If work has been done in your area recently or isn’t overgrown with plants, you should probably get away with spraying often. And if you start late, like now, you may be able to squeeze the time between sprays and still get a suitable plot. “The key here is 50 percent soil exposure, which means that across the plot, about half of the soil is open and visible,” Sturgess says. You can move some plantings into mid or late August or even September if necessary. So don’t let a late start stop you.
Option 1: Sow a plot of cabbage
Once you have 50 percent or better soil exposure, you can plant small seeds just above the ground and walk away. This means that if you do not have time to plant buckwheat this season, you can go ahead and broadcast brassica, alfalfa, dandelion or radish, as well as rye, wheat or oats right away and have a good plot of land by autumn . “In this case, I was putting in 6 pounds per acre of my brassica blend from Northwoods Whitetail seeds,” says Sturgess. “You don’t need to pinch or pack any of these seeds, although it can help if you can determine when to plant before some rain.”
Sturgis typically lay their brassica plots around mid-August, then follow this four or five weeks later with rye or wheat mulching. “If you’re too late to start, you can even skip the brassica and go with rye or wheat,” he says. “Put it thick – 200 to 300 pounds per acre. Do the same if the Brassica plot fails. I planted a really good crop of rye until the end of September, and the deer loves it.”
Option 2: Sow a plot of land free of beans and peas using buckwheat
Everyone wants to cut beans on their property. But larger seeds like soybeans, peas, and corn need to be sown anywhere from a half inch to an inch and a half deep, which is a tall order if you don’t have a plow and a disc or seed drill. This is where buckwheat really shines. “I’ve tried other crops that are more smothered,” says Sturgess. “But buckwheat is the only one I’ve found that allows you to create really good cuts of beans.
Once the soil is 50 percent exposed (and assuming enough time), you can simply broadcast 50 pounds per acre of buckwheat directly onto the ground with a hand spreader. If you can plant it before it rains, that’s great, but there’s no need to install it. Let the buckwheat grow for 7 weeks, until it is 2-1/2 to 4 feet in height.
Next, sow the beans in perennial buckwheat. “At the soil level, you only have the stalks and bare dirt, because the buckwheat has shaded out most of the weeds. The seeds will fall to the ground.” Sturgis bean pieces are actually a blend of 50 pounds per acre of soybeans, and 100 parts per inch of peas, and 20 to 30 parts per inch of oats.
After airing this mix with a hand spreader, it’s time to scrape out the buckwheat, which brings us to what makes this most stifling crop so special. “It easily squashes and flattens over the seeds, displacing the soil you would normally cover them with.” Sturgis uses an ATV tow to flatten the buckwheat, but he says you can simply use your own ATV tires or even a homemade tow of some sort.
Once you’re done, you can sprinkle 2 liters per acre of glyphosate on the plot. “Buckwheat decomposes quickly, so that enough sun passes into the seed,” he says. “In the meantime, decomposing buckwheat is like straw that you put on top of weed seeds; it retains moisture, and you get fantastic germination rates.” Don’t be tempted to mow buckwheat after sowing, he cautions, because it can clump, darken the seeds and hinder germination (especially if you use the buckwheat method with smaller seeds like brassica).
Again, after four or five weeks, Sturgis is wearing 200 ppi beans and peas of rye. “This gives you a sweet crop of young growth in September so deer don’t bump into beans and peas too hard.”
The next two steps are wait and look. Forage bean and young rye will be a big draw for deer early in the season. If you plant the beans on the late side, the pods may never produce pods, but they will continue to grow green well into season, when other green forages are scarce. Brassica should become a major attraction beginning in early to mid-October and continue to attract bucks late in the season. looks good? Then it’s time to run out to your property, a backpack sprayer within reach.
No-Till Food Plot Equipment List
I’m plotting a no-till this summer with nothing but a backpack sprayer and hand dispenser. Sturgis gear is a little more advanced – but not much more than that. Everything he uses is within the reach of most fishermen. Here is a detail.
1. Yamaha Grizzly ATV
You don’t need an ATV, but it definitely helps. Yamaha
If you can afford the new product, welcome, more power. If not, don’t worry. Sturgis bought his used Yamaha Grizzly 700 for just over $3,400, which works great. I am currently looking for a suitable used vehicle for half that.
2. Vimco ATV Sprayer
The ATV sprayer saves time. Vimco Industries
If you want to spray larger areas in less time, this is a great investment. A 25-gallon Fimco model with a 7-sprayer boom runs for just under $400.
3. Packer Maxx PMX4STND Assembly Machine
This Packer Maxx model is durable and affordable. Packer Max
Sturgis has been using a roto-cast 4-foot rear-wheel drive ATV/UTV model for years. It’s durable, lightweight to transport (you fill it with water on site when you’re ready to use it), and it’s relatively affordable at $535.
4. EarthWay Ev-N-Spred Manual Spreader
A manual spreader is all you need to grow acres of plots of land. Earthway
Sturgis sowed acres and acres of plots with this $50 bag spreader. Bucket capacity is 20 lbs and adjustable shoulder strap.