Gerald Almy: Prime time for Brassicas

Gerald Almy

Every type of plant used for food plots has an optimum season for growing. In the case of brassicas, that season is now. From July through September is the time to get these plants in the ground. Brassicas include plants such as kale, turnips, rape, radishes and others. They have become extremely popular among food plot managers because they are easy to grow, provide tremendous amounts of protein and are fed on well by deer. Protein levels can exceed 30 percent in many cases.

In some areas it takes a season or two before deer become interested in eating brassicas. But once they do, chances are good they’ll hit them hard. They seem to particularly favor these plants once there has been a frost or two. That increases the sugar content of the plants and makes them especially palatable.
Once the leaves have been eaten down, many of these plants such as turnips still have a root or bulb left in the ground. Deer often dig those up with their hooves and dine on them during winter when other foods are scarce.

I’ve tried many brassica mixtures from different wildlife seed companies, but my favorite is Winter Greens, a selection offered by the Whitetail Institute of North America (whitetailinstitute.com). It contains tender “lettuce type” greens that the company’s tests have shown to be four times more attractive than other brassicas tested. It also contains their proprietary Tall Tine turnips, which were developed specifically for the tastes and nutritional needs of whitetails. In fact, the Tall Tine Tubers are also sold by themselves and make a great single-species planting as well.

I asked Steve Scott, vice-president of the company, how much forage a Winter Greens plot can produce. His answer: up to six or more tons per acre, when everything is done right.

To do things right, you need to properly prepare the seedbed. That’s why it’s important to get started now. First kill the present vegetation with Roundup or generic glyphosate, then till the soil repeatedly. Add lime and fertilizer if you haven’t already, according to soil test recommendations. If you neglected to do a soil test, add 19-19-19 or similar fertilizer.

Now it’s time to broadcast the seeds. Barely cover them with 1/8 to ¼ inch of soil, or simply spread them on top before a rain. They’ll sprout up within days. Deer may not eat them heavily at first, but soon will as cold weather sets in and converts the starches in the plants into sugars.

Another plus of certain brassicas is that they can improve your soil. Several varieties, including turnips and especially radishes, can actually make the ground better for future plantings.

Many plots suffer from compacted soil. Plant roots can’t penetrate deeply enough to obtain sufficient moisture and nutrients to thrive. They are basically living off the first few inches of ground and struggling to spread their roots through that extremely hard dirt. The usual cause is too many years of shallow tilling or disking with ATVs or small tractors and no deep plowing with a big tractor to aerate and loosen the soil below the top 4-6 inches.

Planting brassicas can help improve this situation. Several of these grow an extremely deep taproot and break up and aerate the soil when the root decays.

If these weren’t enough reasons to plant brassicas in the next few weeks, here’s another one. They grow thick leaf cover, choking out any problem weeds in the plot site. If you’ve ever done much work with food plots, you know that weed-encroachment is one of the most common problems encountered. Brassicas will help with that ongoing battle.

If you want to experiment with other plantings for fall, you may also want to check out the Whitetail Institute’s new offering called “Ambush.” I’m always excited when this company comes out with a new seed-blend, because I know years of research went into picking the ingredients and testing them to find the most nutritious and palatable plants available.

This seed mixture contains several proven deer food plot ingredients such as winter peas and Imperial Whitetail Oats. Deer relish both of these plants as fall approaches. A special clover is also included, as well as sugar beets. This last food becomes especially attractive to deer after the first frost with its high carbohydrate and sugar content.

Ambush also contains a seed new for most food plotters–lupine. This plant has been used for forage in agriculture, but I have never seen a wildlife seed mixture that included it. Lupines are highly palatable to deer and offer high energy value for whitetails during the challenging period from fall through early spring. I’ll be planting some Ambush this fall and will let you know the results in future columns.

For more information on food plots and helpful articles on planting Winter Greens, Tall Tine Tubers, or Ambush, check out the company’s website at whitetailinstitute.com.

Award-winning outdoors writer Gerald Almy is a Maurertown resident.