What could I plant to have a good, cheap summer food plot? Is there something nearly maintenance-free that would help with antler growth, as well as nurture the health of our does and fawns? My food plot spot is only about a 1/4 acre.
ANSWER: With food plots, as with anything else, you get what you pay for. No food plot is maintenance-free but there are ways to minimize cost and effort.
It all comes down to soil. Essentially, your food plot will be converting soil nutrients into a form that can be utilized by deer for antler growth and nutrition. How effective your plot is in doing so depends on soil conditions.
The first and most important step will be taking a soil sample and having it analyzed. Then, follow the recommendations for treating the site with minerals and fertilizer. If you don't, you'll simply be wasting money spent on whatever you decide to plant.
Bear in mind that it can take up to three months for the lime to work, so it's helpful if you can lime early - preferably in the fall or spring - before you plant. If can't get a jump, don't worry. Lime and plant anyway. It just may take a bit longer for your plot to become established.
You should also consider competition. Depending on pre-existing conditions, you might need to spray with glyphosate. After a week or two, till up the sod and let it sit for two or three weeks before spraying the new growth again. Wait another week, then fertilize, lightly till and broadcast the seed.
For summer nutrition, your best bet is to plant a high-protein crop. This usually means legumes like alfalfa, clover or soybeans. If you're concerned with cost, you may want to go with a perennial mix. It won't provide as much nutrition as annuals, but it will last for several seasons with minimal additional maintenance.