When preparing to plant fall food plots, hunters can choose from a wide assortment of seeds that will provide both immediate and long-lasting food for their deer herd. Most fall plots will begin producing edible forage as soon as the green shoots break through the soil’s surface. Clover, oats and wheat offer immediate benefits and can offer hunters a highly visited food source at the ideal time during hunting season. However, root vegetables are sometimes overlooked for cool-season plantings and will provide a multi-stage benefit for deer, from the beginning of the season to well after it ends in January.
Root vegetables often show up on winter lunch menus just when they begin to produce their primary crop. Deer and some other wildlife species will benefit greatly from root vegetables because they offer a long rotation of food from the leaves, stems and flowers to the energy-rich starch package buried in the soil.
Root vegetables are in the mustard family, aka brassicas. They include cabbage, collards, rutabagas, cauliflower, kale, broccoli and turnips. For wildlife plantings, most hunters plant mixtures or pure stands of rape, turnip or radish. They are very high in digestible protein, which can range up to 20 percent in all parts of the plant — from the root to the leaves. When planted in a well-prepared food plot with ideal growing conditions, they can produce more than 15,000 pounds of forage per acre. A herd of deer can survive the fall and early winter on several acres of turnips, and the turnips will be highly used during the middle of hunting season.
Roots of brassicas will not develop fully until later in the season, and the leaves and stems will become more attractive after the first few frosts. Just like collards, they always taste better after a few cold snaps. Typically, deer will not forage too heavily on brassicas until after Thanksgiving, and that makes for a super late-season food source and hunting spot when everything else has dried up.
Brassicas can grow in slightly acidic soils, but they will produce more forage mass when the pH is closer to neutral or slightly basic. Brassicas form large forage matter above the ground and grow best when planted alone at a rate of 4 to 5 pounds per acre. Since the seeds are very small, they should be planted no deeper than ¼-inch from the soil’s surface.
If planted correctly and fertilized sufficiently, they will provide plenty of forage and action from Thanksgiving to Christmas, when natural foods and other food plots are declining.