How to Create a No-Till Food Plot
You can create your very own secluded, backwoods, no-till deer magnet, even if you don’t have a tractor or heavy equipment. Planting a food plot that will attract deer is within your reach with the right seed mix, a little help from Mother Nature, some standard garden tools, and a little ambition.
There are a few important steps you’ll need to follow and then it’s time to get to work. A warning though: no-till food plots are not easy. Getting one in may lead to blistered hands, soiled shirts, and a few cold beers!
The first step to No-Till Food Plotting Triumph is picking the perfect location.
CHOOSING A LOCATION
Look for an area that is well-drained where sunlight hits the forest floor for at least half the day.
If your no-till food plot location is backwoods and tiny with minimal sunlight, that’s ok—you’ll just want a mix that can thrive in those conditions.
If you’re creating the opening or are clearing your own no-till food plot, select an area that you can easily access without bumping deer from their bedding.
Focus on access routes that are between key bedding areas and destination food sources.
Pick a location that offers you optimal hunting opportunities with your prevailing wind direction.
If your plot is too shaded, consider creating more sunlight with a little lumberjacking :)
Once you’ve selected a location, take the most important step:
TESTING THE PH LEVEL
Testing your plot’s pH level is quite possibly the most important step in ensuring your success, and luckily, you have a couple options for this.
The easiest way is to use a kit such as Domain’s DIY Instant pH Soil Test Kit. These kinds of tests will give you accurate results in less than 20 minutes plus insight into the amount of lime to apply, based on those results (remember a pH of 7.0 is your goal). Another option is to take a soil sample to your local co-op and get a comprehensive test done. These can take weeks or months, but they provide a complete analysis of the nutrients, organic matter, and pH level of the soil.
Once you have an accurate reading, apply lime as needed to increase your plot’s pH level. For best results, I recommend pelleted lime, which you can typically buy in 40 lb bags at your local hardware store, co-op, or chain store. Pelleted lime is easiest to use when you don’t have access to heavy equipment.
Now that you have a location selected and you’ve tested your plot’s pH, the work (fun) begins!
PREPPING THE SOIL
Removing debris is a critical step to ensure good seed-to-soil contact when planting, so take extra effort to ensure as much debris is cleared as possible. When prepping all of the no-till food plots I’ve planted (and I’ve planted a lot), I typically use a wide leaf rake and a steel garden rake to create a good soil environment.
First, I take the wide rake and rake away all leaves, sticks and debris. And I mean ALL. This should leave dirt showing over the entire food plot. Then you have two options:
Leave the plot alone for a couple of weeks to allow weeds to germinate. After that, you can spray weed-killer to eliminate them before planting, or;
Move directly to planting. If your pH is good, your no-till food plot mix will grow quickly and out-compete any weeds.
Once debris is removed, apply lime as needed and fertilizer (recommended) to the area. Then take the steel garden rake and rough up the soil as best you can. Try to disturb the top 3 to 4” of soil. This creates the perfect seed bed and works in the lime and fertilizer, so plants can more easily establish their root system. Once that’s done, use your wide leaf rake again to even out and level the plot before seeding.
One final step before seeding your plot it to take a quick “hydration break”. Crack a cold one of your choosing, because food plotting should be fun, right!?
SEEDING YOUR PLOT
For true no-till food plots, where you have only hand tools, and the plot is semi-shaded, Domain Outdoor’s No BS Food Plot Mix and Hot Chic Food Plot Mix are staff favorites. Both of these include annuals and perennials, will establish quickly, are shade tolerant, drought tolerant, and can handle diverse growing conditions. In other words, they are PERFECT no-till food plot candidates!
While I’ve seen people simply throw the seed throughout their plot and have success, I prefer to use a hand seeder to evenly spread the seed. You should be able to see both mixes over the soil if you have proper coverage across your plot.
Once you’ve evenly spread the seed, take your wide leaf rake and lightly rake over the seeds, this will help them from washing out with the first heavy rain and helps pack the soil (since you don’t have equipment to roll or cultipack).
Next, just let Mother Nature do her thing.
With appropriate sunshine and rain, your food plot should begin to germinate within a week or two and start to grow the forages that your deer will seek out in the Summer, Fall, and Winter.
Once your plot begins to mature, there are a few things you should do to keep it healthy.
After a haircut like this, deer will get more attracted to your plot, as fresh growth provides them with the highest level of protein. Before an anticipated rainfall, you can also add additional fertilizer to maximize forage production.
Now that you’ve dedicated the time and effort to planting your backwoods no-till food plot, it’s time to sit back, have another cold beer, celebrate your accomplishment, hang a trail cam or two, and wait for the season to start. Micro plots like these can provide fantastic opportunities to catch deer feeding as they head to or from bedding or a major food source, and they are great spots to sit during the rut.
Whatever the case, we look forward to seeing your no-till food plots this season and remember: just because you don’t have equipment, doesn’t mean you can’t plant a food plot. A little sweat equity can go a long ways!