Vetch, a legume sown as green manure

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Here is an annual herbaceous plant which can advantageously occupy the ground… of your vegetable garden! As a legume, it captures atmospheric nitrogen to return it to the soil.At the same time, it limits the proliferation of weeds and improves the structure of the soil. To sow from April to June, or from August to October.

The advantages of growing vetch in your vegetable garden

Like phacelia , alfalfa or clover, common vetch ( Vicia sativa ) is a herbaceous plant that can be grown in the vegetable garden for its green manure qualities . Formerly cultivated as a fodder plant for animals, this plant of the Fabaceae family (ex-legumes) therefore deserves that the gardener is interested in it closely.

Indeed, as a green manure, cultivated vetch can therefore be sown on an unoccupied plot of the vegetable garden, or between two crops. Count two to three months between sowing and harvesting , which implies that you will not be able to use this space for crops. But it’s all good for the soil!

  • As a legume (like peas , fava beans , or beans ), common vetch has nodules on its roots that harbor bacteria. The latter have the ability to fix nitrogen from the air to return it to the soil . Thus, subsequent crops benefit from this nitrogen.
  • Common vetch produces abundant vegetation which, as it decomposes, improves soil fertility . Rich in carbon, it produces an interesting humus.
  •  Cultivated vetch prevents weeds from developing because it is very covering
  • It limits the caking of rains , which prevents the ground from forming a hard crust
  • Thanks to its very vigorous root system, vetch aerates the soil and improves its structure.
  • The papilionancées flowers of the vetch are particularly melliferous and attract a multitude of pollinating insects, useful for pollination and the biological fight against pests.

To go further: Green fertilizers, think about it!

Sowing common vetch

Where to sow?

To develop properly, common vetch requires well-drained and rather cool soil because it does not like drought. In addition, the soil should not be too poor.

However, that it is worked and loosened is not a priority for vetch. A stroke of a rake or claw is more than enough, before sowing.

In addition, it grows in both sun and partial shade .

When to sow?

There are two distinct periods for sowing common vetch. The indication of the season is generally mentioned on the packaging.

  • Spring vetch is sown from March to June
  • Winter vetch, hardy down to -15°C, is sown from mid-August to mid-October , after the harvest of summer vegetables. It grows during the winter and is harvested the following spring.

How to sow?

Common vetch is broadcast .

  • Quickly loosen the soil with a fang or claw
  • Sow the seeds on the fly at a rate of 15 g/m2, possibly mixed with sand
  • Cover with about 1 cm of soil by scratching briefly with the rake
  • Tamp lightly
  • Water abundantly in fine rain

Germination occurs after a fortnight.

How to maintain this fodder plant?

Nothing special about the maintenance of the vetch. It does not require fertilization, watering or special care . Just watch it grow and enjoy the ballet of insects that come to feed in the heart of its flowers.

It is not subject to any pest or disease attack.

Harvesting Cultivated Vetch

Here again, to harvest the vetch and take advantage of its benefits, the method differs depending on the type of vetch sown.

Spring vetch is mowed at flowering time , but before pod formation. Then you have two options:

  • You let it dry as it is for three weeks on the ground where it will decompose
  • You pass the mower over the mown vetch to crush it and then bury it.

The winter vetch will simply be mown with a brush cutter. It decomposes on its own before being naturally integrated into the soil, before the first crops.

Vetch, a wild roadside plant

This herbaceous plant grows naturally along roadsides or in meadows. It has climbing stems that allow it to reach 60 to 70 cm in height. The tendrils, located at the end of the leaves, help it cling to a stake.

The vetch offers purple-colored flowers , followed by elongated , slightly swollen pods that enclose brown seeds.

But vetch has another particularity: at the base of its leaves, vetch has an extra-floral nectary that secretes nectar, much appreciated by ants. In return, the latter protect the plant from pest attacks. This tacit contract or symbiosis between the plant and the ants is called myrmecophily.

Different varieties of vetch

In France, there are about forty different varieties, among which we can distinguish:

Vesce hirsute
  • Common or cultivated vetch ( Vicia sativa ) is that which is sown in the vegetable garden
  • The bristly vetch ( Vicia hirsuta ) grows on wasteland and has white flowers
  • Hedge vetch ( Vicia sepium ) likes cool, rich soil. Its flowers are dull purple
  • Krakow vetch ( Vicia cracca ) grows in meadows and bears blue flowers in clusters.

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