A TALE OF TURNIPS— Turnip is a Powerhouse Planting

By Brad Herndon

When I grew up in Indiana, both the wild turkey and coyote were nonexistent in the state. Deer were also as scarce as hen’s teeth at the time, and therefore we country folk grew up hunting squirrels, rabbits and quail. Back then, our hunting time in November was consumed with chasing cottontails instead of deer. Each day we would walk several miles trying to get our limit of five rabbits each, and it was tremendously enjoyable listening to the beagles chasing the bunnies.
On hot days, we would get both thirsty and hungry, and if we were out near the Shieldstown covered bridge on White River, we stopped in at Cy Perkin’s cabin. Cy didn’t live there in the fall or winter, but he always had a nice patch of turnips behind the quaint cabin. We would pull up a few turnips, cut the outer skin off with our pocket knives, and had an instantly refreshing treat at no charge. We were then good for a few more miles. Along about this same time I had a good friend, Lester Lambring, who lived out in the German farming community and I would visit his house from time to time. His mom was a great cook, and she made sure we were always well fed. Many years later when I was in my 40s, I went to the doctor for a checkup one day. In the waiting room was Lester Lambring’s mom, who by then was well up in her 70s. “Hi Brad,” she said. “I still feel bad about the last time you ate at our house.” “Why?” I replied, “You always had great food.” “Not that time,” she sighed. “All I had fixed that evening was turnip soup, and I’m sure you didn’t care much for it.” “Oh, it must have been fine,” I stated. “I can’t remember ever having a bad meal at your house. Your food was always outstanding, so I’m sure you had it doctored up to the point it was delicious. I bet you had a piece or two of your tasty country ham mixed in with the turnips.” She then felt better about my last meal at her house and we had a great talk. At the time, I thought my conversation with her would probably be my final tale about turnips since they had fallen out of favor with most local people by then. Boy was I wrong.


In the late 1980s, I became an outdoor photographer and writer, specializing in whitetail deer and wild turkey. Yes, things had changed in Indiana, and rabbit hunting had given way to deer hunting — and I loved it. I studied every aspect of the whitetail. I measured their racks, studied their movement patterns, and eventually keyed in on management strategies for growing top-notch bucks. This ultimately led to my writing relationship with the Whitetail Institute of North America and their fantastic food plot products. I was in on using Imperial Whitetail Clover, Extreme, Alfa-Rack and other super seeds very early on and I was always impressed with their thoroughness in researching and producing new and innovative products. Actually, they inspired me to do more research of my own. I diligently studied CRP (Conservation Reserve Program) ground and found the government encouraged planting wildlife food plots in them. Today, we have several food plots planted in CRP fields. While studying CRP land, I also scanned many articles relating to cover crops. In essence, cover crops are products planted to prevent wind and water erosion on fields. While most folks think of grasses as usually being a cover crop, I found some other very interesting varieties used as cover crops, such as cowpea, millet, sunflower, hairy vetch, clover, winter triticale, and turnip, just to name a few. Each of these cover crops was interesting to me in some way, but I found turnips especially intriguing.


As my stories revealed at the first of this article, humans used to eat many turnips and in the South especially it is still a favorite. They are a good food, and I discovered in my research they have been an excellent food source for cattle for decades. For example, the above-ground parts of a turnip — the stem and leaves — contain 20 to 25 percent crude protein. That’s excellent. The digestibility of dry matter in the leaves and stems is extremely high at 65 to 80 percent. The roots of turnips also contain 10 to 14 percent protein and have an 80 to 85 percent digestibility rate. They are also considered a high-energy food source. Add all this up, and I thought turnips would be a great food for deer. Well, I wasn’t the only one making this discovery as I found out when I was talking to Whitetail Institute V.P. Steve Scott one day. I was telling him about my fascination with turnips when he shared the news with me that the Whitetail Institute had been doing some groundbreaking work on a new turnip variety and product for several years.


The Whitetail Institute has never been a company to find a product deer like and then simply pitch it in a blend and push it out the door. Instead, the company takes what they see as a good product and then they spend considerable time, effort and money making it into the absolute best product available. This is exactly what they did with the Tall Tine turnip variety. Research and development started with identifying specific traits that would make their new turnip variety ideal for whitetail fool plots. These included rapid stand establishment, cold tolerance — and most importantly — attractiveness to whitetails. In developing Tall Tine Tubers, candidate turnips were planted in plots available to wild, free-ranging deer and then closely monitored for deer usage. Plants for which deer exhibited a marked preference were isolated from further grazing with exclusion cages, allowing plants to mature and produce seed. Exclusion cages also allowed continuing evaluation of other traits important for deer food plots, including rapid stand establishment, early plant vigor, and resistance to disease, insects, heat, drought and cold. Plants that did not meet the Institute’s strict testing requirements were eliminated at each selection cycle. In the end, the Institute ended up with a tuber product exhibiting incredible attractiveness and high protein content both above and below the ground, top-notch digestibility, and providing a great energy source as well. Add in its improved disease and insect resistance capabilities, and I knew it was a product I wanted to put into use.


