Hairy vetch cover crop

Hairy vetch might sound unpleasant, but it will change the way you grow tomatoes

Everybody loves tomatoes, but they’re not the easiest vegetable to grow. They get diseases, leaves drop, fruits rot, and gardeners will always listen to a new tip for growing healthier ones with better yields.

Tomatoes (and other crops as well) are often grown using black plastic as a mulch to suppress weeds and warm the soil in spring, but black plastic is hard to love. It’s expensive, it’s hard to dispose of ecologically, and it’s just plain ugly. Organic mulches such as hay or chopped leaves, on the other hand, can not only curb weeds and prevent soil erosion but also provide nutrition for the plants. As these materials decompose, worms, bacteria and other organisms incorporate them into the soil, improving its fertility, soil structure and water-holding capacity. You can even get the mulch for free, or at the minimal cost of seed, if you grow your own.

This was the subject of a study by plant scientists at the Agricultural Research Service in Beltsville. Now 25 years old, the study’s results still offer rewards for professional tomato growers and home gardeners alike.

Months before planting tomatoes, the scientists raised a winter cover crop in the tomato beds. The system they used requires more foresight and planning than laying black plastic at tomato planting time, but the benefits are much greater. They chose hairy vetch, a legume that, like its cousins peas and beans, develops root nodules. Through bacterial action, the nodules convert atmospheric nitrogen into a form the plants can use. So just by growing a legume and leaving its roots in the ground, the gardener is improving the soil for the crop to follow. Tilling the vetch under, letting it decompose and then planting your crop will go one step further by adding organic matter to the soil.

Hairy vetch, as a winter annual, will sprout in the fall, overwinter, regrow in spring, go to seed and die.

The scientists sowed the vetch in mid-September. In spring, when the vetch plants were tall, bushy and in bloom, they were mowed down to an inch above the ground, and the residue piled above the stubble to form a thick, smothering mulch.

And here’s the cool part: In early May, when the soil was warm enough to plant tomatoes, holes were dug in the soil, right through the mulch and the stubble, and tomato transplants set in without any tilling.

With all the benefits the vetch conveyed, those tomato plants were both healthier and higher-yielding than two other plantings done for comparison, one with black plastic as a mulch and the other with no mulch, just bare soil. This happened in all three years of the study. A further study, using greenhouse tomatoes, yielded similar results. And in an intriguing follow-up, a researcher at the same lab, Autar Mattoo, did a groundbreaking molecular analysis of the results, pointing to genes for longevity and disease resistance being activated by the presence of the vetch.

Do try this at home. Now, with empty beds opening up in the garden, it’s the perfect time to provide extra fertility for any crop you’ll be setting out as transplants next year. To cut the vetch in spring, a home gardener might use a string trimmer or hedge clippers, depending on the size of the plot. If you are concerned about vetch regrowth, you might cover the residue with a paper mulch to prevent re-sprouting. Hairy vetch seeds are available at feed stores and online. And while you’re Googling that, take a look at images of the plant; its name might suggest a scary Halloween costume, but, in fact, it sports beautiful lavender-blue flowers for you to — briefly — enjoy.

Hairy Vetch


Traditionally, cover crops are non-harvested crops that provide important agronomic benefits including reductions in erosion, landscape diversification, nutrient addition and soil quality improvement. Distinct from other Forever Green focus crops, after being planted in the fall, traditional cover crops are typically not harvested for economic benefit, but instead are killed in the spring and all plant biomass returned to the soil to reap soil quality benefits. New winter cover crops of this type are needed to enhance the sustainability of annual agroecosystems. Currently, species options for Minnesota are very limited. Hairy vetch (Vicia villosa) is one winter annual crop that can reduce soil erosion, increase soil quality, sequester soil nutrients, and since it is a legume, can contribute biologically fixed nitrogen (N) to soils that other non-legumes can then use for growth. Many U.S. farms already take advantage of these hairy vetch cover crop benefits, however Minnesota is challenged as no existing varieties fit into our current corn-soybean production system. These systems typically require October planting of cover crops and early May incorporation prior to row crop planting. October is often to late for legumes such as hairy vetch to establish and survive the winter, and May too early to result in ample cover crop spring growth. We propose to develop new hairy vetch varieties adapted for use as a winter cover in Minnesota to overcome these limitations of the currently available cultivars, as well as investigate soil health benefit resulting from hairy vetch use.


