Saturday, May 19, 2007


If you'd asked me yesterday what I thought of hairy vetch, I'd likely have backed away and looked at you suspiciously. If you asked me the same thing today, I'd conclude you were a knowledgeable gardener. Interesting thing about knowledge, how rapidly it transforms one's opinions.

This morning I was looking at that prolific plant whose face and pushy manner I knew so well from lo, these many seasons - but whose name I knew not - that each Spring pops up after the cleavers and chickweed have gone and grows all over my garden and flower beds clearly wanting to take over-- I found it thriving in the corner of my front flower bed and made a note to myself to later get the hand scythe and clear it out of there, then I went online to find out what the nasty, pushy stuff was: appropriately, it was named "hairy vetch" (vicia villosa).

The pictures were accompanied by this text: "In the course of these 18 years study, we ... screened more than 2000 plants and found potential allelopathic plants useful for sustainable agriculture. From the potent allelopathic plants, we isolated several new bioactive chemicals and some of them were patented. As for direct application for the farm, Velvetbean (Mucuna pruriens) ... and hairy vetch (Vicia villosa) ... are now gradually spreading as allelopathic cover crop in Japan and in some other parts of the world. Hairy vetch is now accepted by Japanese farmers and recommended as cover plants for the vegetation control of fallow, abandoned field, and orchard."

Then I opened my email and found this in the Organic Gardening newsletter from Rodale: "If you love the flavor of juicy, ripe, home-grown tomatoes—then remember these four simple words: Sow! Cut! Plant! Pluck! These magic words are the key to "can't-miss" tomatoes that require virtually no weeding and hardly any watering—and they give you red, ripe tomatoes sooner than you ever imagined! The "hairy" secret is hairy vetch—a miracle plant used by farmers all over America to build the fertility of their soil. The trick is to sow this nitrogen-boosting, soil-protecting plant in the fall. Cut it down two weeks before you set out your tomatoes. Plant your seedling in a hole you cut in the dried vetch. And pluck the best no-work tomatoes you ever grew! It's as easy as 1-2-3-4! The thick vetch will smother any weeds that would even dare to pop up—and it helps keep soil and your tomato plants nice and moist!"

When sapience rains on my head, it pours! Now I'm not only going to let that wonderful plant Hairy Vetch - that miracle plant with the wonderful name - stay where it is and proliferate, I'm going to save its precious seeds and plant them as my garden ground cover in the fall.

Knowledge rules!

And the monkeys will love my tomatoes.


Tabor said...

Every prolific plant has at least one good aspect. Now, I also will see this invasive in a new light.

Winston said...

Hmmm... need to check and see if this guy, Harry Vetch, lives in Tennessee. Tomatoes need help.

Isn't it interesting ... and at times frustrating ... that no matter our knowledge, no matter our success or wealth, everything comes around to the generosity, or lack thereof, of the lords of the land. It's always about the monkeys...

Mary Lou said...

we knew it was a good cover crop, but we cant get tomatoes to ripen in time up here. I may have to try it in a whiskey barrel and with a rubber tire along side to soak up heat!

Perkunas said...

Looks like what we call Spring Vetch in California -- it's everywhere along the roads now here in Sonoma County. I think that there are lots of invasive plants that are good nitrogen fixers -- I just read an article about one but can't remember which one.

Annette said...

I always found this plant very pretty, though as a child it was frustrating to try to make it stand up in a bouquet. It just always asserted its independence by laying over sideways.