Deer Hunting, Land Management, Food Plots, Scott Bestul

Much has been said and written about soil treatment for food plotting. We know we need lime to achieve proper pH, fertilizer to maximize plant potential, and herbicides for weed control.

What’s lost in all this advice is something more basic; how do you build soil in areas where the dirt is thin and poor? I’ve been facing this challenge for a few years on a property I hunt. About 5 years ago, a trout stream that flows past one of the food plots there flooded, blew out of its banks, and dumped a bunch of sand on to what was already marginal soil. Of course, I could continue to heap loads of commercial fertilizer onto that ground in perpetuity, but that wouldn’t improve the dirt long-term.

So, as I’ve learned to do over the years, I turned to my farmer friends for advice, and their suggestion was simple; haul manure to the plot. Manure not only contains plenty of natural fertilizer, it’s chock full of the organic matter that—over time—can actually build soil. Of course, manure has been used by farmers and gardeners for centuries to enrich dirt before planting. And yet no one seems to talk about it for food plotting.

I’ve asked my neighbors several times now to back their manure spreaders onto a food plot, and the result of that application of natural fertilizer has always been a kick-butt crop. Like anything, though, manure is not a cure-all. You have to be judicious in its application; a thin layer worked into the soil before planting every year is better than a big dose that can “burn” the very plants you’re trying to grow.

Getting manure to a plot can be problematic, too. The property mentioned above is 40 miles from my house, and there are no livestock farmers in the immediate neighborhood I can hire as manure mercenaries. So my neighbor—and farmer—Dave has been helping me load a pickup with mostly-dry manure and haul it to the plot. While it has taken a number of trips with the pickup-as-hauler and me as spreader, I now have a nicely covered plot that will surely grow some happy little plants in the weeks ahead…and attract plenty of deer this fall.