Ground Rules for Laying out Wildlife Feed Plots and Wildflower Meadows
Cultivate all mixes with the same care as you would use for a main agricultural crop. As a rule, our wildlife feed plot mixes will even survive mowing, although for the purposes of wildlife you would not do this. Where field weeds occur in tufts (e.g. last year's corn thistles sprouting from the root), only the associated tufts should be mowed.
A lack of the main nutrients, lime, phosphorus, potassium and magnesium, ranks in first place as the most common cultivation mistake. In second place, although at a distance, comes the still widely-held mistaken belief that wildlife feed plot seeds do not need to be properly worked into a seed-bed. The first requirement for healthy plant growth, for growth providing grazing and coverage and for an intact environment is, above all, a harmonious nutrient supply in the soil. Soil testing of all agriculturally “unfamiliar” stretches of land, also including areas disused for some time in the past, or for initial planting, by the Agricultural Analysis and Research Institute (LUFA) is an absolute must. Many wildlife feed plot areas show a significant deficiency or occasionally a distinct oversupply of individual nutrients.
1. Site requirements
1.1 Our mixes can be cultivated from the lowlands right up to moderate altitudes in hilly areas. As a rule, the particular combination of plants will survive frosts of as low as -15° C during the winter months. Freezing some components (such as white mustard, fodder radish, phacelia and buckwheat) is necessary and desirable. Sites with a severely reduced exposure to light, for example, narrow forest aisles with more than 40% shade, are unsuitable for cultivation.
1.2 Legumes may fail in virgin soil (initial planting) due to the lack of bacteria in the nodules. Only repeated cultivation, together with adequate provision of nutrients (see Point 2.3 and 2.5), will bring about an improvement in the cultivated area. Despite the potential failure of these components, the Trailblazer Mix also provides for an increase in the humus content in poor sites, a good soil crumb structure and deep root penetration into the soil.
1.3 All plants require a minimum quantity of the basic nutrients, lime, phosphorus, potassium and magnesium. Non-leguminous plants depend on additional nitrogen (N). Particularly new areas are frequently undersupplied with nutrients. Tables 1 and 2 show an overview of the required amount of nutrient for cultivating our mixtures. It is absolutely necessary to have a soil analysis carried out in order to monitor the content level before each new cultivation. Only in this way can the success of the system be guaranteed and the fertiliser expenditure be kept down. “Proper fertilising provides plants with the necessary nutrients – over-fertilising damages our environment.”
2. Cultivation Techniques
Careful preparation of the soil and the seedbed are a prerequisite for the success of the mixes. Fertilising or treatment mistakes, even on fallow land, can barely be corrected later on. In the worst case, poorly farmed stretches of land must be flailed early or ploughed up. Wildlife feed plot mixes do not inhibit the growth of undesirable field weeds. Used in accordance with the recommendations for cultivation, however, they effectively suppress the most common and by no means unusual field weeds, by controlled shading. Nightshade, camomile, chickweed, knotweed, plants and germinating thistles and white goose foot (salt bush), for example, are very well suppressed by the WSM mixes. Results with those plants sprouting runners, such as nettle, dock and couch, on the other hand, are not so good to poor and are determined by how weedy an area of land is at the time of cultivating.
Even those inexperienced in agriculture will obtain a good wildlife field plot with just a few steps:
2.1 Take a soil sample in good time before cultivation. Samplers and the supporting documents are available from your agricultural supplier. The sample is sent to an agricultural research centre (LUFA), where, for a small fee, it is tested for soil type, pH and phosphorus, potassium and magnesium content.
2.2 Flail any high, old growth before cultivation, so that the remains of the plants can be worked well into the soil.
2.3 Rectify a lack of lime before ploughing. Carbolic lime is spread on sandy soils and granular anhydrous lime is spread on loamy or clay soils. Under these circumstances, an improvement in particularly acidic soils will only be evident in between one and three years. Demanding plants, such as some species of rape seed and cabbage, do not thrive in acidic soils. A pH of less than 5.3 is unsuitable for the mixes, with the exception of Trailblazer Mix. Aim for a pH, depending on the soil, of between 5.3 and 7.0. The information in Table 1 should be adhered to.
2.4 Only plough the surface immediately before sowing. The shorter the period between ploughing and sowing, the more effective will be the suppression of the field weeds by the mixes. As a rule, the surface of the soil being broken up by frost has a positive effect only in heavily loamy or clay soils.
Ideally, the plough is only employed because it buries field weeds effectively. A rotary cultivator should only be employed where the humus layer is thin (spade sample). Areas which have been tilled are always more densely overgrown than those which have been ploughed.
