Food Plot Species Profile: Austrian Winter Peas

qdma_pea_2__largeAustrian winter peas are a cool-season annual legume that can produce a great food plot on their own or as an addition to a seed mixture planted in the fall to attract deer. Easy to grow and quick to germinate, winter peas are closely related to garden peas and have the same nitrogen-fixing abilities than can help you save money on your fertilizer bill.

Austrian winter peas form vine-like growth that can reach lengths of 3 to 5 feet when planted in fertile soil. This cool-season annual is highly attractive to white-tailed deer, as well as other wildlife, so it can sometimes be quickly mowed down if planted alone in small plots. Winter peas are highly nutritious and extremely digestible to deer. They carry a protein level between 20 and 30 percent. Both the seed, stem and leaves are browsed by deer. Foliage color is a pale green, and the plant produces pink blooms. Austrian winter peas have moderate drought tolerance but have good winter hardiness.

To establish a solid food plot of Austrian winter peas, broadcast at a rate of 50 to 75 lbs./acre in September through October.  Seeds can also be drilled at a rate of 30 to 50 lbs./acre. In northern climates, plant as early as late August or you can also plant in spring to grow winter peas as a summer annual.

After planting, seeds should be dragged in, lightly disked or preferably cultipacked to a depth of no more than 1 inch. If the seed you acquire is not pre-inoculated, be sure to inoculate the seed with the proper strain of rhizobium bacteria to aid in nitrogen fixation.

Austrian winter peas do best on loam or clay loam soils that are well-drained. Soil should also be tested and the pH adjusted to a range of 6.0 to 7.0. When planted as a stand-alone crop, winter peas do not require much nitrogen because, as legumes, they are able to fix their own nitrogen from the soil. For this reason, your soil test recommendations will likely call for less nitrogen than you expected, which means a lower fertilizer bill!

While Austrian winter peas can be planted in a pure stand for a quick and attractive bowhunting food plot, unless the area planted is quite large the crop might not survive heavy grazing and be productive later in fall. They are better able to withstand overbrowsing when planted in a blend with other annuals like cereal grains.

I will go into detail on potential blends and other information about Austrian winter peas in the full profile in QDMA’s Quality Whitetails magazine. Join QDMA to receive the magazine and read my Food Plot Species Profiles that are included in every issue.

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About Bob Westerfield

Bob Westerfield is a faculty member in the Horticulture department for the University of Georgia. He serves as the department Extension coordinator as well as a state vegetable and fruit specialist. Bob lives on a small farm in Pike County, Georgia, where he raises livestock and manages his land for whitetails and wild turkeys. Bob is an avid bowhunter, preferring to use traditional equipment in the form of a longbow and primitive black powder rifle. He is now contributing the "Food Plot Species Profile" series in every issue of QDMA's Quality Whitetails magazine.