One of the most popular columns we write is when we discuss the best types of seeds and plants for food plots. Anyone, even with just a backyard, can get involved to a greater or lesser degree with this hobby. And deer aren’t the only animals to benefit. Songbirds, small game, turkeys, bears, and game birds also use plots. Over the next two weeks we will also delve into some of the benefits that food plots have for the soil and the environment and how to get the best growth possible from the forage you grow. September is an excellent month to sow seeds.
Years ago, fall food plots for most people meant cereal grains. These include wheat, oats, rye, and triticale, among others. All four are still excellent annuals to plant for fall forage production, improving deer nutrition, and attracting game. You can’t go wrong with plantings of a single species or mixes of these combined with annual clovers like crimson or arrowleaf.
However, in the last 20 years, another option for fall plantings has become popular. That type of plant is the Brassica family. A wide variety of species of this vegetation are available that will grow well in our local Shenandoah Valley soils. The plants will attract deer and also provide them with valuable nutrients and protein. They are also great producers of energy, which Whitetails need in the fall with the grind and winter approaching their schedule.
For best results these should be planted within the next three to four weeks. Before I get into the technique of planting these brassicas, a quick flashback to my first introduction to these intriguing plants.
Many companies make good versions of brassicas, but the one I chose turned out to be “Winter Greens” from the Whitetail Institute. When the plants first appeared, they looked very interesting, somewhat like cabbage or broccoli plants with their attractive blue-green leaves. Having grown mainly clovers and cereal grains until then, I was impressed.
The deer? Not that much. They continued to nibble on the nearby lush green clover patches and ignored the “new” food offering.
Meanwhile, the brassicas kept growing and growing. In early October, the land in front of my house was almost two feet high with huge elephant ear leaves, but the deer still ignored it.
Then suddenly, after returning from a two-day bowhunting trip to neighboring West Virginia, my little patch of brassicas was nearly wiped out. We had experienced a severe frost during the nights I was away, and the starches in the plants had been converted to sugars.
Now the whitetails were very impressed. They devoured the large bluish-green leaves practically overnight. It seemed that a hurricane had passed through the plot.
My experience was similar to what many land managers have with brassicas. When you first plant them on a property, deer may ignore them until a frost or several cold nights increase the plants’ sugar content. But after deer learn about these plants, they will often start eating them even before sub-zero temperatures arrive. In fact, they will start chewing on them almost as soon as they emerge from the ground.
Most food plot offerings have an optimal time to plant. For brassicas like Winter Greens and Tall Tine Tubers, that time is September for our local area. Within a week after planting, plants will emerge, and soon after, the deer will start feeding on them, once they become familiar with the new food source.
Brassicas include a number of plants such as kale, rapeseed, turnips, radishes, true brassicas, and others, all part of the mustard family. They have become exceptionally popular with wildlife managers because they are easy to grow, offer high levels of protein, and are enthusiastically fed 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: more tips on planting fall food plots.
Award-winning outdoor writer Gerald Almy is a resident of Maurertown