On a cool, clear spring morning last week, I seeded one of several wildlife food plots I set up on 70 acres I own near Brainerd.
What? Isn't it way too early to plant anything?
No. I practiced a technique called frost-seeding.
Beneath a cobalt sky, I loaded a hand-cranked seed spreader with clover seed and began crisscrossing a food plot, spreading the tiny clover seed as evenly as possible.
I initially planted the food plot two years ago. Since that time the clover thinned and needed a jump start headed into this year's growing season.
Frost-seeding is not a new practice. Farmers have been using it for years. But, among those who manage their acreage for wildlife, frost-seeding is a relatively little-known undertaking.
Here is how it works: Frost-seeding involves spreading seeds (best to use clover or alfalfa) over ground that freezes at night and thaws during the day. This sequence causes the surface of the soil to heave and collapse, thus creating cracks and crevices in the soil. Seeds, like the ones I spread, are drawn into the soil. After the soil warms, the seeds will germinate.
Because of the lack of insulating snow cover this winter, there is likely more winter kill in food plots — and more need for a procedure like frost-seeding to help restore a plot.
"Frost-seeding with a product like our Clover Plus allows a land manager to get a jump-start on the planting season," said Todd Amenrud, director of public relations for BioLogic. "Frost-seeding is a great way to enhance a food plot that has thinned out due to weeds, drought or other reasons."
Like farmers, land managers who plant plots for wildlife are at the mercy of the weather. A heavy spring rainfall can wash away the seed on a frost-seeded food plot. Plus, many seeds land on existing dead vegetation and won't germinate. Seed to soil contact is crucial. I usually double the amount of recommended seed.
In Minnesota, this time of year is in the window for frost-seeding. Because the state is oriented north to south, some southern locations may not experience a freeze at night and thawing during the day.
If those conditions exist, lightly raking the plot after seeding will help ensure seed to soil contact.
Bill Marchel, an outdoors writer and photographer, lives near Brainerd.