Our plant breeding approach will be to use methods that include traditional field-based breeding and selection using current ecotypes and breeding populations with the objectives being: 1) to select for reliable winter hardiness, 2) to select for earlier maturity in the spring, and 3) to maintain spring biomass yield, seed production potential, and nitrogen fixation capability. Hairy vetch is primarily cross-pollinated with a high frequency of outcrossing coupled with strong self-incompatibility. Our choice of plant population improvement methods therefore are limited to using recurrent selection procedures. Recurrent selection involves evaluation of plants from a population for traits of interest, selection of a proportion of these plants exhibiting the desired traits, intermating of selected individuals usually in isolation, harvesting seed from selected plants and initiating a second cycle of selection and/or evaluation of progeny from these matings. Based on an evaluation of 30 hairy vetch populations including local ecotypes, released varieties, and commercially-available entries, a plant breeding program was initiated in 2015 using the most promising populations to start our breeding program. The first cycle of selection for improved winter hardiness and other important agronomic traits will be done in 2016.


The purpose of our team is to provide legume cover crop options to growers in the upper Midwest that can be used in our variable climates to help increase soil quality and nutrient availability to cash crops, and reduce nutrient losses that have been implicated in the pollution of Minnesota waterways. We have three specific agronomic outputs of our project:

1) Identify winter annual legumes, with a focus on hairy vetch ecotypes, that are winter hardy

2) Identify winter annual legumes that have early spring productive capacity and can produce abundant biomass

3) Evaluate nutrient and health status of soils following production of winter annual legumes, such as hairy vetch

Our team will address the lack of winter hardy legume cover crop species options that can contribute to soil quality, fertility and active microbial functioning in northern climates. Soil health and nutrient benefits resulting from hairy vetch use will be evaluated by examining key soil microbial processes that regulate nitrogen (N) cycling in select winter-hardy legumes. Legume cover crops are extraordinary sources of fertility and if well managed can completely replace external N fertilizer additions in organic systems. Additionally, since the N is released slowly via decomposition and the activity of soil microorganisms, N release from legumes has been shown to be more tightly-coupled with summer crop plant need, resulting in greatly reduced N losses to waterways. Recent work by our team in warmer regions of the U.S. shows certain varieties of hairy vetch to have high biomass nitrogen production and nitrogen-fixation capacity, with some producing over 200 kg N ha-1, and more than 170 kg N ha-1 of this derived from nitrogen fixation (Parr et al., 2011). However, challenges unique to regions with short growing seasons and cool soils exist and have limited its adoption in northern regions, where N contributions from currently available germplasm have been identified in the range of 50-190 kg N ha-1 (Teasdale, 2004).

Through rigorous and cutting edge analysis of soil samples from fields where hairy vetch and other legumes are grown, we will assess N contributions and cycling as related to hairy vetch use. In particular, we are quantifying total nitrogen contribution of promising legume cover crops resulting from our breeding efforts, and measuring the amount of nitrogen derived from soil and from atmospheric pools (biological nitrogen fixation). A collection of vetch-nodulating rhizobia (Rhizobium leguminosarum) from around Minnesota has already been established by our team, with over 500 nitrogen-fixing strains isolated and preserved in our lab. These strains are currently being independently evaluated for nitrogen fixation potential. As well, we are assessing the impact of hairy vetch ecotypes, as well as other legumes or legume mixes, on biological soil quality parameters, including labile organic matter pools (POM and POX), dissolved C and N pools, microbial biomass C and N. We are evaluating the currently-available hairy vetch germplasm as new vetch germplasm more suitable to our region is developed.


