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Better living through chemistry

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Spring is the time of year to get serious about planting food plots for winter feed and cover for wildlife. Good food plots will also keep desirable animals in the area during hunting season.

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After several years of experience, I have developed my own not-so-conventional habitat plan.

The experts will tell you, a successful crop requires a good seed bed. This may be all well and good, but most of us put food plots on what would be considered less-than-desirable land. If a person were to plow, disc and harrow a really fine seed bed for a cover crop of sorghum or soy beans on a hillside, before the plants could sprout, all the soil would be washed to the bottom of the hill. If I had prime farm ground, I would be farming it. I have mostly wooded hills with a few steep clay areas in between.

Modern chemistry has come to my rescue. I do not generally endorse a product or company unless I get a good kick-back for doing it, but Round-Up is good stuff. For most of my habitat crops, I fill the sprayer on the back of the Gator and kill strips of grass where I want to plant. At this time of year, there is enough grass or at least weeds growing to prevent erosion. By the next week, strips are browning enough where I can see where I sprayed, since I can not remember exactly, and I plant by broadcasting the seed.

I know a professional farmer would not plant this way as the germination is not nearly what it could be. Since my crop will only be harvested by those happy for what they can get, if half of the seeds grow, it is close enough for me.

John at Drakesville Crop Service, an expert in the field of farming and food plots, suggested I try planting this way. I knew deer liked turnips, but did not know how to plant a significant amount of them. I was thinking of tearing open several dozen little paper packages and hoeing them into the ground. This sounded like way too much work, even for a dedicated hunter such as me.

John said not to worry. He had several hundred pounds of turnips in 50-pound bags. I could get all the seed I wanted and never have to tear open a single one-ounce package. I sprayed contour strips around a hill and planted turnips. I could not believe how they grew. They were enjoyed by the turkey, deer and an occasional dog or horse that happened by. They were a great snack for hunters walking back to the cabin. Well into late winter, deer were still digging up the sweet and juicy turnips.

This year, along with the strips of turnips, we are planning to drill some soy beans on an area flat enough so the tractor and drill will not fall off the hill. A strip along a hayfield has been sprayed in preparation of planting a pheasant food plot, and we have been working on dropping trees along the timber line and reseeding short grasses for quail cover.

Next year, we will have a large field of alfalfa and clover to be used as hay for the livestock with the last cutting left for wildlife.

I know most of us in the process of improving wildlife habitat are using rather marginal land, but things can be done in stages without fear of destroying the soil if it is done carefully. A person can work strips across a hillside, leaving bands to prevent erosion. It really is not all that difficult. We call it, "better living through chemistry."

Walter Scott is an outdoors enthusiast and freelance writer from Bloomfield, Iowa.

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