How to Prepare Your Soil for Planting
Preparing a firm, smooth seedbed is essential for a good food plot. A good seedbed improves seed to soil contact, improves seed germination, and leads to a better start for your food plot crops. All of these things produce better game forage.
Seedbed preparation in many cases starts with the removal of existing vegetation. Mowing or bush-hogging existing vegetation just prior to plowing is the most common way to accomplish this. The biggest problem with mowing just prior to planting is the layer of freshly cut green vegetation makes it difficult to get adequate soil disturbance with the type of farm implements used by most hunting clubs and small landowners. A very heavy disc harrow can cut and bury the vegetation sufficiently, but most food plots for deer are prepared using relatively light equipment. Mowing vegetation two weeks ahead of discing or tilling allows enough time for much of the mowed vegetation to decay and break down. This makes discing or tilling easier than discing or tilling immediately after mowing.
Another method to make discing or tilling easier, even with smaller and lighter farm implements, is to spray the existing vegetation with glyphosate herbicide (e.g., Roundup®, Glypro®, Gly-Flo®) at labeled rates one month or more before mowing, tilling, or planting. Glyphosate kills the growing grasses and broadleaf plants. Only dry brittle plant material remains at planting time. In many instances mowing is not necessary prior to tilling, but closely mowing the dead vegetation makes tilling the soil with a disc harrow more effective. Plowing, discing or tilling the top four inches of soil is adequate for most cool-season food plots, since most cool-season crops, such as small grains and clovers, are shallow-rooted.
ATV Plowing Options
The GroundHog MAX ATV Disc Plow is a totally new and different idea in ATV plows. It has a graduated notched high-speed disc setup to save you time, gas and money. You will not need a trailer or a buddy to help. The GroundHog MAX is truly a 1-person operation. Here's why this system works:
- MAXIMUM WEIGHT/DOWNWARD FORCE - The plow is mounted under the ATV's rear-end and uses the weight of the ATV (600+ lbs.) and the driver (200 lbs.) to achieve direct downward pressure on a smaller amount of steel. You are riding on the plow like a 5th wheel. When not plowing it can be turned upside down in "transport position" on most ATVs. This allows the plow to go anywhere you can take an ATV at the speed of an ATV.
- MAXIMUM GROUND PENETRATION - A graduated disc setup of an inner 10", middle 9" and outer 8" notched disc penetrates and plows at a faster pace. Use looping circles and figure eights as well as back and forth to plow. For maneuverability reverse can be used with the plow engaged.
- HEAVY-DUTY RECEIVER HITCH UPGRADE KIT (INCLUDED IN THE BOX) - If your ATV/UTV has a strong 2" receiver the GroundHog MAX is "Plug and Plow". If yours doesn’t you can create a hitch by using the included 20-25 inch extendable or 5 inch 1/4 wall receiver tubes and hardware kit. You can use your existing factory utility hole and the ATV frame to install a forward-braced receiver hitch system. This upgrade works with approximately 90% of ATV’s/UTV’s on the market today. See our Compatibility page for more information.
Once the ground is prepared, soil tested and proper amendments added and plowed in, using the GroundHog MAX you simply spread your seed. Adjust the plow to barely clip the ground and run over the plot one last time. This will turn the seed under and compact the plot. Good seed to soil adhesion means good results.
Larger Green Fields and Warm-Season Considerations
Larger green fields can handle a variety of crops. If you have the space and the equipment a larger green field may fit into your overall food plot plan. Remember, many high-quality warm-season types of forage are deep-rooted. Deep roots enable these plants to hold up better under drought conditions. The presence of a hardpan prevents these plants from establishing deep root systems. A hardpan forms over time under the stresses of compaction. Compaction can be the result of frequent use of heavy farm or logging equipment or even cattle trampling the ground over a period of time such as in a pasture. In these situations, a disc harrow alone is not a sufficient way to till the soil. Deep tillage often is necessary to break up a hardpan and provide the best growing conditions for these warm-season forages. There are several options and implements available for this task.
This implement shatters any hardpan and rips from 14-20 inches deep. One drawback of a subsoiler is it requires a fairly large tractor, around 40 to 50 hp per shank. Depending on the amount of tractor traffic on a food plot, this operation should be performed every other year.
A chisel plow breaks up some hardpan and penetrates 12-15 inches deep. It requires less hp than a subsoiler. Generally, 20-30 hp per shank is sufficient to operate this implement. On average this implement does not fracture hardpans like a subsoiler, but it does fracture the soil well enough, breaks up clods and opens up the soil. It is a good all around deep tillage implement. One drawback of the chisel plow is it can actually enhance weed growth. It is recommended that any new ground to be chisel plowed be sprayed with glyphosate herbicide (such as Roundup®, Glypro®, GlyFlo®) at labeled rates prior to plowing.
Moldboard Plow/Bottom Plow
A moldboard or bottom plow does not fracture any hardpan that may be present. However, it serves to bury weed seeds deep enough to prevent them from germinating and is one of the best methods for cleaning up "dirty" food plots. Soil moisture must be right to properly use a moldboard or bottom plow. If the soil is too wet this operation produces a food plot of wet clods and if the soil is too dry it produces a food plot of dry clods. Proper soil moisture is more critical in heavy loams or clays, sandier soils tend to be more forgiving. At least 25 horsepower per plow is necessary for proper operation. Soil test after using a moldboard or bottom plow as low pH soils may be brought to the surface during this operation.