Whitetail Salad

By Joe Blake
The author is checking out a
field of Tall Tine Turnips on his
Minnesota farm; notice the tonnage
available from the tall, green
'salad' in early fall.
For pure tonnage, palatability and overall benefits, few food plot offerings excel like brassicas.

The morning sun had warmed considerably, and the frost had all but disappeared from the edges of the field of brassicas stretched out in front of me. By 10:30 a.m. I was getting drowsy and needed to perk up a little, so I stood, stretched, and eased my rattling antlers from the cut limb where they had been hanging since well before daylight. Scanning the surrounding oak woods one last time to make sure no deer were moving close by, I clashed the bone together with as much force as I could muster, and then began twisting and turning the pair together to simulate a couple of angry whitetails engaged in a pre-rut challenge. Returning the rack to its resting place I grunted aggressively several times before slipping the call back inside my wool jacket and wrapping my left hand around the familiar, worn, elk-hide grip of my 60-pound longbow.

Long moments passed. A red-tailed hawk soared overhead, backed by azure-blue skies; a beaver thumped his disproval of my racket and disappeared into the depths of the pond behind me; and somewhere off to my right a stick cracked under the weight of a heavy hoof. Turning in that direction and swinging my bent stick around I saw for the first time the tawny, muscular form and dark, mahogany antlers of the mature buck as he stalked the source of the battle he had heard. At 25 yards he turned on the trail that paralleled the field of brassicas and came steadily in my direction; as he did I tried to ignore his heavy rack and tall, bladed tines. Scanning his line of advancement, I picked out a big pin oak at six yards: this would be my opportunity to draw, and as the trophy deer’s head disappeared behind the gnarly, old trunk I brought my longbow to bear.

This hunt took place in late October in my home state of Minnesota, and reminds me of why brassicas are my favorite food plot offering. Despite above-average temperatures and a late, sunny morning, the heavy-horned buck mentioned was still cruising the downwind edge of my Tall Tine Tubers field looking for does… and with good reason. Does, fawns, and small bucks were in the field at first light and throughout the morning, offering a perfect attractant to amorous bucks on the prowl. After first planting a small field of Winter-Greens two years ago, brassicas have become a staple in my management plan for the 1,200 acres I oversee here at home and this is why.


Brassicas are easy to establish and grow with a minimal amount of effort. Here in Minnesota I usually plant my brassica plots in late July or early August, yet even with this late start the fields are one or even two feet tall by mid-September when bow season opens. Name me one other planting with that type of incredible growth. And brassicas don’t need expensive drills or planters. The seeds need only make good contact with the soil, so hand-seeding or a hand-held or ATV-mounted spreader work perfectly.

Once a field is worked, it is important to firm up the seed bed. I use a cultipacker pulled behind the tractor that I use on all my food plots, then simply broadcast the seeds on top and watch them grow. I’ve had great success with the above steps, but this past year I started running the cultipacker over the fields immediately after seeding to ‘push’ the seed firmly to contact the dirt, and this seems to improve things even more. Either way, brassicas are easy to plant and fast growers.


As mentioned, brassicas are extremely fast growers, and the leaves alone provide tons of highly desirable food for area whitetails. If you are planting brassicas such as turnips, the tonnage increases even more because of the tubers in the ground. Even after the leaves are eaten, the tubers continue to grow until cold weather settles in to stay, providing even more tonnage for hungry deer during the last season. Generally, brassicas become more palatable to deer after a good frost or two, so they are allowed to grow tall and thick for at least the first few weeks of their growing season, but after that — watch out. The first year I planted brassicas I tried Winter-Greens in a small plot across the meadow about 250 yards from my house, and as soon as we had one frost the deer poured into the field each and every night, reducing the foot-tall stand of leafy salad to nothing but black dirt. Every evening we could watch anywhere from 10 to 20 whitetails fill up the food plot — and then fill up their bellies. The only negative was that the herd devoured the field so quickly there was literally nothing left once bow season rolled around, a problem I have remedied ever since by planting larger fields.
The author often pulls up a few turnips and slices them
into pieces where deer commonly enter a field... this
often gets the deer feeding on the tubers early.