Your process in planting Tall Tine Tubers should be similar to other food plot products you have used. My first step was to take a soil sample. Throughout the years I have limed heavily from time to time and I have the pH of my soils up to 6.5 to 6.8, which is really great for my area of well drained soils. Turnips, incidentally, do best in well-drained, moderately deep loam, fertile soils, and even in slightly acidic soils. Most plants don’t do well in acidic soils, but turnips are an exception. If you can get your pH up to 6.0 to 6.5, you can expect a superior turnip crop. Turnips will be productive but not do as well in wet or poorly drained soils. After my soil tests were back, I mowed all three of my food plots in late July. When the plots were just starting to grow again I went in with Roundup and sprayed the plots. I then waited 10 days for all vegetation to die down. This made for clean, easy-to-work plots. After all three plots were broken up, I worked 400 pounds per acre of 20-20-20 fertilizer into the plots. This brought me up to mid-August. Next I waited until a rain front was coming in and I used a hand-operated whirligig seeder to plant each plot. I was a good weather forecaster, fortunately, and the next day the rains came. Within a few days, I had a dandy crop of Tall Tine Tubers coming up in each plot.


The rains were plentiful and timely in the fall of two years ago when I used my first turnips and the stems and leaves grew at an amazing rate. By late September I had forage more than 12 inches tall — and growing! Interestingly, a few deer were hitting the tops at this time. Typically, deer don’t hit the tops hard until after the first frost. Frost causes the plants to become sweeter and more favored by the whitetails. Keep in mind, too, that Tall Tine Tubers have the amazing ability to maintain their nutritional quality even after repeated exposure to frost. This is why deer keep hitting the leaves and stems throughout the fall and winter until nothing is left. Believe me, by the time this occurs the whitetails have consumed some serious tonnage. We killed deer out of our turnip plots throughout the fall and winter. Our granddaughter Jessica killed her first deer in one of these plots, and another little friend of ours, Emma Winks, also got her first whitetail there as well. Emma’s mom Shannon killed her biggest buck ever in one of these plots on the last Saturday of muzzleloader season in December. Even after the hunting season was over, the deer were still digging out and eating the tubers. My overall rating of the product for a fall attractant and late-season food source was a 10! I was simply amazed how the Tall Tine Tubers drew and held deer within our lease. I rate them the best fall product I have ever used.


This past fall here in southern Indiana was the most interesting deer hunting season I have ever experienced. On Aug. 20, I planted a plot in Tall Tine Tubers. It rained 3/10 inch the next morning and within a few days, the turnips were up. It never rained on this plot the rest of August. Astonishingly, it never rained on the plot in September. In fact, September in southern Indiana last fall was the driest month ever recorded in Indiana history! I just knew the horrid drought couldn’t continue. Nevertheless, it did. It never rained on the plot in October, and the first three weeks of November were rain free as well. Finally, at the end of November the rains finally came — a full two months too late. Now I know most people wouldn’t write about a near crop failure, but I found the resiliency of Tall Tine Tubers to be nothing short of unbelievable. The Tall Tine Tubers in this plot at the age of 34 days were small, for sure, but still alive. Amazingly, no grass or weeds were evident in the plot because it was too dry even for them. As time went on, I felt every turnip plant in this plot would have to burn up, but a high percentage of them didn’t. By December, the Tall Tine Tubers had somehow utilized enough water to grow 4-inch tops and even had small turnips in the ground! If anyone ever asks you if Tall Tine Tubers are drought resistant you can assure them that they are! Fortunately, most other regions of our nation didn’t experience the horrific drought we had here in southern Indiana. Most regions, in fact, had adequate rainfall and excellent forage in their food plots. That being said, though, other harsh conditions pounded our nation. As you readers know, this past winter was brutal throughout the United States. Record low temperatures, and snow and ice were the norm from the southeast, to the northeast, to the midwest, to the west. When I was writing this article in early February I talked to hunting friends of mine throughout the nation, and I was especially observant of any who had Tall Tine Tubers planted. I heard several stories of hunters who had taken great bucks from their food plots in late December or early January, times normally not thought of as being conducive to trophy whitetail hunting. But a site full of Tall Tine Tubers changes all this since they are such a great nutritional draw in the late seasons. Without exception when talking to these friends, I heard the same story time after time, “The deer are digging right through the snow to get at the remaining turnips. It’s simply amazing how they are tearing up the plots right now, in February.” I know you are going to see many other such testimonials in the Whitetail News about this fantastic new product. I do, however, have a few words of caution.


