No till, or minimal intrusive drilling has been a recent addition to the world of agriculture. The prevalent wisdom for eons was to plow under the cover crop each year, turning the surface growth into fertilizer in the process and creating a weed free, or at least, weed reduced growing area.
In light of soil erosion as was experienced in the Great Plains during the Dust Bowl years of the 1930s a new, modern process came into being. The “no tillage” or “limited tillage” movement protected the surface of the top soil while drilling in annual crops for harvest later in the season.
That technology has spread to food plots and it can add tremendous variety to your special little section of deer attracting acreage if done correctly.
Can you use a No Till Drill for Food Plots?
The answer is a categorical yes. The use of no till drills protects existing perennials while enhancing the plot with annual crops.
The idea is a simple one, to combine the best of both perennials and annuals into one food plot without destroying the annuals in the process.
If you have established a stand of native, indigenous grass in your food plot, grass that deer graze on naturally and that they prefer to feed on, why destroy and replant it each year just so you can mix in a few oats, barley, corn or wheat? with no tillage drilling, you won’t have to.
Find the appropriate tiller, get a tractor that is powerful enough to pull the tiller through the undisturbed soil without spinning out or leaving track marks because it’s too heavy and you have a winning combination.
What Food Plots Can You Plant With a No Till Drill?
The limitations on which types of food plots you can drill is only your imagination. There are no set standards when it comes to food plots, and each one can represent your own style or simply be the result of careful and innovative design on your part.
A good food plot will have fruit trees, preferably of the type that deer love. Native plums, apples, and in the eastern and southern sections of the country, persimmons are great fruit trees to add along the edges of a plot. Berries are a good choice as well.
Blueberries, boysenberries, and raspberries are the best types to plant since deer enjoy them, and they’re perennials, so once they’re established, they come back on their own with each successive season.
Established mixed-grass is the best place to drill in cereal grains. Oats, barley, wheat, and corn all work well being drilled in behind the blades of a no till drill.
Set the drill to the appropriate height for your area, ensure the natural supply of water via either rain or snow is enough to get the crop going, or have an irrigation plan in place and your annual, cereal grains are ready to grow and entice deer.
Sometimes the best drilled in annual isn’t a cereal grain at all, but instead can be almost any variety of vegetable or flower.
Specific flowers are excellent deer attractants, and vegetables that lend themselves to drilling include cabbage, broccoli, carrots, and turnips. Deer eat cabbage and cabbage-related plants like brussel sprouts like they’re candy.
As any gardener soon learns if there is a substantial population of whitetail or mule deer in the area, they not only eat the carrot and turnip tops as they push out of the ground, but will dig up complete roots.
In the case of turnips, if you protect them from deer with fences as they grow, the deer will eat the turnip right in the ground, nibbling away at the meat of the root while leaving the outer skin in the ground.
Sometimes protected turnips can provide better late season attractants than any other plant. If you live in an area where the frost comes early, and frozen ground arrives in late October or November when deer season is still on, those in the ground turnips are an excellent attractant.
Turnips will work long after the grass, grain, and corn are gone.
How to Use a No Till Drill for Food Plots
No till drills work best in soft ground, but not wet ground. That means late spring before the summer sun creates a hard crust on the soil is the best time to plant.
There are many varieties of no till drills. Some use the broadcast method, just spreading the seed on the surface of the ground. With this style of tillage, you’ll need to drag the area again with a lightweight harrow to set the seeds into the soil a quarter-inch or so. This method works best when applying fertilizer to the plot.
The second style of no till drill uses blades to cut into the earth a couple of inches, with a snake like tube connected to a seed bin that drops the seeds into the slit the blades cut into the ground.
You can set the seed depth, and the amount of seed dropped per inch or foot into the slit with simple adjustments on the back of the drill.
Pulling the drill is another issue. If you’re just broadcasting seed you can pull the tiller with an ATV or UTV, and then pull the drag with the same vehicle.
If your pulling a no till puller with blades and inserting seeds directly into the ground, you’ll need a tractor equipped with a power take off (PTO) The tractor has to be big enough to pull the tiller through the soil without spinning out and ripping up chunks of grass growing on the moist surface of the ground, but not so large that they’ll leave tread marks in the soil and kill the grass that way.
The best tractors for this job are smaller, four-wheel drive utility tractors in the 30 to 45 horse power range. Kubota and New Holland make many models in this size range that do an excellent job, providing a good mix of 4×4 power, with a lightweight tractor that doesn’t leave marks in the soil.
Best No Till Drill for Food Plots
What’s the best? Well that depends on many factors, starting with the soil. If you’re drilling into the rich, dark earth of Iowa and Eastern Nebraska, just about any drill will do the job.
The soil is soft, moist and so laden with nutrients it’s almost edible (no, don’t eat it). If on the other hand, you’re trying to practice no till drilling in the sandy soil indigenous to the Great Plains, you’ll require a heavier drill to break through the overlying crust of vegetation to reach the sandy soil beneath.
In New England, and sections along the Appalachians you’ll encounter rocky soil that can quickly destroy the heaviest, most well constructed drill.
The final determining factor is price. No till drills start at a few thousand dollars and go up exponentially from there. They can be a simple PTO driven six foot wide drill or an industrial agriculture monster that covers 24 feet or more with each pass.
Land Pride, a drill made by Kubota offers a range of no till tillers designed for usage with 35 horse power tractors in their smallest version, but extending to 45, 55, 75 and 100 horsepower versions that cover a lot more ground, drill deep and offer more features. The size you need depends on your plot and what you want to plant.
No till drilling offers a unique method of creating the finest food plot you can build. Drilling annual cereal grains, flowers, vegetables and fruit in an environment of established perennial plants, small berries and fruit trees can create an irresistible mix that deer will come in on throughout the season.
The menu they feed on is up to, but the number of deer, including record size bucks it might produce, is well worth the effort.