Nancy Ehlke, Professor and Department Head, Department of Agronomy and Plant Genetics

Julie Grossman, Assistant Professor, Department of Horticultural Science

Jessica Gutknecht, Assistant Professor, Department of Soil, Water and Climate

Craig Sheaffer, Professor, Department of Agronomy and Plant Genetics

Thanwalee Sooksanguan, Post-Doctoral Associate, Department of Horticultural Science

M. Scott Wells, Assistant Professor, Department of Agronomy and Plant Genetics

Nicholas Wiering, Research Assistant, Department of Agronomy and Plant Genetics

Donald Wyse, Professor, Department of Agronomy and Plant Genetics

Funding sources

USDA Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE)

Minnesota Department of Agriculture

Minnesota Agricultural Experiment Station

Forever Green Initiative




External partners

USDA-ARS Sustainable Agriculture Laboratory

North Carolina State University

Those purple flowers in the corn fields signal a tough decision for farmers


The corn and soybean fields around Southwestern Indiana are alive with purple flowers this spring.

The colorful blooms signal to horticulturists that Southern Indiana has experienced a warm winter and an early spring.

“We’re a good two weeks ahead this spring,” said Jon Neufelder, an agriculture and natural resources educator at Posey County’s Purdue Extension Office. “That’s a lot. Everything is coming along a lot faster.”

The purple blossoms are actually two different flowers that often grow together, said Larry Caplan, a horticulture educator at Vanderburgh County’s Purdue Extension Office. They’re winter annuals called Henbit and Purple Deadnettle. Both are in the mint family.


They grow in fields every year, but they are especially colorful in years with mild winters, when the warmer weather gives the cool season plant more time to germinate.

The rolling purple fields are a sign of more to come, Caplan said.

Most plants will bloom early this year. It’s too late to prevent crabgrass – it’s already growing. There will be a lot of ticks.

And, for area farmers, fields will be ready to plant weeks ahead of schedule. In fact, many fields are ready this week.

This presents local farmers with a tough decision. Do they risk planting early – and increase their chance at a bumper harvest this fall? Or if they should wait in case another freeze is coming?

It’s common for Southern Indiana to experience one last flash of freezing weather around April – even during the warmest years, Caplan said.

“It is hard to predict what is going to happen,” Caplan said. “I know the farmers are getting kind of antsy, they want to get out in the fields. But it’s a gamble, because we might still get a big freeze this spring.”

Farmers face the question of when to plant each year. For corn and soy to grow, the soil must be sufficiently dry, and the weather above freezing.

“The ground is dryer right now than most springs,” said Andy Eisterhold, a Posey County grower. “That allows us to get in earlier. But we still have to pay attention to the calendar.”

Eisterhold plans to wait a couple weeks, just to be safe.

Other farmers may gamble planting now. Many have already begun prepping their fields, Neufelder said.

“I wouldn’t be surprised to see farmers planting later this week,” Neufelder said. “Soil conditions right now are about ideal.”

This is the first of many hurdles growers will face this year. If the Tri-State avoids a mid-spring freeze, farmers will next contend with rain.

“There’s always something to worry about,” Neufelder said.

Last year, the weather was warm enough to plant in early spring – but it was too wet. As rain kept farmers from their fields, they began to worry that late planting would mean a diminished harvest.

“It can be very stressful whenever Mother Nature doesn’t cooperate,” Eisterhold said. “The later it gets, the more stressful it gets.”

While impossible to predict, Caplan said, the purple flowers in the fields signal that this year’s growing season may be off to a promising start.

There’s a Reason Why Fields are Turning Purple Early

The two most responsible for purple patches in fields are henbit and purple deadnettle. Both grow close to the ground, and can produce thick patches of cover. Purple deadnettle is more likely found in southern counties.

The early flowering may be a result of an early harvest that allowed the winter annuals to get an early start, despite dry conditions. If you have these weeds in your field, it’s more than just something to acknowledge and forget about. Keep it in mind as you prepare those fields for planting.

