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With as many as 150 varieties reigning the world, Vetch is a prominent legume widely distributed throughout the temperate zones of both hemispheres. Out of these many varieties, several were which were of huge agricultural importance centuries ago. Vetch has about 25 native species in America but when it comes to commercial significance then Europe and Western Asia take the lead as the bulk producers of hairy Vetch. Its use as an eatable for humans is not yet traced however Vetch proves to be a farmers's delight as it increases his mainstream production and also acts as a premium fodder crop for animals.

As the esteemed successors of the genus Vicia, Vetch has More than 140 species which have been identified by the scientists worldwide. Following are a few prominent species of Vetch:

  • Vicia americana (American Vetch)
  • Vicia articulata Hornem. (Bard Vetch)
  • Vicia bithynica (Bithynian Vetch)
  • Vicia canescens
  • Vicia cassubica (Danzig Vetch)
  • Vicia cracca (Tufted Vetch)
  • Vicia dumetorum
  • Vicia ervilia (Bitter Vetch)
  • Vicia faba (Broad Bean)
  • Vicia lathyroides (Spring Vetch)
  • Vicia lutea (Yellow Vetch)
  • Vicia monantha (single flowered vetch)
  • Vicia narbonensis
  • Vicia onobrychioides
  • Vicia oroboides
  • Vicia orobus (Upright Vetch)
  • Vicia pannonica
  • Vicia pisiformis (Pea-flowered Vetch)
  • Vicia pyrenaica
  • Vicia sativa (Winter Vetch)
  • Vicia sepium (Bush Vetch)
  • Vicia sylvatica (Wood Vetch)
  • Vicia tenuifolia (Fine-leaved Vetch)
  • Vicia tenuissima (Slender Vetch)
  • Vicia tetrasperma (Smooth Vetch)
  • Vicia unijuga
  • Vicia villosa (Hairy or Fodder Vetch)

General Description
Vetch, the legume grows in a vine-like fashion and eventually reaches a height of about 3-4 feet. Beautifully blossoming into tendrils of 9-7 pairs of small leaflets. The beautiful appearance of the Vetch is the result of the blue and violet colored flowers which are borne on the either side of the stem. The stems and the leaves are hairy giving the plant a velvet like effect. The seeds borne are normally small, round, black and irregularly-sized. A very weak root systems supports the plant growth however even when the plant becomes dormant the root growth continues. The Vetch plant is an expert winter tolerant and can withstand chilly conditions as well.


Benefits of Vetch
Vetch acts as a nutrient manager of the soil and helps the other crops to benefit this quality of Vetch. A perfect nutrient enricher Vetch has following qualities:

  • Nutrient Management
    • Fixes nitrogen
    • Adds enough nitrogen to provide almost all of the needs of the subsequent crop
    • Makes K more accessible to subsequent crop

Not only this Vetch also enhances the crop production by acting as a supporter of several beneficial soil insects.

  • Pest Management
    • Adds to soil biological diversity
    • supports several beneficial insects
    • hosts several species of nematodes
  • Organic Matter
    • due to cold dormancy - it is not suited to early incorporation
    • can add between 2,000 to 5,000 lbs/ac of dry matter
  • Erosion Control
    • Provides enough cover to suppress weeds and protect soil
    • Provides a longer window of protection than other cover crops

Interesting facts about Vetch
Vetch if allowed to grow for a full season can credit 120 lb/acre of Nitrogen in the soil increasing its fertility up to 75%.

The grain is an excellent sheep and cattle feed concentrate. It has been held in high esteem by farmers in the Old World since the beginning of agriculture to improve the nutritional value of bulk feeds.

Hairy vetch is generally used for soil improvement along roadsides and for bank stabilization. Well-nodulated hairy vetch can enrich the soil with 60 to 120 lb/acre of nitrogen through nitrogen fixation.

Hairy vetch, also called sand vetch, is a moderately winter-hardy species. It is the only vetch species that can be fall-seeded and reach maturity the following July.

Vetches are majorly grown for pasture as they withstand trampling, provide grazing during May and June and have a feeding value slightly lower than that of clover and alfalfa.

The protein content of vetch hay ranges from 12 to 20%, depending on the stage of development of the crop when cut.

When grown with small grains it grows to be an excellent forage.

Vetch is very difficult to grow for seed as the pods mature unevenly and tend to shatter easily.


Vetch Cultivation

  • One of the major benefits of growing Vetch is that it has high adaptability power which makes it grow well on a wide range of soil types. these can be grown on nitrogen depleted soils and they do not even require fertilizers.
  • This legume grows best in soils high in available potassium. Requirements for phosphorus, calcium and other minerals are less pronounced. While growing in potassium enriched soils along with other crops , Vetch makes potassium easily available to the other crops.
  • Weeds are rarely a any problem in vetch fields, especially when seeded in late summer. It is only when rye and vetch are repeatedly grown on the same land, that perrenial weeds become more evident.
  • For best results, the seedbed should be firm and have adequate moisture for good seed germination.

Damaging Diseases which attack Vetch
Being susceptible to several fungal diseases, Vetch can be easily taken under the influence. Black stem is the most generally occurring disease which is reflected by stem discoloration and irregular lesions on the leaves. If not taken care of the disease can cause serious damage to hairy vetch seedlings.

  • Root rot is another bacterial disease which hampers its growth. Gray mold, or botrytis leaf spot, sometimes causes considerable defoliation of vetch. The spots are small and dark red when young, later fading to light gray or brown with a maroon border.
  • A disease that resembles anthracnose, but is caused by a different fungus, is prevalent on hairy vetch in the South. This "false anthracnose" produces a brown discoloration and girdling of stems. Spots on leaves are small and circular but tend to form elongated streaks. When pods are heavily spotted, the fungus penetrates the seed. Seed development may be hindered by this disease.
  • Downy mildew has caused considerable damage to common vetch in the Pacific Northwest. The underside of infected leaves is covered with fine grayish fungal threads. Infected leaves turn yellow and drop off prematurely.
  • Stem rot of vetch is caused by a fungus that is destructive during cool, wet weather. This disease sometimes causes considerable damage in the Pacific Northwest.
  • Root-knot nematode can cause considerable damage in vetch. Nematodes are most active in warm weather, and damage may be reduced by moderately late planting.
  • Scientific researches have come up with resistant varieties which are weed resistant, have immune powers against bacterial and fungi diseases.
  • Vetch is attacked by many of the insect pests of alfalfa, clover and other forage legumes, including the pea aphid, cutworm, corn earthworm, fall army worm, vetch bruchid, grasshopper, lygus bug and leafhopper.

A few words of caution

  • Hairy vetch has a moderate rating for water efficiency
  • Robs soil moisture from subsequent crops if left to grow too long in spring.