Gerald Almy

Gerald Almy

Many readers have asked recently for some information on what to plant for fall food plots. So over the next few weeks, we’ll delve into this topic with information on not only what to plant, but also how to plant it to ensure the best crop possible for wildlife. We’ll also delve into some of the benefits food plots have for the soil and the environment.

In the old days, say 30 or 40 years ago, fall food plots to most people meant cereal grains. These include wheat, oats, rye, and triticale. All four of these are still great annuals to plant for autumn forage production, improving deer nutrition, and attracting animals to hunt. You can’t go wrong with either single-species plantings or mixtures of these combined with annual clovers such as crimson or arrowleaf.

But over the last 20 years or so, another option for fall plantings has come on like gangbusters. That plant type is brassica. A wide variety of species of this vegetation are available that will grow well in our local Shenandoah Valley soils and both attract deer and provide them valuable nutrients and protein. For the best results, these should be planted within the next three to six weeks. Before getting into the nitty-gritty of planting these brassicas, here’s a quick look at my personal introduction to these intriguing plants.

I won’t ever forget the first time I planted brassicas for deer. Many companies make good versions of these plants, but the one I chose happened to be the Whitetail Institute’s “Winter Greens.” When the plants first came up, they looked intriguing — something like cabbage or broccoli plants with their attractive bluish-green leaves. After growing mostly clover and cereal grains up until then, I was impressed.

The deer? Not so much. They continued to nibble on the lush green clover plots nearby and ignored the “new” food offering.

Meanwhile, the brassicas just kept growing and growing. By early October the plot in front of my house was nearly 2 feet tall with huge elephant-ear leaves – and still ignored by the deer.

Then suddenly, after l returned from a two-day hunting trip to neighboring West Virginia, my small plot of brassicas was all but obliterated. We had experienced a sharp frost during the nights I was gone, and the starches in the plants had converted to sugars.

Now the whitetails were very impressed. They gobbled up the big blue-green leaves virtually overnight. It looked like a tornado had blown through the plot.

This is the experience many land managers have with brassicas. When you first plant them on a property, they may be ignored by deer until a frost or several cold nights convert the starches in the plant into sugars. But after the deer learn about these plants, they will often begin eating them even before freezing temperatures arrive. In fact, they’ll start chowing down on them almost as soon as they emerge from the soil.

Most food plot offerings have an optimum time for planting. For brassicas such as Winter Greens and Tall Tine Tubers and Mossy Oak’s many brassica products, that time is mainly August through mid-September for our local area. Within a week after seeding you’ll have plants emerging, and soon after that, deer will start feeding on them — once they become familiar with this new food source.

Brassicas encompass a number of plants such as kale, rape, turnips, radishes, true brassicas, and others – all part of the mustard family. They are exceptionally popular among wildlife managers because they are simple to grow, offer high protein levels, and are fed on eagerly by deer. But these plants also have other benefits. They are good for the soil, good for the environment, and are highly praised by agronomists.

Next week: Part II of planting fall food plots

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