Gerald Almy: Plant brassicas now for great fall food plots

Gerald Almy

One of the common misconceptions about food plots is that they should mostly be planted in the fall. The fact is if you want to offer the most nutrition and tonnage of forage for deer and other wildlife, many seeds need to be put in the ground over the next few weeks. One of those, in particular, is the group of plants commonly known as brassicas–members of the mustard family.

From July through August is the best time to put these plants in the ground. Brassicas include cultivars such as kale, turnips, rape, radishes and others. They have become extremely popular among food plot mangers 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.

It may take a while for deer to get used to them, but once they do, they’ll feed heavily on them. They seem to particularly favor these plants once there has been a frost or two. That increases the sugar content 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 some of my favorites come from Biologic and the Whitetail Institute. Maximum and Winter Greens are two especially good offerings from those companies.

To get the best plot of brassicas, 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 the 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.

Brassicas can help improve this situation. Several of these plants such as radishes 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. That’s going to be especially true this summer because of the abundance of rains we’ve had. Brassicas will help with that ongoing battle.

Another offering you might want to plant for fall is the Whitetail Institute’s Ambush.  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.

For more information on food plots and helpful articles on planting check out the websites whitetailinstitute.com and plantbiologic.com.

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