Hairy Vetch

Uses

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.

Description

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.

Adaptation

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.

Establishment

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.

Management

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.