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Forget The Dinner Salad, Radishes Are For Deer
Try radishes for a new food-plot attractant this deer season.
By Kent Kammermeyer & Tommy Hunter
Originally published in the August 2009 issue of AON
Forage radish does not look like a radish at all, more like a huge, long, green and white carrot, which can reach lengths of 18 to 24 inches. These long radishes add organic matter and aerate and loosen the soil, even in heavy clay.
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Deer were hungry. On a very cold day last winter, 96 deer were observed digging through a foot of snow trying to fill their bellies.

Digging for the last remaining acorns? Clover? Rye? You probably could not guess what these 96 deer were digging for, so we’ll tell you: radishes.

The above scenario occurred in New York last February, but we’re quickly learning that deer all over are attracted to this new food-plot crop. If you’re a hunter, or food-plot planter, we believe you’ll find these early experiments on planting radishes for deer very interesting. It could have you convinced that planting radishes this September could be something new to try on your hunting property.

Daikon radish (Raphanus sativus), also known as Japanese, oriental, Asian, winter radish and many other names, is used as a vegetable in many types of Asian cuisine. For this purpose, it is mostly grown on the West Coast where there is a large Asian market for them. Some varieties are also called forage or tillage radishes and are highly recommended as a cover crop and soil conditioner for the Mid-Atlantic States by the University of Maryland Cooperative Extension. They are backed by eight years of research at Cedar Meadow Farm in conjunction with the University of Maryland.

Preliminary testing in fall food plots for deer in the Northeast and Southeast last year yielded surprising and promising results with forage radishes grown specifically for deer forage.

“Radishes for deer?” you ask.

Read on. They are a little known member of the Brassica family, which also includes rape, kale, turnips, mustard, canola and cabbage. It may be a little early to tell, but forage radishes may be the best overall Brassica option for a deer planting. It supplies the combination of high nutrition in the top and root, attraction, huge production, fast germination and growth and a large deeply penetrating taproot that breaks soil compaction in heavy soils.

Research data from Dr. Ray Weil at the University of Maryland shows dry-matter production of 5,000 lbs./acre for top growth (shoots and leaves) plus 2,000 lbs./acre of root dry matter.

According to Dr. Weil, “A good forage-radish cover crop adds significant quantities of easily decomposed organic matter to the soil.”

Radishes grow so fast they can be used to smother and suppress weeds while enhancing the seedbed. They die-off in winter, resulting in rapidly decomposing residues that enrich the soil. They add organic matter high in nutrients (nitrogen, phosphorus, sulfur, calcium, boron) to the soil for a companion or follow-up crop to utilize. They are much easier to grow than finicky sugar beets and are well adapted throughout the Northeast, Southeast and Midwest.

Forage radish does not look like a radish at all, but more like a huge, long, green and white carrot, which can reach lengths of 18 to 24 inches. These long radishes add organic matter and aerate and loosen the soil, even in heavy clay. Better yet, unlike other Brassicas, which are often ignored by deer in the first year, deer seem to learn quickly to eat the green top growth as well as the radish itself.

Indications are, from actual visual observations of feeding deer, that unlike many Brassicas where a freeze makes the greens sweeter and provides better palatability, deer eat radishes before the first freeze ever takes place. In test plots in the Southeast, deer began feeding actively on the greens shortly after emergence in September, even in a very good acorn year. Unlike other Brassicas, they are resilient after grazing pressure, quickly sprouting more new leafy growth. In the mature plant, a December sample and lab test from radishes in New York revealed protein levels higher than 20 percent for both the top and root, even after the forage quality had begun to decline from cold weather. This was equal to or greater than a highly marketed, well-known commercial Brassica blend.

Radishes can be planted alone or as part of a food-plot mix, which might include clovers and small grains with radishes used as a nurse crop. We prefer the latter option as radishes need at least 60 pounds an acre of actual nitrogen for best growth, and some of this, especially during root development, can be supplied by clover. In addition, after radishes fade in winter, you are still left with a vigorous stand of clover and small grains growing on a much improved, loosened and enriched seedbed. Like all other members of the Brassica family, radishes should not be grown on the same ground for more than two successive years because of a possible build up of diseases in the soil. Normally, a two-year rest period is enough before planting radishes again.

A new forage variety known as Trophy Radishes performed well and lived up to high expectations in New York and Georgia test plots in 2008, despite less-than-ideal conditions, including drought, cold and snow. The 96 New York deer that were digging through a foot of snow were in a 2-acre Trophy Radish plot in late February.

Fertilize your plot with 300 lbs./acre of 19-19-19 or 2 to 3 tons per acre of chicken litter. Disk the plot to incorporate fertilizer/litter and prepare a smooth, weed-free seed bed. Broadcast seed and drag or cultipack. Do not cover seed more than 1/2 inch deep. Trophy Radishes can also be planted in pure stands at 10 lbs./acre for forage production or 15 lbs./acre to suppress weeds into early April. Better yet, broadcast at 5 lbs./acre, they make an ideal addition to clover/small grain plots, Brassica mixes or any food-plot crop for deer. Do not exceed these rates or fast-germinating radishes, out of the ground in two to four days after rain, will smother desirable companion crops.

Radishes should be planted by late August in the North and early to mid-September in the South. Do not attempt to grow them in the spring as they will rush to bloom and go to seed and results will be disappointing.

Incidentally, they are also good in stir fry or raw with a crispy, crunchy texture and mild sweet flavor. They are great in salads and very nutritious, especially high in calcium, phosphorus and iron. But best of all, the deer love ’em.

Currently, Trophy Radishes are the only forage radishes on the market available to deer managers at a reasonable price. They should be available at some retail seed outlets and websites by late summer 2009.
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