Winter Rye would be listed first in a book titled “Food Plots for Dummies”. Brassica would be listed second, but let’s start with the winner; Winter Rye. Most food plots fail because of poor soil, low Ph, or low nutrients in the soil. Not so for plots of Winter Rye. This rye is not picky.
Rye is more tolerant than my wife and she has put up with me for 42 years. It will grow almost anywhere under any condition. This cereal grain can be planted in the early fall with just light disking. I like to spread it on disked soil and then roll it so I have good seed/soil contact. Compacting with a roller will give you better results.
Another strategy you may want to use is to use Winter Rye as a cover crop for clover. Clover needs time to establish its root system and once established does great. Planting Winter Rye as a nurse crop with your clover will take the grazing pressure off the clover.
Now here is your chance to learn something new. The bit of biology that makes Winter Rye so interesting is its ability to produce alliotoxin. That word means it produces a natural herbicide. This is not a unique trait in the plant kingdom. Did you ever notice that nothing grows under a grove of black walnut trees? I have a grove behind my pasture and it is the only place where there is beautiful grass in the woods. Nothing else grows there because walnut trees give off an alliotoxin when their leaves, twigs and husks decompose. Have you ever noticed that there is a bare spot under your bird feeders? Sunflower seeds also give off a unique alliotoxin. Winter Rye does the same with a chemical it generates while growing. As a matter of fact, my one food plot is usually belt high with a thousand weeds by June one and this year it is weed free. My Winter Rye suppressed weed growth.
Another benefit of Winter Rye is that it may be the cheapest food plot seed you ever buy. Just go to your local feed store and buy it in 40# bags. Once you put the seed down it just needs a good rain and it will pop. Deer really enjoy it as the tender shoots emerge. And the plus is that it will only get better with grazing. The root, once established will continue to push up green tops even after it gets cold. It grows down to 33-degrees, then it goes dormant for the winter.
Here is the magic of Winter Rye. Yes, you may want to harvest a deer or two during the fall as they graze on your rye but deer really need quality forage in late winter when the does are growing fawns in their fat bellies and bucks are still trying to regain their strength from running themselves skinny during the rut.
On the first days above 33-degrees that rye is growing. Cereal grains pack a lot of nutrition into the first growth of spring. Unlike many food plots, your rye plot will begin lovin on your deer in late February. It doesn’t need hot days to grow.
Have you ever heard of building your soil with natural nutrients? Well you can accomplish that by hitting the rye with Round-up then brush hogging your Winter Rye field in the summer and disking it in to add organics to your soil. Winter Rye, plant some this fall.