So you need something that produces a lot of protein and takes up key minerals from the soil very efficiently. When you lime and fertilize your plot, you want calcium, phosphorus and protein to get into the deer as efficiently as possible. It is hard to beat clover and alfalfa in your food plots for spring, summer and (by default) fall!
The best clovers are those that will grow where you hunt. Assuming all varieties will grow well; those with the highest crude protein levels are the best. Typically, this means white clover, which has protein levels that approach that of alfalfa but is a lot easier to establish and maintain than alfalfa. We would suggest giving our friends and industry leaders at Whitetail Institute a try. To this day they offer the only clover varieties ever developed specifically for whitetail deer.
Chicory comes in a close second to clover as a user-friendly, easy to maintain high protein, high mineral food source. Again, it is important to have plantings that extract minerals from the soil efficiently. That is one of the strengths of chicory. A mix of both clover and chicory is a great choice for most spring and summer food plots.
If you are in a setting where you actually harvest crops from your hunting area, alfalfa is a great choice for some of these larger fields. It provides maximum spring and summer nutrition and deer will still utilize it well in the fall. Though it takes more maintenance to grow and harvest correctly, alfalfa is a super summer food source for deer and will also benefit your wallet.
You may be surprised but even in the Midwest, where everyone thinks the deer eat only corn and soybeans; they are still hammering clover and alfalfa fields with gusto well into December. These spring and summer foods can supplement more common grain-type fall food plots, as well, reducing the need for large amounts of these expensive plantings.
If you think your hunting property supports roughly 70 deer you need at least 12 acres of summer food plots (1 ac of clover per 6 deer). If you are the only one in the neighborhood providing lush summer food, don't be surprised if you attract a number of your neighbor’s deer!
Keep them small and spread them around, if you decide you need to plant a total of six acres, it is far better to plant six good one-acre plots than three good two-acre plots. By spreading out the summer food you make it more accessible as spread helping with your hunting pressure when you hunt over these plots come fall.
It is far better to plant the minimum number of well-fertilized, properly limed clover plots than to plant twice as much without the same care. It is also important to mow your clover plots at least once per summer, twice is better because the deer will get the benefit from the tender, more palatable new growth.
Having great summer food sources will do more than help you produce high quality deer, it will also provide you with a fun place to spend evenings during the summer watching the bucks grow antlers and watching the does as they refuel to feed their fast-growing fawns.
Nothing will improve your chances to reap what you sow of doing both more than providing a sufficient amount of high quality summer food.