Flowering means henbit is nearing the end of its life cycle, Hager says. Since it’s past the rapid growth phase, it will be harder to control with herbicides. However, he insists that it shouldn’t be ignored- it’s not that close to being dead and out of the picture. You should still try to control it before planting corn or soybeans into those fields, he notes.

One reason is because they’re hosts for insects and disease. And once plants go to seed, the weed seed added to the seed bank can exist there for years.

Preplant tillage or herbicides can provide excellent control, he advises. Neither 2,4-D nor dicamba are very good on henbit alone. However, glyphosate can provide good control, Hager says, but application rates should be close to 1.1 pounds per acre of active ingredient since the plants are mature. Bottom line- don’t skimp on rates if you have these purple predators in your field!

Other herbicide combinations with atrazine may also prove effective.

Cover Crops for the Edible Garden

Buckwheat flowers. Photo: Glen Mittelhauser,

Cover crops can really make a difference in the quality of the soil in your edible garden. They have the potential to improve the physical, chemical and biological properties of the soil, supply nitrogen, and attract beneficial insects. It’s that last benefit—attracting beneficial insects—that many gardeners choose to focus on.


Buckwheat (Fagropyrum esculentum) is a cool-season annual that grows in spring and fall in North Florida and in the winter in South Florida. Because of its short life cycle, buckwheat makes a great cover crop—the hollow stems decompose rapidly once incorporated into the soil, providing the soil with nutrients. Because it decomposes so rapidly, it is well-suited as a green manure but not a surface mulch, particularly on soils that erode easily. Varieties include semi-dwarf types like ‘Manor’ and ‘Mancan’, which have large seeds, leaves, and stems, and are prolific seed producers. Buckwheat is successful in many types of soil, grows up to about 3 feet tall, and flowers continuously through its growing season. Plants germinate in three to five days and produce flowers in three to five weeks. The arrangement of buckwheat’s white flowers provides the perfect habitat for small beneficial insects and pollinators who come to feed on the pollen.


Crimson clover. Photo: Chris Evans, University of Illinois,

Clover is a commonly seen cool-season annual that flowers in early spring. Clovers add nitrogen back into the soil, making them a useful choice for the edible garden. Crimson clover (Trifolium incarnatum) is frequently seen along roadsides where it is planted for highway beautification, but it can be used in your garden as well. The flowers are 2 inches long and bright red, while leaves are dark green. Crimson clover does best in heavy, well-drained soils and is widely grown in North and Northwest Florida. It can be grown in Central and South Florida, however it stops flowering and growing fairly early.

For a legume of a different color, white clover (Trifolium repens) grows well in Florida. These cool-season legumes spread by stems that root at nodes. White clover is a perennial in most places, but in Florida it often behaves as an annual. This legume grows best in cool temperatures and in fertile, well-drained soils. White clover tolerates fairly wet soils but will not thrive in areas with prolonged flooding. It will be most successful in soils that remain moist in fall, winter, and spring.


Vetch (Vicia villosa) or hairy vetch is an interestingly named legume that thrives during the winter. Like other legumes, this plant is wonderful for adding nitrogen to your soil. Vetch has ½-inch long dagger-shaped leaves. In springtime, these plants produces small purple flowers which are quickly followed by inch-long seed pods. Honeybees and other native pollinators frequent the flowers while birds and animals consume the seeds. Vetch can be grown in your garden and then worked into the soil to add nitrogen and organic material as a green manure. These plants grow in full sun to partially shaded areas and reach 6 to 12 inches tall.


Lupin (Lupinus angustifolius) is a cool-season annual legume and an excellent cover crop that is adapted to well-drained soils in northern and western Florida. Lupin plants produce flowers that can be blue, white, or yellow. Tifblue, Frost, and Tifwhite are some of the recommended lupin varieties for Florida.


