Every forage used for food plots has an optimum time for planting. For brassicas the best time to plant is right now. From late July through September is the time to get these plants in the ground in the Shenandoah Valley.

Brassicas include plants 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 devoured by deer. Protein levels can exceed 30% in many cases.

On some properties 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 converts the starches in the plant to sugars and makes them especially palatable.

Once the leaves have been eaten down, many of these plants such as turnips and radishes 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.

To grow a good brassica plot you need to properly prepare the seedbed. First kill the present vegetation with a non-selective herbicide such as Roundup or generic glyphosate, then till the soil repeatedly after the weeds and grasses die. 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 enough they’ll devour them as cold weather sets in and converts the starches in the plants into sugars.

Another plus of most 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 plants 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 weeds taking over is one of the most common problems encountered. Brassicas will help with that ongoing battle.

For more information on summer and fall food plots, good places to look are the websites whitetailinstitute.com and plantbiologic.com.

Several readers have inquired about CWD, or Chronic Wasting Disease. Unfortunately, this incurable disease that strikes some deer is still present in Virginia. It was first detected in Frederick County over a decade ago.

Each year a number of deer that hunters harvest are checked for CWD by the Department of Wildlife Resources. Last year they examined over 3,000 whitetails. A total of 20 deer tested positive for CWD. Frederick County had 13, Shenandoah two, Fauquier, Madison, Loudoun, Rappahannock, and Warren counties each had one case. Since testing began in 2009 a total of 108 deer have tested positive. This is not great, but it shows the problem is not widespread or common in our state. Let’s hope it stays that way!

Award-winning outdoors writer Gerald Almy is a Maurertown resident

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