For example, across the central-Minnesota heartland where my family hunts, far more farmland lies idle than normal, thanks to an extremely wet spring that thwarted many farmers’ best attempts at planting.
Due to fall tilling, much of this ground is currently barren. So the sea of corn and soybeans that typically surrounds our beloved woodlands has largely evaporated. Lacking fields flush with crops, a last-ditch food plot could prove to be a gold mine.
Another mitigating factor, in my case, is that our family recently added a section of wooded swamp and overgrown pasture to our territory, and we’re scrambling to prepare the property for fast-approaching firearms and late-archery whitetail action.
Hoping to put a pair of plots into play at the buzzer, I tapped the cultivating savvy of Ron Pedersen, a longtime agronomist at our local feed mill, Peterson’s North Branch Mill . “It’s pretty late, but winter wheat and rye are still options,” he said, noting that ample soil moisture would be key. Since our plots are destined for relatively damp dirt close to the swamp’s edge, that shouldn’t be an issue.
Winter wheat and rye are hardy cereal grains that sprout quickly, then grow as heat and moisture allow deep into fall. Frost-tolerant, they persist long after less-hardy plants such as oats have succumbed to the season’s wrath, providing whitetails with sustenance headed into winter.
As for choosing between the two, Pedersen favors winter wheat. “Deer don’t care for rye’s flavor as much,” he says. “Think of rye bread. But everything eats wheat, so I’d lean in that direction.” Based on Pederson’s advice, our plots received a last-ditch dose of winter wheat this week. He recommends sowing around 100 pounds per acre, which at about $22 a bushel is an extremely reasonable investment.
Of course, such endeavors require a little elbow grease. Fortunately, when everyone in our three-generational hunting camp pitched in, it made for a very enjoyable project.
Weeds were rampant and well established in the areas we chose to plant, so we chose a three-step, chemical-free approach. First, we knocked them down with a disk prior to plowing. I must admit that I tried rushing the process and skipping the disk on one plot, but all I got was a weed-choked plow for my efforts. Lesson learned. After turning the soil, we ran the disk over it again, and then churned it into a fine blend with a rotary tiller.
Plenty of different machinery can help get the job done, including ATV- and tractor-based implements. I opted for the muscle of a 75-hp, utility-class John Deere 5075E diesel tractor. The gutsy yet nimble machine easily mastered an 8-foot disk, and pulled our old two-bottom plow through the heavy soil like a champ. Armed with a hydraulic loader, the tractor can also assist with a number of other chores far beyond the range of our ATVs.
If you’d like to pull off a similar plot, time is of the essence. “Soil tests and fertilizer would be great, but the important thing is to get the seed in, now,” Pedersen warns. Of course, working with local mill staff or your county extension agent to dial in the soil after planting can help boost your crop.
Once sown, winter wheat should sprout within a few days and quickly add another course to the whitetail’s menu on your property. As a bonus, don’t be surprised when wild turkeys and other species of wildlife show up to savor the tender shoots and seed heads next season.