  • UF/IFAS Extension Agriculture: Cover Crops

A researcher inspects the flowering of hairy vetch plants. Photo: Scott Bauer, USDA Agricultural Research Service,

UF/IFAS Publications

Also on Gardening Solutions

  • Vegetable Gardening in Florida

Hairy Vetch Cover Crop Info: Hairy Vetch Planting Benefits In The Garden

Growing hairy vetch in gardens provides a number of benefits to home gardeners; vetch and other cover crops prevent runoff and erosion and add organic matter and important nutrients to the soil. Cover crops such as hairy vetch also attract beneficial insects to the garden.

What is Hairy Vetch?

A type of legume, hairy vetch (Vicia villosa) is a cold-hardy plant belonging to the same plant family as beans and peas. The plant is sometimes planted in spring, especially in agricultural applications. In the garden, hairy vetch cover crops are usually grown through the winter and plowed into the soil before spring planting.

Hairy Vetch Benefits

Hairy vetch absorbs nitrogen from the air as it grows. Nitrogen, a critical nutrient required for plant growth, is often depleted by repeated cultivation, poor soil management and use of synthetic fertilizers and herbicides. When a hairy vetch cover crop is plowed into the soil, significant amounts of nitrogen are restored.

Additionally, the plant’s roots anchor the soil, reducing runoff and preventing soil erosion. An added benefit is the plant’s ability to suppress early growth of weeds.

When the plant is plowed into the ground in spring, it improves soil structure, promotes drainage and increases the soil’s ability to retain nutrients and moisture. For this reason, hairy vetch and other cover crops are often known as “green manure.”

Hairy Vetch Planting

Growing hairy vetch in gardens is easy enough. Plant hairy vetch in late summer or autumn at least 30 days before the first average frost date in your area. It’s important to provide time for the roots to establish before the ground freezes in winter.

To plant hairy vetch, plow the soil as you would for any regular crop. Broadcast the seed over the soil at the rate recommended on the seed package – usually 1 to 2 pounds of seed for every 1,000 square feet of garden space.

Cover the seeds with about ½ inch of soil, then water well. The plant will grow vigorously throughout the winter. Mow the hairy vetch before the plant flowers in spring. Although the purple blooms are beautiful, the plant may become weedy if it is allowed to go to seed.

Scientific name(s)

Common vetch

Vicia sativa


  • Common vetches are an annual pasture/forage/grain legume, extremely palatable at all growth stages, from early green shoots, as dry matter/hay or silage through to seedpods and seeds over summer.
  • It has very high feed values for animals as green plants and dry matter as well as grain.
  • Vetches have the ability to offer substantial improvements in soil fertility, structure and organic matter as well as offering a weed and disease break for cereals in a crop rotation.
  • Vetch fixes atmospheric nitrogen in the soil; this is beneficial for subsequent cereal crops in both yield and quality.
  • Growing vetch in crop rotations as a pasture or hay can be a very good strategy for controlling resistant grass weeds, because they will be grazed or cut before grasses have formed or set seeds and it provides a disease break from cereal diseases.
  • For vetch planting, maintenance and harvesting, farmers can use the same machines that are used for cereal crops.
  • Provides non-selective weed control options for reducing the risk of herbicide resistant weeds in cropping phases (eg grazing, green manuring, and hay production, spray-topping).
  • Soft seeded species are suitable for use in all crop rotations, without the risk of voluntary plants creating a problem in following crops.


  • Not well adapted to waterlogging.
  • In early growth stages vetches are sensitive to redlegged earth mite, and lucerne flea, and in mid to later growth to cowpea aphids as well to Native bud worm/Heliothis at flowering and podding stages.
  • Post emergent herbicide options for broadleaf weed control are limited.

Plant description

Plant: annual, moderate stem strength and grows as small bushes. 40-80 cm high, with multiple lateral branches from near the base.

Stems: large climbing semi-prostrate with 9-16 internodes with multiple green to dark green leaves.