2.5 Most mixes require at least B content levels, or better, C, of phosphorus, potassium and magnesium for optimum results. Areas of soil lacking these basic nutrients should be fertilised after ploughing. Please follow the fertilising recommendations in table 2 and not those of the LUFA for crops. Fallow land should not be fertilised or sprayed with lime during the fallow period. As a rule, however, these areas used for agriculture have had a good level of provision to date and do not need to be fertilised. In order to be absolutely sure, even for areas that have lain fallow for a longer period, soil samples can be taken prior to the fallow period. For that reason it is possible, where necessary, to carry out tolerable fertilising or to forego cultivation.
2.6 Allow the soil to dry after ploughing (it should no longer smear), in order to prevent additional soil compression. Depending on the weather conditions and the soil type, you may be able to continue working after a couple of hours or only after a couple of days. Please note the information in point 2.4.
2.7 The seedbed is prepared and, if required, the base fertiliser is lightly worked in. Ideally, work is continued using a drill combination consisting of a circular harrow, a roller and a sowing machine with a finger weeder. This will save two to three passes and additional soil compression. Otherwise, the harrow or the cultivator is employed to work the fertiliser in.
2.8 Please refer to the possible sowing time for the respective mixes in the analytical tables in the catalogue. Sowing with the seed drill or the drill combination yields the best results. The advantages of machine sowing are in the consistent quantity of seed and the sowing depth, as well as in potential saving of further passes by the finger weeder and the roller.
The sowing wheels and the valve-openings correspond with the respective manufacturer’s recommendations for the largest seed type found in the particular mix. Please check as necessary the broad beans, sunflower seeds, lupins, etc. contained in the respective mixes, after switching off. Should these be crushed by the machine, raise the valve by at least one setting. The ideal row spacing is approximately 12.5 centimetres. “This row spacing is optimal for game and for suppressing field weeds; later on, the mixes thin out themselves.”
The seed quantity per hectare should always be determined by turning off the machine. Variances of about 10% per hectare, due to inaccuracies in the seed drill, do not have a negative effect on the outcome. You do not need to worry about the seeds separating in the machine. Please place more seed than you need into the hopper, in order for the machine to work properly until completion. The remaining seed can be used without any problems after one year if it has been stored in a dark, cool and dry place.
Wildlife feed plots are frequently sown by hand, although this, too, is outweighed by the advantages of machine sowing. For hand-sowing, the quantity of seed corresponding to the size of the area should be should be obtained, measured out and distributed evenly. The seed must then be worked in to a depth of 2 cm with the plough. On light soils, the seedbed should also be tamped down using a roller, in order better to seal the soil. Since, based on experience, the rates of seed failure are higher using this sowing method than for machine sowing, please add 15 - 20% per ha (e.g. 40 kg per ha instead of 35 kg per ha).
2.9 Top dressing wildlife feed plots and new areas. Experience shows that these areas are frequently undersupplied with nutrients. Very often, PK base fertilising and an application of lime are required after a soil analysis. At the same time, these relatively small areas are subject to an increased grazing pressure. Therefore, for the plants' better competitive ability, fertilising with single-nutrient nitrogen (N) fertiliser is recommended in the year of cultivation. For example, 200 kg of calcium ammonium nitrate with 27% N per ha has proven successful. This is equivalent to approximately 54 kg per ha total nitrogen. The right time for top dressing is after approximately 14 - 21 days, if the plants sown have reached a height of 10 - 15 cm.
2.10 Sensible management of wildlife feed plots. Re-cultivate half of the field area every year in rotation; this involves half the working time and costs. Consequently, half of the area remains available to the game. Our mixes have been proven over many years to be self-compatible
The LUFA Tip for Soil Sampling
Analytical values are only meaningful if the sample has been taken correctly. Please note the following:
Autumn to spring or after the harvest, not, however, immediately after fertilising. Repeat every two to three years. Equipment for taking samples: spade, shovel or soil sampler (these can be hired from your agricultural supplier), buckets, clean plastic bags or LUFA containers and bags, waterproof pencil for labelling the sample containers.
Taking the Sample
Take around 12 individual samples per plot (criss-cross; from one corner to the other); dig into the soil to the desired depth using the spade and scoop out a sod (wildlife feed plots 12” (30 cm); wildflower meadows 4-6” (10-15 cm)); using the shovel, scrape off an even amount of soil from the flat cut surface of the hole, from the bottom up or remove the soil evenly from the spoil from the bottom up. Removing the soil is even easier using the sampler (DIY enthusiasts can easily make one themselves out of water pipes). Collect the individual samples in a bucket and mix these together. Approximately 500 grammes of this soil mixture is then packed up and labelled (name and case description).
Submit the samples and the supporting documents either to your agricultural supplier or send these directly to a LUFA in your area.
The cost of a standard survey with soil type is between 10 and 15 euros.
Information about your nearest Agricultural Institute Centre (LUFA) can be obtained from:
Verband Deutscher Landwirtschaftlicher Untersuchungs- und Forschungsanstalten (VDLUFA)
c/o LWK Rheinland