All plants have diseases and insects that can negatively affect their health. Turnips are no different. Although Tall Tine Tubers have been developed to minimize these threats, some still remain. Clubroot, root knot, leaf spot, white rust, scab, and rhizoctonia rot are just a few diseases that may affect a turnip crop. Two different flea beetles, the turnip louse and aphids may also cause considerable damage if left unattended. While insecticides will control most of these problems, the best control to insure a healthy turnip crop is to make sure you rotate your food plot plants every year. This keeps diseases and insects to a minimum. Regarding planting turnips, follow planting instructions carefully. Turnip seeds are small but the turnip tops and the tubers themselves are both large in size, so it doesn’t take a large amount of seed to get a sufficient stand. Because the deer literally tear up turnip food plots while digging out the tubers in late fall and early winter, the soil is nicely broken up. This leaves ideal soil conditions for frost seeding a plot with Imperial Whitetail Clover or some other crop nutritionally beneficial to your whitetail herd during the spring, summer and throughout most of the year. Tall Tine Tubers are such a fine product that I will have them as a fall attractant and food source for the deer on our land for many years to come. Of course, I’ll have a variety of other foods available for them throughout the year to assure they have a well rounded, balanced diet. In closing, I will have to admit it’s pretty neat to kill a deer out of one of our food plots and then go home with both the deer and a bounty of turnips as well. Sometimes I’ll just sit down and peel a turnip and eat it, and the memories of those turnips I ate out of Cy Perkin’s little plot so many long years ago comes flooding back into my memory. In addition, at other times my wife, Miss Carol, will mix up a special blend of turnip soup from one of our plots, and I’ll think of a nice German gal who fed me so many times, and her last meal to me of her turnip soup. Yes, the turnip tales continue, and they are special. 

A LATE-SEASON FOOD PLOT SUCH AS TALL TINE TUBERS not only can provide food for deer well into January or February, depending on your location, but can also be beneficial when it comes to antler hunting. Because such a plot can attract whitetails from a large area, it is much easier to discover cast-off antlers since many of the bucks will be in close proximity to the food plots. In addition, when bucks are working the turnips out of the ground they have a tendency to move quite vigorously and this can literally shake an antler from their head. It is common for deer hunters who have Tall Tine Tubers food plots to find shed antlers right in their food plots. Because of the nature of their large leaves, turnips, once established, usually keep weeds to a minimum. Just make sure to remove as many of the weeds in your plot as possible before planting. Don’t underestimate the power of a turnip. Turnips can be rather large with a great root system. In ground that has a hardpan that prevents water from being retained deep within the soil, tubers can actually keep this hardpan broken up and thereby help considerably in the retention of much-needed moisture within the soil. A friend of mine planted regular turnips and Tall Tine Tubers side by side in one of his food plots. If he’s going to pay more for a seed, he’s going to test it to see if it does what it claims. He found the Tall Tine Tuber tops to be a brighter looking green with more moisture. Above-ground growth was also a greater height than the regular turnips, with overall better tonnage production. The supreme test, of course, was which product did the deer favor? While the deer did eat both products, they definitely favored the Tall Tine Tubers, so he assumed they had a sweeter, more nutritious taste that the deer preferred. He also told me he was very surprised the seed even germinated since he had planted it during a drought. Interestingly, after 36 years of managing his property, this past season he killed the highest-grossing buck he has ever taken from his property, the result of a diverse and well-managed program. If you are a turkey hunter, it’s worth noting that wild turkey love to pick on the tubers after deer have dug them up and eaten part of them. Just like deer, they find them a nutritious and tasty late-season snack. Turnips are very nutritional. Under optimal growing conditions, turnip roots offer dietary fiber, chromium, manganese, protein, thiamin, riboflavin, iron, vitamin C, B6, C, calcium and copper. The turnip greens offer dietary fiber, calcium, magnesium, copper, chromium, manganese, protein, thiamin, riboflavin, iron, vitamin C, A, E, K, B6, folate, pantothenic acid, and phosphorus.