Leaves: concave, green, hairy on both sides. The central leaf stalk contains 4-8 pair of leaves with a tendril on the top.

Flowers: single or pair, medium (10-35mm); colour-violet/purple or white.

Pods: length-medium to long (40-70mm); with 6-8 seeds.

Pasture type and use

Common vetch varieties (CVV) have multipurpose end use options, as a pasture, hay/silage, and green manuring crops. Plant establishment after autumn rains is significantly faster than medics and clovers; reaching 6-10 nodes (10-15cm) in 6-8 weeks. CVV have some resistance to grazing, the other species are more susceptible. This species does not show an obvious preference for particular soils. New vetch varieties are bred for Australian medium/low rainfall areas.

Vetches are potentially adapted to most areas of Australian farming land. Farmers perceive vetches as a reliable, versatile legume for pasture, green manure, hay/silage and grain. Vetches in crop rotations can be used to manage cereal diseases, grass weeds, improve soil fertility and contribute to increased yield and protein content in following crops.

Where it grows

Annual rainfall of 300-750 mm (growing season rainfall 200-350mm). Early flowering varieties (Ras & LNG) are suited to lower rainfall zones, and Mor and BF for higher rainfall zones.Adapted to and grown in most soil types and rainfall areas in southern Australia. Also in northern New South Wales and southern Queensland (mostly as a green manure).


Adapted to a range of soil types from sandy loams to clays of moderate fertility.Prefers neutral to alkaline soils.


Adapted to Mediterranean and Temperate Zones of southern Australia (10-35oC).

Companion species

Can be grown in mixtures with annual ryegrass, volunteer cereals or sown cereals for grass/legume pasture or hay production, and with a range of summer growing grasses in the subtropics.

Sowing/planting rates as single species

Sowing/planting rates in mixtures

For quality pastures or hay/silage use a mix of 2/3 vetch and 1/3 of rye grass or cereals (as a % of) the recommended rates for a particular area.

Sowing time

Mid April to end of June, depending on break of the season. Data from 10yr’s of trials indicates that earlier seeding times produced better yields compared with later seeding. Sown at the same spacing as a cereals; 17-19cm between rows, at 4-6cm deep.


Commercial Group E.


Triple Super – 50-75kg/ha at sowing time will generally provide a good start and growth, however many growers choose to sow without any fertilizer with good results.

Maintenance fertliser

Generally common vetches are grown in rotation with cereals that regularly use a combination of fertilizers; this provides enough residual nutrients to maintain soil fertility for vetch growth. So no extra fertilizer applications during the growing season are requiredVetch has a strong root system that develops nodules at an early stage; this provides sufficient nitrogen for the plants to use and accumulates significant amounts for the following crops.


Common vetch varieties have some resistance to grazing after 15 nodes (30cm high) till the start of flowering. Regrowth is dependant significantly on rain or available moisture after grazing.All current common vetch varieties are palatable for grazing and for hay.Mor and Ras are resistant to rust and ascochyta and can be grazed at any time. But, LNG and BF are susceptible to rust and ascochyta, and if rust occurs in the crop DO NOT GRAZE that crop – rust can cause abortion in pregnant cows and sheep. The nutritive and feeding values of vetch as a green plant and hay are very satisfactory for ruminants. Dry matter (DM), dry matter digestibility (DMD), crude protein (CP), acid detergent fibre (ADF) neutral detergent fibre (NDF) and water-soluble carbohydrate, are inferior to the green plant stage. As the plant matures, DMD, leafiness and CP decreases and NDF and ADF increase. Just before flowering the nutritive value of vetches is at its best.For hay/silage the best time to cut vetches is at the flowering-early podding stage. At this stage the balance between feed value and yield is the best. In crop mixtures with cereals or rye grass varieties of these crops have to be chosen to mature at the same time as the vetch crop.

Seed production

Average over 10yr’s is approximately 1.2t/ha under dry land conditions. Harvesting is easily achieved by using cereal harvesters with crop lifters.

