by Meaghan English, TrueSouth Properties Wildlife Specialist
This is another installment of helpful wildlife tips related to the ownership and enjoyment of hunting land in our operating area.
As we get another week closer to spring, I wanted to start spotlighting some important warm season crops that will bring success to your food plots. Planting can be very confusing, but if you take the time to learn about a few crops and really invest blood, sweat, and tears into your food plots, it will get easier each year. As I have said before, protein is very important this time of year (lactating does, young fawns, antler mass and growth). Food plots should be planted with warm season crops that yield a large amount of protein and can withstand grazing pressure. For example, legumes are warm season crops that provide wildlife protein, and when planted in mixtures with other crops, can withstand browsing pressure. I will further explain what a legume is, what these crops do, and provide examples.
Legumes, which belong to the family Fabaceae, are nitrogen-fixing plants that are highly palatable to wildlife and provide abundant amounts of protein. Legumes range from drought tolerant to soils with high amounts of moisture. They also differ in growing seasons, depending on the plant itself. It is important to do a little research to determine which plant will do the best in your climate.
Legumes are best known for fixing the nitrogen in the soil. A bacteria called Rhizobia in the root nodule allows the crop to convert atmospheric nitrogen into ammonia. This conversion allows legumes to be rich in proteins. The ammonia is converted into another compound which is usable by the plant and allows the plant to excel at the right pH level. This is where a soil test becomes very important. Legumes will not prosper without the proper pH level. But, if the pH is at the optimum level of around 6-7, the legume will produce substantial amounts of protein and continue to enrich the soil even after it dies! Legumes are very important when it comes to crop rotation. They are good regenerators for the soil after some very harsh crops (Chufas) have been planted. Also, when planted in mixtures with other crops, legumes fix the soil for them as well.
Now, I wanted to give a few examples of legumes that do especially well in the hot, humid south. Cowpeas, or as my family calls them “iron clay peas” are very popular in the south but are very susceptible to over grazing in the seedling stage. To overcome this problem, it is best to plant large amounts of the legume or create a fence around them. A few hunters and landowners have also found it beneficial to mix it with grains or grasses to prevent overgrazing. Another popular legume in the south is Lablab. Although it has a funny name, it is one of the most successful warm season legumes. Again, this legume is very sensitive to overgrazing, but can be mixed with a grain (corn is a very popular match) or another warm season crop that will help defend lablab against overgrazing. The final example is soybeans. I know that everybody has heard about soybeans and how beneficial they are to deer in the spring. This is all true, but soybeans do best in very large fields.
It is important to protect your spring food plots during the seedling stages. Not only deer, but hogs and turkeys will be in the plots scratching and rooting up all the crops before they have a chance to grow. Please take time to evaluate your soil and research what would be best for your land. It may take a few trial and error runs to determine what is best, but that is part of the fun. Whatever you plant, make sure it is rich in protein and drought tolerant!
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