Growing Hairy Vetch: How to Plant and Raise This Marvelous Cover Crop

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Many gardeners sow winter cover crops in the fall, after their plots have been dormant for a while. Hairy vetch is a lovely cover crop for growing during the off-season, despite its harsh look.

Erosion is prevented, nutrients are replenished, and the soil is aerated with a beneficial cover crop. One of the greatest cover crops is hairy vetch. It strangles weeds out as well as killing them.

Vetch is the Ideal Cover Crop

When my husband apprenticed at an organic farm in southern New England, I first heard about cover crops. In the fall, the farmer sowed rye and hairy vetch (Vicia villosa) into his fields, then plowed them under when the snow had melted.

I’ll give you a brief overview of cover cropping if you haven’t done it before. During the “off-season,” we plant cover crops to protect the soil from erosion in the winds, rains, and snows. Cover crops protect the soil by hiding it under their leaves.

They also help to improve the soil, replacing nutrients that we removed throughout the growing season. They can be used as a green manure, if you want.

Winter grains and legumes make up the majority of cover crops. In the autumn, you seed them, and in the spring, you till them before sowing. The same family as peanuts and alfalfa, Vetch is a legume.

Several gardeners prefer to till in the vetch blossoms before they bloom in early spring. Before blooming, you should plow your vetch so that it does not get weedy or reseed itself in your garden.

Sowing Vetch

Clear away last season’s trash before preparing the ground for a cover crop. Rake leaves, remove dead plants, and turn the earth over. You can simply till the soil with a plow or rototiller.

Right before tilling, I like to add soil amendments. I’ll till the whole thing until it looks soft and loose, sprinkling on a bit of last year’s wood ash and raking over some well-composted manure.

Broadcast your vetch seed when your soil is freshly tilled. To benefit the vetch, do this as quickly as feasible after tillage. All the weeds will have a chance to sprout first and choke out your cover crop if you wait a day or two.

Sprinkle the seed evenly over the garden to broadcast it. I like to scatter seed and then cover it in 10x 10-foot plots that I’ve marked off for garden space. After that, I proceed to the next designated plot.

This technique may become tedious if you have a particularly huge garden, so feel free to utilize a seed spreader in rows.

Before scattering your seeds, mix them together to allow for a natural intermingling of your crops if you’re seeding in vetch and rye.

When to Plant

Vetch should be planted around a month to 40 days before your anticipated hard frost because it prefers to produce an early growth before going dormant in the winter. Planting will be around the first of September for us in New England.

Don’t be concerned if your springtime vetch arrives a little later, though it’s usually hairy vetch planted too close to winter that comes up in the spring.

Hairy vetch can endure even the harshest winter conditions because it is hardy down to -20°F. In temperatures as low as USDA Hardiness Zone 3, it performs admirably as a cover crop.

Ideal Soil

Heavy, poorly drained soil isn’t ideal for hairy vetch. You might want to consider other cover crops if your soil is compacted or prone to retaining water.

Vetch thrives on soil that is sandy, well-drained, and has a pH of 6.0 to 7.0. Yet, as long as its requirement for well-draining soil is satisfied, it can adapt to less-than-ideal situations.

Vetch in Fall, Winter, and Spring

Your vetch will quickly germinate after you plant it and begin to develop. If you’re using it as a cover crop, there’s no need to thin the vetch. Thin your plants to about 3 inches apart if you’re growing it for its lovely blooms.

In the autumn, hairy vetch grows slowly, but throughout the winter, it thrives beneath the snow. Your vetch is well-established in the spring. Hairy vetch grows rapidly as the weather gets warmer. Although it seldom grows taller than 3 feet, its long, trellising vines may stretch up to 12 feet.

Vetch happily trellises up grain stalks when it is grown alongside a grain like rye.

Let your vetch grow until it is time to plant summer crops in the garden, around 3 weeks before you plan to do so. To avoid seeding the vetch in the soil, most farmers prefer to trim it down before it blooms. However, if you prefer to enjoy the flowers while a fresh crop of vetch is establishing in the fall, that’s fine with me.


Vetch has little trouble with pests since it grows primarily during the winter. Infections are rare to come across. Before they have a chance to harm your crop, the winter weather will kill off most of the common insects and illnesses.

However, you may run into problems with a few of the most common pests in early spring and late fall.


Whether you’re growing vetch or not, these little pests are a problem. It’s time to dig out your trusty bottle of insecticidal soap if you notice aphids on your hairy vetch. Whenever you observe aphid damage on the underside of the leaves, spray it.

Add neem oil to your huge expanse of vetch. The likelihood that your invading aphids will create a colony of aphids in your garden is reduced by neem oil.

Slugs and Snails

Slugs and snails are common pests, similar to aphids. Wet, spring gardens are particularly prone to them. Place some beer traps in amongst the vetch if you notice signs of slugs or snails in your garden.

Little jars of beer set into the ground are referred to as beer traps. The jar’s peak should be about the same height as the ground. Beer is a favorite drink of slugs and snails. The scent of beer attracts them, and they drown themselves in it.

Set your ducks loose among the vetch if you have any. Ducks are effective slug hunters. Your ducks won’t do any harm to the vetch once it has regenerated.

Stick to beer traps in the fall if you have a slug or snail problem. Young vetch and all the slugs will be devoured by ducks.


Cut your hairy vetch at the base and let it fall when it’s ready to be cleared out of the cover crop. After two months of spring development, harvest occurs. Next, cut the stalks as short as possible to the ground.

Once you’ve chopped off the stalks, they’ll dry out. You can till the dead plant material in the soil and let it continue to release nutrients after approximately a week.

The structure of the soil is improved by plowing in old plant material. It aids in drainage by slowly releasing nutrients into the soil. Heavy nitrogen feeders like tomatoes and corn will appreciate the fact that this green manure provides a fantastic growing base.

Goats, rabbits, and chickens may all be fed vetch as feed, however horses and cattle should never be fed it.

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