Ability to spread

Not possible to spread by animals or birds. When animals ingest grain it breaks down completely. If soft seeded varieties are sown, any residual seed germinates in the following crop and is easily controlled with broadleaf herbicides.

Weed potential

New common vetch varieties (Mor & Ras) are soft seeded varieties and have no potential to be a weed in subsequent crops. But, varieties (BF & LNG) have 5-20% hard seeds and can potentially be a weed in the following 2-3yrs.In cereal crops the voluntary common vetches can be easily controlled by many broadleaf herbicides that are regularly used for controlling broadleaf weeds.

Major pests

Redlegged earth mite, lucerne flea, bluegreen aphid, cowpea aphid and Heliothis/native bud worm.

Major diseases

Rust (Uromyces viciae-fabae), Ascochyta (Ascochyta blight), Chocolate spot (Botrytis spp).

Herbicide susceptibility

Tolerant of most grass-selective herbicides. Intolerant of herbicides residues from cropping phase, particularly sulfonylurea herbicides.Susceptible to spray topping herbicides (Glyphosate, Paraquat & Diquat) as well as to most broad leaf herbicides that are used in cereal crops.

Animal production

Hay samples have shown very high animal feeding values: crude protein (16-28%), digestible (50-82%) and metabolise energy (7-11MJ).


Readily consumed by livestock, either as green or dry feed, including mature seed pods.

Production potential

Excellent feed for growing and finishing livestock. Dry residues of plants and pods, after spray topping provides a useful grazing crop through the summer.

Livestock disorders/toxicity

Plants infected by rust can cause abortion in pregnant ruminant animals.


Group Cultivar Seed source/Information
Very early maturity Languedoc <95 days from seeding to flowering; adapted to low rainfall (>275 mm) areas with sandy loams to loams. Susceptible to rust, ascochyta, red-legged earth mite, lucerne flea, blue green aphid, cowpea aphid and Heliothis. Susceptible to shattering. For hay productions it has poor leaf retention.
Early maturity Rasina 95-105 days from seeding to flowering; adapted to low/medium rainfall (>300 mm) areas. Resistant to rust and tolerant to Ascochyta. Susceptible to red-legged earth mite, lucerne flea, blue green aphid, cowpea aphid and Heliothis. Tolerant to shattering for grain production. For hay production it has poor leaf retention.Planttech
Blanchefleur 100-110 days from seeding to flowering; adapted to medium rainfall (>300 mm) areas. Susceptible to rust, ascochyta, red-legged earth mite, lucerne flea, blue green aphid, cowpea aphid and Heliothis. Susceptible to shattering for grain production. For hay productions it has moderate leaf retention.
Later maturity Morava 110-125 days from seeding to flowering; adapted to medium rainfall (>350 mm) areas for grazing, it also performs well for hay/silage and grain in high rainfall (400mm) areas. Resistant to rust and tolerant to ascochyta. Morava is a big plant and at flowering if a rain occurs it can be infected by chocolate spot. Susceptible to red-legged earth mite, lucerne flea, blue green aphid, cowpea aphid and Heliothis. Very tolerant to shattering for grain production. For hay productions it has very good leaf retention.Planttech

Denotes that this variety is protected by Plant Breeder’s Rights Australia

Further information


Information has been adapted from”Vetch Fact Sheet”” Morava Technical Dossier””Rasina Technical Dossier””Vetch Sowing Guide”

Author and date

Rade Matic, SARDI (08) 8303 9377Stuart Nagel, SARDI (08) 8303 9359Gregg Kirby, SARDI (08) 8303 9359

December 2008

Cover crops can be directly seeded, with not much earth covering the seeds.


Eight reasons to grow cover crops:
To protect bare soil from being washed or blown away.
To keep nutrients from being washed out of your soil and to add even more when using our nitrogen fixers.
To loosen the soil deeper than you can or would want to dig.
To increase organic matter, improve soil structure, drainage, and aeration.
To control weeds.
To help beneficial insects and microorganisms overwinter.
To increase yields and break pest and disease cycles.
To grow your own mulch and compost material.


