Legumes are more than just some of the tastiest forages available to deer and other wildlife. They also contain high levels of protein—especially when compared to other grasses.
Common legumes used in deer plots are:
Some of these crops (alfalfa, trefoil, vetch, and clovers) are grown for their forage. Others, like peas and soybeans, contain protein-rich grain. All these groups will be recognized by the deer food plot manager as being part of successful deer food plots in different regions.
Legumes are unique plants because they have the ability to form a symbiotic relationship with a kind of soil bacteria contained in the genus Rhizobia. Rhizobia bacteria can take, or “fix” nitrogen out of the air contained in the soil and make it available to the plant growing in the soil.
Rhizobia bacteria occur naturally in fields where legumes have grown. In places where legumes haven’t been grown (your deer food plot site, perhaps?), rhizobia need to be added to the soil. This is done by a process called “inoculating.” Inoculating ensures that rhizobia bacteria are present, providing more available nitrogen for the legumes and the other plants in your plot.
Tips for Using Legume Inoculants
Inoculating legume seed is very simple. It involves coating the seeds with a rhizobium inoculant, a usually a powder or dust containing the essential bacteria. This inoculant should be available at a minimal cost from wherever you purchase your legume seeds.
Be sure that you’re using an inoculant containing the proper strain of bacteria for your crop. For example, alfalfa and sweet clovers prefer a different strain of Rhizobia than soybeans. This should be provided in the inoculant labeling information.
If you purchase the inoculant before you intend to use it, be sure to store it at the recommended temperatures. The Rhizobia prefer certain temperature ranges to flourish.
Inoculant can come in powder or dust or liquids. For some legumes, “pre-inoculated” seed is even available. Simply be sure to follow the instructions for using the inoculant suited to your crop.
Inoculating legumes is a proven, crucial practice to improving legume yields and providing nitrogen to crops grown in that space for years to come. Don’t skip this essential step when establishing your deer food plots.