When planting fall food plots of brassicas, radishes, beets, and turnips, the first step is to do a soil test and add the needed fertilizer according to the test results. Also, add the required lime needed to bring the pH up to at least 6.0. A reading closer to 6.5 is even better. Kill any existing vegetation with a non-selective herbicide, and then till or disk the ground repeatedly until you get a firm, smooth seedbed. Cultipack, or use a weighted fence-type drag, to smooth the seedbed.
Broadcast the seeds and cultipack again, or simply spread the seeds and leave alone if you used a drag to smooth the plot. The seeds are tiny, so barely cover them with 1/8 to ¼ inch of soil. They’ll sprout up within days. If rain is predicted, you can simply spread them on top and get good germination. After the plants have reached 4-6 inches tall, add about 80-100 pounds of nitrogen fertilizer such as 34-0-0, 43-0-0 or similar per acre to enhance growth and tonnage of forage production.
You can also mix brassicas with other types of plants such as oats, peas or annual clovers and get a terrific food plot. But you don’t have to do this yourself. The Whitetail Institute, Mossy Oak, Evolved Harvest and other top wildlife seed companies have already done that for you and offer the perfect proportion of the different plants pre-mixed so they complement each other as they grow.
The Whitetail Institute’s Pure Attraction, for example, is a mixture of the company’s brassicas to attract deer after frosts combined with Whitetail Oats and winter peas for early season appeal. No Plow also contains brassicas mixed with annual clovers, Whitetail Oats, radishes, and other cereal grains for use in areas hard to reach with heavy equipment. If you want a mixture, stick with these types in general, though you can save a few dollars mixing your own combinations.
Besides offering high-quality nutrition for deer, brassicas also have many benefits for the land and the environment. One of these qualities is the ability to aerate the ground and improve the soil, making it better for future plantings. Many plots suffer from hard, 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 the extremely hard dirt below that.
Planting winter greens or tall tine tubers can dramatically improve this situation. These grow a deep taproot that will break up or drill through that hardpan and aerate the soil when the root decays. This allows moisture to penetrate and the roots of future crops to utilize nutrients further down in the soil. Not only that, they can “scavenge” nitrogen from these deep layers and make it more accessible to other future crops, reducing fertilizer costs.
According to the USDA “brassicas provide excellent nitrogen scavenging potential and the taproots are excellent at penetrating tillage pans and dense soil layers. An acre of brassicas can scavenge 40 pounds or more of residual nitrogen from the soil. The roots help to penetrate and sustain healthy organisms to restore soil structure.”
Brassicas also provide excellent weed control. These plants grow so fast with such a large leaf canopy and deep roots that they choke out most unwanted weeds and grasses in a plot, preparing it for a future planting of a different crop the following year. One Michigan study showed that growing brassicas reduced weeds by 4,000 pounds per acre compared to fallow fields.
As experienced food plotters know, weed-encroachment is your number one enemy. Brassicas will help you win that ongoing battle, readying the soil for chicory, clover, or alfalfa planting next year.
Finally, here is one more biological benefit the USDA points to. “An additional special feature of most brassicas is that they produce compounds, called glucosinolates, which are toxic to soil-borne pests and pathogens. Biotoxins produced by brassicas when they decompose are toxic against many pests including insects, nematodes, and weeds.” Studies show they can actually reduce the need for the use of pesticides by farmers.
A great high-protein food source from fall through winter, a terrific soil enhancer, a valuable tool for combatting weeds, the ability to control harmful pests — those qualities make brassicas one of the best plants you can turn to for late summer food plot plantings that will attract, hold, and nourish deer on your property throughout fall and winter.