Monthly Archives: April 2011

The “Dirt” on Soil: Part 1

There is a lot of hype about seed in the hunting world today. Attached to this hype are a lot of hunting celebrities claiming to use the “best” or “most potent” seed available. Unfortunately, they seem to change their sponsors and types of seed more than most folks change their underwear.

Recent studies have shown that deer prefer to eat crops from fields that are well taken care of. This includes proper amending of soil and weed control. No matter what seed you’ve decided to use, how much money you’ve spent on seed, or who’s telling you they have a superior product, your efforts will always fall short of their potential unless you have a strong foundation. I believe if we have a greater understanding of the soil we place our seed into, the deficiencies in the soil, and how to amend the soil properly, we will begin to meet and even surpass the goals we set as food-plotters, along with cutting overall costs. We will begin to see an increase in crop yield, have better tasting crops with more natural sugars and proteins, see more water and nutrient retention in the soil, as well as regulating the soil PH. This will lead to better transferring of vitamins, minerals, and other needed nutrition to the animals eating our food plots.

Two of the main ingredients that make up our soil are weathered rock and decaying organisms; both play a huge part in its composition and function. Rocks are weathered both physically and chemically. Blowing sand, water, temperature, and pressure are all a part of the physical weathering process, where the rocks are broken down with no molecular change in the minerals. Chemical weathering however, does change the molecular composition of the minerals. The number one enemy to minerals in soil is a process known as hydrolysis, which is a chemical reaction in which a compound reacts with water to produce other compounds. Rain absorbs the carbon dioxide in the air as it falls, resulting in the production of a weak carbonic acid that is then transferred from the rain to the mineral filled soil. In the past, acids only came in contact with soil from the respiration of CO2 from living organisms. Perhaps ancient statues provide a clearer understanding of the effects of hydrolysis. These statues did not show very much degradation until modern industries began producing large amounts of smoke, resulting in sulfuric and nitric acid in precipitation. Hydrolysis is the reason minerals are so depleted from the soil in many parts of the United States.

For this reason I am a strong proponent of mineral sites and using products that help correct the effects of things like hydrolysis. No matter what crops you plant, they are only transfer agents. If the soil does not contain the proper minerals and the ability to create proteins, the animals will never see the full results of your planting. It trophy whitetail growth is what you’re after and you don’t plan on using available products to offer minerals to animals and repair depleted soils, the process will be much longer. If the proper components are not available in the soil, the animal will not get them through the crops it is eating, resulting in things like antler restrictions, and age structure being closer to the top of your management plan. That is, if they aren’t already up there.

There are five factors in soil formation that are very important in making quality food plot decisions.
The first of these factors is parent materials. What major rock (limestone, sand, granite, etc…) eroded to form your soils? This is key information in finding out what your soils already contain and what they lack. Take sand for instance. The soils on our farm are made mostly of sand, which means we will experience more leeching than others. Because of this, we have to try and stay away from plots on grades that will increase leeching. We must also work on restoring the organic materials in the soil profile; this will be a tremendous help in water and nutrient retention.

The second factor is climate. Rainfall and temperature are factors that not only help in soil development, but can also either aid you in your planting, or fight against your efforts. For example, Excessive amounts of rainfall on a farm with sandy soil equals more fertilizer needed later in the year. Also, choosing plants with deep taproots like alfalfa or chicory would be a must.
The third factor is the living organisms in and around the soil. All organisms, plants and animals, large and small are a huge part in soil formation and conservation. They impact soil fertility and both water and nutrient retention, as well as regulation the soils PH. This is often a highly overlooked subject in food plot programs.

Topography is the fourth factor in soil formation. Soil is a natural feature of your landscape. Your landscape dictates how quickly your soils were formed, as well as what materials are in them. Knowing this will help you choose a great food plot location. Take the ever famous creek bottom for instance. Sediment carried from water, as well as more plant life decaying in the soil leads to nutrients. The creek bottom is at the receiving end of sandy soil and hillside run offs, creating a place with more abundant and succulent plant growth.

The fifth and final factor in soil formation is time. How old is your dirt? Over here in the north east, we have some of the oldest mountain ranges and soils in the United States. The longer the soil has been around, the longer the other factors have been influencing soil formation. Younger geological areas have the most abundant, weather able materials that hold and slowly release nutrients to plant life; older areas will be much more depleted and must be amended.

It is important for us to take a closer look at our soil horizon (soil layers) and see what we are dealing with, and along with our soil tests, use this knowledge to manipulate dirt to produce better and longer. My hopes are to help us to understand that our foundation is not the seed or the make of our tractor, but the very dirt we stand and work on. As we gain this knowledge and put it into practice we will see quality results from our food plots that we would not have seen otherwise. This in turn, shows up in body weight, antler growth, and overall health of deer. Think of it as putting your food plots on a well-designed health program.