The Sweetening Thing
Last year we touched on the subject of sweetening your food plots. We have been seriously working at this for a few years. The subject is not new and perhaps some of you have experienced a flush of especially green grass after an application of fertilizer high in nitrogen in late summer. If this location was your cabin up north you may of seen deer take possession of your lawn. Deer are not fond of grass and can die if grass is their only forage throughout the year, yet if sweetened, grass becomes attractive. When we say sweetened we mean exactly that, (we are increasing the sugar content in the plant).
Improve your odds
We did much trial and error late last summer and fall on this sugar thing. Working with Soil Scientist / Farmer Ray Rawson of Isabella County Michigan, we think we have some answers for you to have some fun with. The following tips and advice is not the super sure-fire method of pulling in deer from miles into your line of fire. It is another edge, (yes, a major one) in your favor to improve your odds of success. You will need to create other edges, such as remote bow or firearm sites with much security for deer as they access your ambush site, which has lush, nutritious and palatable forage available for deer. If you have good cover to encourage deer to bed on your land, you have another edge, for the secret to controlling the movement of deer on your land is to have them bed there during daylight. The more edges you have the more the odds move in your favor.
Well begun is half done
All hunting sites can be improved in attraction by the sweetening thing for deer whiter you have food plots or natural habitat. Let us start with a strategically located bow site nestled against a cedar swamp that has many raised mounds of soil ideal for deer bedding. This site was planted with soybeans in mid July at the rate of 50 lbs per acre, sprayed four weeks later with Roundup and lightly broadcasted at three lbs per acre with a forage rape blend. Around the first of September about 50 lbs of winter wheat was broadcast per acre. Bow sites work best when food plots are planted at no more than 1/4 of an acre, with 1/8 preferred. You may experience less deer and a shorter visit but your access and departure security improves. It takes only one time of being busted and that site is now useless. Your bow opener is October the first and since the neighbor farmerís soybeans will be turning brown and losing leaves your soys well be still green lush and growing on that date. This well prepared location is chosen by you for the bow opener. If the deer found the soys and finished them off or there was an early killing frost you still have the forage rape and winter wheat. Note, the above many edges favorably to you that you included in your plan. Why not add a mock scrape or two just where you want that buck to stand?
The finishing touch
Now for the finishing touch. When you planted the soybeans you broadcasted 400 lbs of pellitized dolomite lime per acre and worked the lime and broadcasted fertilizer four inches into the soil and you broadcasted that lime whiter the soil needed it or not. You do not need to broadcast the lime on the entire food plot, just where you want that buck to smile and have his picture taken. For that bow site that could be a radius of 25 yards or so of the stand. You do want to broadcast pellitized lime not ag lime. Nothing wrong with ag lime, you want fast action and another edge. You will probably broadcast no more than 2,500 square feet or .06 of an acre. Thatís about 25 lbs of pellitized dolomitic lime per bow site. That bow site is prepped to the max and now you will do the sweetening thing. Around mid September, (or two weeks prior to site use) you broadcast 150 lbs of urea, (46-0-0) per acre on that same .06 of an acre or about nine lbs. Caution; we are giving that forage a buzz and the leaves must be dry when the urea is applied or you might experience some foliage burn. That urea application should be effective for close to a month. Remember it is broadcasted in September and the cooler weather slows the denitrification of urea, (evaporation of urea to nitrogen gas), You have now fed the root system of your forage. For longer lasting effectiveness you can buy slow release urea. There are several types with different degrees of nitrogen release. For a long period of 60 days of nitrogen availability there is one type called XCU, which is 43% urea with sulfur and coated with a polymer. If you use the slow release you can apply it at 200 lbs per acre. You will probably need to order it in advance if your feed and seed dealer handles it. If you cannot find any slow release urea and you want a site to be effective for an extended period apply 50 lbs of urea per acre one month after the first application, but do not apply it later than mid October in the Midwest. The foliage must be green and growing when applied for desired results.
