If you are thinking it’s too late to plan or plant any new wildlife crops this year, think again. October is the optimum time to put in annual grasses like rye, wheat and oats or ryegrass, especially if you have access to a seed drill. You may already have all of your food plots committed to other crops like clover, sorghum or corn right now, but that doesn’t matter as long as you have strips, edges, roads or other small areas to fill in with small grains. You can even plant these forage crops into November or as late as December.
So all of your food plots are occupied: be creative. Take a drive around your property and scout some potential places to fill in with annual grasses. You may already know some off the top of your head, but they include firebreaks that were put in with disk harrows. If you can fit a small tractor and harrows on the firebreak, or tow a set of mini-disks behind a 4-wheeler, then you can plant firebreaks in grasses and grains.
How about woods roads and other access roads? Do they have wide shoulders that you could plant on? If not, you can always harrow the road itself and plant it. The grasses will come up on the edges of the road and in between the tire ruts.
Power or gas line right-of-ways are excellent, too. Also, what about the border strip between agricultural fields, which are likely to be lying fallow or containing mowed corn remnants right now, and the woods? There is probably room to plant a one-row strip of seed. Is there a stand of pine seedlings on your property? Plant between the rows if the rows are wide enough.
Another approach is identify leftover agriculture crops or food plots that are playing out and overseed the remnants with new forage. For example, if you had a food plot planted in corn or sorghum this summer the crops have probably fulfilled their use already and the dirt could be better used for the fall and winter. Come back in and plant rye in the same field. If you make use of the No-Till Drill Program, you can hire a no-till seed drill operator to drill in the rye without turning under the corn or other crop leftovers (see the phone number listed at the end of the article).
The point is that you will probably find plenty of nooks, corners, strips, edges, old crops and small clearings that you can fill in with rye, wheat, oats or ryegrass. The more you can plant, the better next winter. If you can identify several locations on your property that will do for "fill-in" food plots, don’t plant them all at once. Scatter the plantings between now and the end of December so that throughout the winter and early spring those forage crops will be peaking in usefulness one after another, spreading the benefit over a longer period.
Have you ever planted rye, wheat or oats on your property? Maybe you’ve planted one or two but not all three. I would recommend that unless you have experimented with all of the small grains, start by planting a test crop to find out which grass does best on your land.
Last fall in Wayne County, we planted two food plots in two halves each: rye on one side, oats on the other, to see how oats compared. We have always done well with rye on this particular land, but had never tried oats. The result: the rye was preferred over the oats. Though the plots were well fertilized and limed ahead of time with recommendations based on both crops, the deer stepped over the oats to get to the rye, even as the seasons changed.
Don’t take this as an endorsement of rye over oats: on your land the preference could very well be reversed. Varying soil types, varying habitat offerings, and varying deer preferences mean that this kind of test should be conducted on every piece of land where wildlife are being managed for.
As far as known characteristics that can help you select which grasses to plant, oats will do best if you plant them now, in October. They are not as cold-resistant as the other crops and could suffer if caught at an early stage in an early or strong freeze. Broadcast or drill oats at a rate of 100-120 lbs./acre, or cut this in half if you mix oats with another grain.
Ryegrass, in the Marshall or tetraploid varieties, has the advantage that it is a reseeding annual and will come back in the spring even if you don’t disk it. Plant it at a lighter rate, 20-40 lbs./acre.
Wrens Abruzzi rye and Stacy wheat can be mixed in a 50/50 planting that is recommended by the Department of Natural Resources. If you mix, put in 60 lbs./acre of each grain, or if you plant separately spread or drill each at 100-140 lbs./acre. As with most crops, if you are planting with a seed drill, you can go with the lightest recommended seeding rate due to the efficiency and accurate depth of the drill. These factors also mean that a later planting, like November or December, will be more likely to come off well if planted with a seed drill.
No matter which annual grass you choose as a forage crop, a soil test is a good bet. At least get some lime on the dirt you plan to use to raise the pH into the neighborhood of 6. Lime will increase the production of all of these grasses. If a soil test is not possible, spread on 800 lbs./acre of 10-10-10 and 150 lbs./acre of ammonium nitrate at planting.
Don’t have a seed drill? Don’t forget about the No-Till Drill Program-there is a rig operator near you. Call the Two Rivers RC&D at (706) 885-0101 for more information.