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Date:9/20/2014 7:04:59 PM
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Hairy Vetch
All hail the Hairy Vetch! Never has such a beneficent plant been so overlooked.

Hairy vetch is the most winter-hardy of the vetches. It is one of two vetch varieties that can be grown in the Upper Midwest. Vicia villosa is its botanical name. I grew up thinking that the vetch that grew here at La Ferme Sabloneuse was Crown Vetch because that's what my Pa had called it. In researching this blog I was surprised to learn that what we have here is actually Hairy Vetch. What I'd thought to be some type of clover climbing the fence of the parking lot at work was actually Crown Vetch. As Wikipedia puts it, "Crown Vetch grows 1 to 2 feet tall and bears small clusters of 1/2-inch pink and white flowers from early summer to late fall. Vetches have cylindrical root nodules of the indeterminate type and are thus nitrogen-fixing plants. Their flowers usually have white to purple or blue hues, but may be red or yellow; they are pollinated by bumblebees, honey bees, solitary bees and other insects." Wikipedia also states that Crown Vetch is toxic to horses. This would be a concern to horse owners as Crown Vetch grows along roadsides all around here. Both types of vetches are great for enriching poorer quality soil:
"(All) vetches grow well on a wide range of soil types, but are best adapted to loamy and sandy soils. Because they are legumes, vetches can be grown on nitrogen-depleted soils without the addition of N fertilizer." -- The University of Wisconsin Extension's Alternative Field Crops Manual.


Anecdotal evidence here in NE Wisconsin states thsoils. Because they are legumes, vetches can be grown on nitrogen-depleted soils without the addition of N fertilizer." -- The University of Wisconsin
Extension's Alternative Field Crops Manual.
at Hairy Vetch had been introduced here in the 1930's in order to prevent soil erosion during the Dust-bowl Years in those same '30's. All I know is that it has been on our land all my life. Each summer I would watch the bumblebees bob from blossom to blossom. I had thought to introduce Hairy Vetch next year in a patch that Eldest Brother David had grown Rye last year. I was bemused to find that naturally seeded Hairy Vetch was growing on that patch this year. I will wait another year and see how it spreads. The Valley garden at the homestead will be left to go fallow for a year or two and then I plan to plant Hairy Vetch and see what it does for a couple of years. If I find that this tenacious legume, first cousin to the pea, is seeding itself in that field, I'll have to consider letting nature run its course. Either way, the valuable vetch will do its work and enrich the soil of La Ferme Sabloneuse, as it has done for over 80 years. -- Gary
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