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Ask The Biologist: Planting Turnips

QUESTION:Back To "Ask The Biologist?" I have been told to plant turnips. When is the best time to plant them and where can I get seed? What time of year will deer be attracted to the turnips?
— Bill Duncan

ANSWER: Bill, shame on you. That’s actually three questions, but as I’m in a good mood today, I’ll answer all three plus some you didn’t even ask.

Ask The Biologist
Turnips are a great choice for fall/winter hunting plots for several reasons. While they grow best in medium fertile loam soils, they will grow in a in a variety of site conditions including clay or sandy loam, and they can tolerate slightly acid soil. They grow fairly quickly, and deer love them.

Turnips are considered a cool-weather crop, which should be your first clue about when to plant. Actually, you can plant any time during the summer, until about 70 days before a killing frost. In the south, they produce roots and greens for human consumption in all seasons. However, recommended planting dates for food plot forage turnips are early September to mid-October in the South, earlier as you move north, with Aug. 1 as the recommended date for southern Wisconsin. You can plant later; you just won’t get as much growth.

Like other brassicas (turnips are a type of brassica), deer tend to overlook them until a heavy frost. Then, the plants die, starches turn to sugar and deer devour them. The turnips themselves may persist into the late fall and early winter when other food sources become scarcer. Then, deer will literally chew them out of the frozen soil.

Most wildlife seed companies have mixes containing turnips, including Whitetail Institute’s Tall Tine Tubers, BioLogic’s Winter Bulbs and Sugar Beets, Heartland Wildlife Institute’s Winter Survival Mix and Evolved Harvest’s Mega Plot. You can also sometimes purchase seeds at the local co-op. However, wildlife mixes have been developed and selected specifically for deer food plots, where local ag varieties are often better suited as truck crops or livestock forage.

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