By Joe Mosby
SUMMER is just starting, officially, and there is time to make some plantings to attract and benefit wildlife.
You may have land of your own, you may rent or lease hunting rights somewhere or you may be friendly with a farmer or other landowner. Consider planting some sunflowers and some cowpeas.
The category cowpeas covers many varieties, some of which we better know as black-eyed peas. Sunflowers come in many varieties also, and the black oil type that bird feeding enthusiasts buy is a favorite. Striped sunflowers are popular too, and these produce larger seed than the black oil type.
Sunflowers and cowpeas are useful to all sorts of critters–birds of many varieties, deer, turkey and other animals. Doves go for sunflower seed much more than they do for cowpeas. Quail eat both but may prefer cowpeas. A benefit is that they both are easy to grow and can tolerate harsh summers and drought.
Sunflowers and cowpeas can even be grown together, mixed and planted along the edges of crop fields and in wildlife openings, also called food plots. Sunflowers grow tall, and cowpeas can take shady conditions, so they can do all right underneath the sunflowers.
For small plantings, tilling the ground is followed by broadcast planting ? scattering the seed by hand. Then the seed is raked into the loose soil. Rain is needed to bring the plants up, and if you can reach the site with a hose, that helps.
Larger plantings, like around the edges of crop fields, can be done with tractors, planters and harrows. Disk the ground, put the seed in with the planter then cover it with a pass of a harrow.
When the sunflowers and the cowpeas sprout, they need little attention. Competition from grass and weeds is always a possibility. You may consider using row planting instead of broadcasting so a tiller or cultivator can work between the rows to knock back weeds.
Once the sunflowers and cowpeas are well-established, weeds aren’t so much of a problem. If there is occasional, even spotty rain later in the summer, the plantings should do well by fall. Sunflowers, however, may not have time to produce seed by early September. The seeds will be available for doves a little later in the fall.
If you have crops or if you are working with a farmer, planting sunflowers and cowpeas around the edges of soybean, corn or other fields may be a help in keeping deer and other wildlife from hitting the crops so hard.
Seeds for planting are available at farm and agricultural supply outlets. You may consider more than one variety of both sunflowers and cowpeas. The latter are found in purple hull, crowder, red ripper and other varieties–all useful to wildlife.
The black oil sunflower seeds aren’t useful for snacking by humans, but the larger striped seeds are. Cowpeas are a different story. If the wildlife doesn’t eat all of them, go out and pick a sack full, shell them and enjoy a tasty supper.–Arkansas News Bureau
EDITOR’S NOTE: Joe Mosby is the retired news editor of the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission and Arkansas’ best known outdoor writer.