Till in or cut cover crops before the seed heads mature. If you till in the whole plants, allow 2-4 weeks for them to decompose, as raw biomass ties up soil nutrients to the detriment of newly planted seedlings.

Cover crops provide the primary benefit of preparing your soil for further vegetable cropping. If you choose to allow your cover crops to go to seed so you can harvest the grain, be aware that their root mass can be extensive and difficult to turn over. That said, your own oats, rye or buckwheat straight from your own garden are really a treat and can aid the determined 100 Mile dieter.

Companion Planting

Cover crops can be killed and tilled into the earth to create “green mulch” for your plants. You may also plant cover crops amoung your regular crops as a living mulch to attract those beneficial insects to your garden.

Buckwheat fixes calcium in the soil, and makes an exceptionally good green manure plant. Buckwheat absorbs nutrients that are not available to other plants, and can then be composted or tilled under, releasing those nutrients in accessible forms. Flowers are attractive to pollinators as well as beneficial predatory insects: hover flies, pirate bugs, tachinid flies, and lady beetles.

Clover attracts many beneficials and builds the soil. Helps fight cabbage worms, and increases the number of predatory ground beetles.

Oats grow very quickly for quick tilling to add organic matter to beds, and work well when planted with clover or vetch. An excellent source of green matter for the compost.

Fall rye gives off a chemical that inhibits the germination of weed seeds. Planted twice in a row, it can choke out several tough weed species for good. It produces masses of useful organic matter for tilling under or adding to the compost.

Vetch has long roots that fix nitrogen in the soil, and provide masses of organic matter for tilling under. Do not let vetch go to seed, as it will come back strongly. The seeds are toxic to chickens.

More on Companion Planting.


Erosion control/Cover Crop: Hairy vetch provides good ground cover for erosion control during the fall, winter and spring and is valuable for use in no-till systems due to its high biomass production. Hairy vetch also improves soil tilth and fixes significant amounts of nitrogen which can be utilized by subsequent crops.

Organic Farming: Hairy vetch provides a natural source of nitrogen and forms a weed suppressing mulch for organically grown crops.

Livestock: Hairy vetch with its high crude protein content can be utilized for hay, silage or grazing.


Hairy vetch is a viney, cool season annual legume with stems 2 to 4 feet long. Leaves are composed of 10 to 20 narrow leaflets and are terminated by branched tendrils. Stems and leaves of hairy vetch are usually pubescent. Flowers are in clusters of 10 to 40, borne in racemes. Each flower is purple and white to rose colored or white. Seed are round and black, developing inside elongated and flattened pods.


Hairy vetch is winterhardy and more drought tolerant than other vetches. Widely adapted throughout the United States, hairy vetch develops best under cool temperatures, on fertile loam soils. It is also productive on sandy or clay soils and grows well on light soils that are too sandy for crimson clover. It is only moderately sensitive to soil acidity.


Hairy vetch is normally planted in late summer to early fall. Seed can be broadcast or drilled and should be inoculated prior to planting. The recommended planting rate is 20 to 25 pounds per acre with a seeding depth of 1inch. Hairy vetch is often planted with cereal rye, oats or other winter grains for improved winter survival, greater winter annual weed control and increased erosion control. For mixtures, reduce the hairy vetch seeding rate by 25% and the grain seeding rate by 50% from rates recommended for pure stands. When used as a cover crop, hairy vetch does not normally require fertilizer unless the field has a severe P or K deficiency.


Hairy vetch performs well in rotations with conventional and no-till planted row crops. In these systems, the hairy vetch is either mechanically or chemically terminated during full bloom to allow for peak nitrogen accumulation and maximum vetch kill prior to planting the row crop. When grown for hay, vetch is generally cut in the early bloom stage. For grazing, wait until the plants are at least 6 inches high. Close grazing will destroy buds needed for regrowth.

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