Now letís take care of the leaves. Here we spray the foliage with nitrogen. You can use ammonium sulfate, AMS, (21% nitrogen 24% sulfur) or liquid nitrogen, (from 18% -28% nitrogen). I use the sprayable granulated type of AMS at the rate of two quarts per acre. You spray it the same time as the broadcasted urea and at 10 days to two- week intervals thereafter. While the urea will release nitrogen for a month or more, the nutrients in the sprayed AMS or liquid nitrogen will be 90% absorbed by the plant leaves within two hours. If the ten day interval of spraying two quarts per acre is undoable you can spray six quarts of AMS or liquid Nitrogen at one time for a month of action. Then repeat if desired. For those small bow sites you can use a backpack sprayer. For a four-gallon backpack add two cups of AMS and spray every ten days or six cups for a monthís action.
Note; The above amounts of applied urea, liquid nitrogen and AMS is the maximum amounts recommended!
Our trial and error efforts last year showed us where that wall existed, where an increase of nitrogen would not improve the effects and in fact may do more harm than good. Use discretion when applying Nitrogen.
There are differences that will be noted but in general use the same principal as shown for bow sites. Firearm season normally occurs much later in the year versus the opening day of bow season and this change in dates affects a change in weather. Any application of nitrogen will only be effective if the plant is green and growing. For best results applying nitrogen two weeks before site use is paramount. If one is hunting only during the late muzzle-loading season they may miss the mandatory green period of nitrogen application when following the two-week formula. There is an answer. We have found that applying nitrogen does an excellent job of keeping the forage green and growing well below the normal minimum freezing temperature. Example, note the photo of the green and growing sugar beet leaves of January 9 2009. Sugar beet leaves start to turn brown around the end of October. This is a sign that the plant is through growing and will not create any more sugar. Itís the green leaves of plants that create sugar through photosynthesis. No more green leaves, no more sugar. Yet, there it is, green leaves and plenty of them making sugar under the snow and keeping that sugar beet root alive and growing well beyond the normal dormancy date. The answer obviously is to apply nitrogen well before the freeze date to experience sweet action during the late firearm seasons. Mid October for the mid west is a good start, with adjustments where needed. Note; sugar beets get sweeter as the season advances, with mid November being close to their sweetest date. Sugar beets are biannual, meaning they do not die over winter thus maintaining their sweetness through the winter while most other forages are losing their palatability. This is where forages such as sugar beets that maintain their sweetness well into winter out compete other forages and are very effective as attractants in late seasons. That field of sugar beets of January 9 2009 held over 90% of all deer that date and that includes the still standing corn. This all was possible due primarily to the action of the sweetening thing.
Firearm food plots are usually much larger than bow sites. Doing the sweetening thing in that entire firearm food plot may be cost prohibitive. As we did in the bow site so too we only need to sweeten the plot where we want the deer to stand.
Sweetened natural vegetation
We covered the sweetening thing with the sweetened forage being planted food plots and for sure this works. How about natural forage and can it be sweetened? Many lease land where the owner does not allow planted food plots. There is the possibility that Michigan citizens will one day have the opportunity to create food plots on their public land. When that day arrives I advise that hunters first try to create plots of natural forage using no-till and no seeding. This is the practice of spraying twice during spring and broadcasting lime and fertilize. In addition I suggest the sweetening thing, yes, on public land and not on planted forage. You spray twice in spring setting back existing forage; you broadcast lime and fertilizer soon after the spraying. You are creating plots no larger than 1/8 of an acre. New forage appears that is an earlier succession and that new forage consists mainly of forbs that deer prefer. These forbs replace the existing grass and other uneaten vegetation such as bracken fern. These forbs can be sweetened the same way as above with exciting results. The other sweet thing is, nobody knows or sees what you did or how well it works. I call that system where no seeding takes place, thus invisible. ďNo seedum no seeumĒ. As that man on the old TV programs said, ďHow sweet it is!Ē
The sweetening process
Iím not a chemist, certainly not a soil scientist such as Ray Rawson, but I do a heap of trial and error and see results I do not understand. With the help of my friend Jim Wetters, a real chemist retired from Dow Chemical I will attempt to explain what happens when one applies nitrogen to growing plants.