As seed goes, brassicas are relatively inexpensive to buy, to maintain and make flourish. Compared to many other food plot offerings, brassicas are a bargain, especially when you consider how much tonnage they provide. And it isn’t just the cost of the seed that offers savings: because brassicas such as Winter-Greens and Tall Tines Tubers grow so quickly, they immediately shade-out competing vegetation, making expensive herbicides unnecessary. I have never sprayed any of my fields of brassicas and have not had one field overrun with weeds or grasses, which leads to another cost-saving benefit: because the deer will eventually eat the field down to bare dirt, and because there is little or no competing vegetation, your food plot will be much easier and quicker to work the following spring.

Of course, you may live in an area where the soil is richer or poorer than it is around here, so lime and/or fertilizer may be necessary for your salad plots to reach their maximum potential, so my advice would always be to take a soil sample before planting. The Whitetail Institute provides soil test kits and the recommendations are easy to understand and follow. After applying what the soil tests recommended this past year, I had plants that were two-feet tall and turnips the size of softballs filling my three fields. As I write this in late December, all of my fields have been eaten right down to dirt, but the huge turnips remain and the area whitetails are really hammering the sweet tubers now.


Probably the thing I like most about brassicas is the one-two punch they offer: first, deer become attracted to the leafy greens above ground and start hammering them during early bow season. This makes for a dynamite ambush spot from mid-September all the way up to the rut in my neighborhood.

After which comes punch number two: as soon as all the brassica leaves are cleaned up the deer start nipping the tops off the tubers themselves, slowly at first but with increased ravenous intensity as cold weather settles in. As more and more deer start feeding on the remaining ‘salad’, your plots will look like minefields as the deer paw and kick and bite at the dirt to expose and eat the remaining tubers. Last year I had a two-acre field of Tall Tine Tubers that got buried by three-feet of snow early, so the deer moved off it once they couldn’t dig down to the tubers. But when the snow melted in the spring, they were right back at it. I have actually found that brassica plots make great places to look for shed antlers. If there are any tubers remaining after winter’s cold and snow recedes, the deer will clean up the rest of their ‘salad’ and often leave their headgear behind in return.
The author is shown filling his broadcast spreader with


As mentioned, brassicas are fast and easy to establish and provide loads of high-quality food for your deer herd, but as with any food plot offerings there are a couple points to remember. First, no matter how tempting it may be after you see how the deer respond to your brassica plots, don’t want to continually plant brassicas in the same fields year after year. If you do, you will see a noticeable decline in your plots, so rotating in other offerings is important to keep your plots producing at the highest level. Second, I found out this year that well-drained soils are preferred by brassicas. We had a tremendous amount of snow last winter and a cold, wet spring and early summer. I planted a new field that was fairly low along the edge of a cattail slough with Winter-Greens and they came up fast like always but never amounted to much and actually turned yellow and purple by early fall. A call to the experts at the Whitetail Institute revealed the problem: too much moisture on already wet soil. Of course, no one can control Mother Nature, but from now on I’ll plant my brassicas in well-drained fields, like the one bordering the strip of oaks in the opening story.

As the big buck’s head disappeared briefly behind the oak trunk I brought my longbow up and started to draw, but something stopped me; and as the big deer’s vitals came into view, I relaxed the tension on the string and watched the deer make his way out into the field of Tall Tine Tubers, wolf down several mouthfuls of the leafy planting, and then trot off to the west looking for love. Although the buck was mature and had a heavy rack, I had a long history with this deer with lots of trail cam photos and several sightings, and I knew there were several bigger deer in the immediate area. I also knew that at any moment one of these giants could make a visit to my personal Whitetail Salad bar.


If you have any questions, concerns, or comments about your brassica plots, or any other management issues for that matter, give the good folks at the Whitetail Institute a call or visit them on-line. They have been a huge part of the successes I’ve enjoyed managing properties for wildlife and they will be more than happy to do the same for you. Give them a call at (800) 688- 3030 or visit them on-line at www.whitetailinstitute.com. You’ll be glad you did… and so will your deer!  
The author at full draw from a late season tree
stand along a field of Tall Tine Tubers. Since planting
brassicas for the first time a couple of years ago, they have
become the author's favorite food plot option.