What the heck is Vetch?

#TBT September 18, 1959 – You have to be a farmer I guess to know what Vetch is.. But evidently, Vetch and honey bees go hand in hand. (Photo is of J. O. Harrison, Dawson, TX) Corsicana Semi-Weekly Light Corsicana, Texas 18 Sep 1959, Fri • Page 3

Vetch…Farmers know what Hairy Vetch can do:

Hairy vetch is a winter annual legume that offers a number of potential benefits to row-crop or livestock producers when used as a winter cover crop. Though a good stand of this winter annual legume alone can provide good cover, it also can make a good companion species to ryegrass and, in particular, small grains.

In addition to protecting land from erosion, hairy vetch can provide spring pasture for livestock. In other cases, producers plant it with winter annual grasses, especially small grains. They then harvest the forage for hay or silage.

Most common use

The most common use of hairy vetch is as a green manure crop to be turned under a nitrogen source just prior to planting a summer row crop such as corn, cotton or grain sorghum, or an annual forage crop such as pearl millet or a sorghum-sudan hybrid. There is little advantage in turning under vetch prior to planting soybeans or other legume crops, since legumes fix their own nitrogen.

About 3.5 percent of the dry matter of hairy vetch is nitrogen, so a substantial amount of nitrogen is available in forage and roots when turned under prior to planting a summer crop. The timing of turning under a vetch cover crop in such situations is important. Only a few weeks can make a great deal of difference in the amount of growth – and thus nitrogen — present in the vetch forage and roots. Even vetch that has been grazed prior to being turned under will provide nitrogen for a summer crop, although the amount will be reduced as compared to a stand that is not grazed.

Vetch is particularly well suited to being used as a winter cover on fields in which summer row crops are to be planted by no-till methods. Vetch makes heavy spring growth that chokes out summer weeds. It is easily killed by desiccants at planting time and it provides a good mulch for conserving moisture. Yet, it deteriorates quickly enough so that it does not create problems later in the growing season.

It has long been known that hairy vetch can help conserve soil and water resources and also serve as an inexpensive source of nitrogen in conservation-tillage systems. Unfortunately, common hairy vetch does not flower until late spring, after many Southern farmers have had to turn under or kill a cover crop in preparation for spring crops. In such situations, producers cannot reap the full benefits from growing this legume.

Like I said, only farmers know what vetch can do and evidently, using bee hives, makes your vetch even better!