If you paid attention to your science teacher in the seventh or eight grade you would remember about the story of photosynthesis. The green stuff in leaves is chlorophyll, which is a form of protein. The chlorophyll molecule receives energy from the sunís rays. This energy triggers a chemical and electro magnetic reaction within the molecule. The nucleus of the molecule is a magnesium particle, thus the reason for broadcasting dolomitic lime, which has 12% magnesium. Surrounding that nucleus are nitrogen particles, thus the reason for applying nitrogen. Surrounding the nitrogen particles is carbon dioxide, water, oxygen and hydrogen. The chemical and electro magnetic action creates carbohydrates, known by us as sugar. The more nitrogen and magnesium fed to the plant the more chlorophyll molecules created thus a factory now exists producing sugar big time. I hear that deer have a sweet tooth.
Firearm site in mid July 2008
Consists of pit blind, three- acre cornfield, and one acre of RR sugar beets surrounding the cornfield on the left and the backside and one acre of a forage rape blend surrounding the sugar beets. On the left is an 18- year old six acre red pine planting and in the background and to the right of the corn field is a one acre pond and a 20 acre CRP field consisting of autumn olive clumps and one and two year old plantings of a ĎWildlife Forage and Bedding Blendí. This wildlife forage and bedding blend consists of a base of five clovers, (one clover called Kura originates from Russia that can live over one hundred years and compete with grass) two alfalfas and chicory along with warm season grasses of eight feet tall, Cave in Rock switch grass and a cool season grass of Timothy. This blend is designed as a long living snack bar and cover for much of wildlife and year round deer bedding area.
Firearm site on January 9, 2009
Note the shooting lanes in the three-acre corn- field. These were created by lowering the bucket of a tractor within a foot of the ground to push over the corn on about a 45 degree angle, yet not strip the cob from the stalk or shell the kernels of corn from the cob. Deer prefer the lanes over the standing corn. The corn is now flat due to the deer and two heavy snowfalls. The lanes work best if around 10-15 feet wide. These were that at first but deer striped the corn during the firearm season and it was widened for the muzzle season.
Deer moving in.
Yearling buck with front feet in a hole.
Picture taken following day of hole made by yearling buck.
This shows what that buck ate and didnít eat. There are three sugar beet roots left and plenty of sugar beet leaves. Normally deer will eat the leaves first then the root and go as deep as they can dig into the dirt until the root diameter gets too small to bother with. This guy obviously prefers the sugar beet root and I clocked him for over a half hour in this one location. Sugar beet leaves normally start to turn brown in late October. The root gets sweetest near mid November. Once those leaves turn brown they stop making sugar. These leaves are not only green two months past the normal date, they are dark green and making sugar in mid winter. Yes, that sugar beet is alive and well in January. When sweetening forage and thatís all forage, the plant and itís leaves will live and stay green longer, resist freezing and be more palatable for an extended period of time, while natural forage and unsweetened food plots lose its attractiveness. Sugar beets especially, maintain itís sweetness and attractiveness late into the season and I believe become number one by December.
Middle aged 10 point buck leaving sugar beet plot for a bite of corn
How old do you think he is? Note, the condition of him and his female friends in early January of a tough winter in mid Michigan. Even in mid March when all corn, sugar beets and other planted forage was history; we could not detect any sign of physical stress on a single deer. Food plots serve more than being an attractant.
Deer gathering for an evenings feast
Note the location of deer. There are no deer within the standing corn; there are no deer within the outer rim of planted forage rape surrounding the sugar beets, even though these deer preferred that rape to sugar beets in September and early October. This picture is not odd, as the seasonís progress into December, sugar beets, which hold its sweetness throughout the winter, can outdraw corn and thatís saying something. Yet, even for sugar beets, there wouldnít be the above picture if it werenít for the sweetening thing. I observed 52 deer that evening, with six being bucks, two of which were ten pointers, which bodes well for the future. Within two years the wildlife forage and bedding blend will add and complete the picture.
Keep the fun in hunting!
Ed Spinazzola, Board of Directors Mid Michigan Branch QDMA and national QDMA
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