Here it is almost mid October and my hairy vetch blooms on with its glorious violet blue color. Bees, and cabbage butterflies are still seeking its sweet nectar. So far, these plants defy the frost. Mine is sprawling on top of all the other wild weeds providing a crown of deep blue around my little pond. This climbing vine is not for everyone; its wild roaming habits make it unwieldy and those folks that need a tidy garden will not be drawn to this plant.

I have been picking hairy vetch for the 35 years I have lived in the mountains of Maine because I love the blue that outlasts the early blue flowers that go by as soon as summer heat becomes intense. This delicate leaved vine has intriguing spiral tendrils and provides my wildflower bouquets with a color that would otherwise by missing by midsummer. I have also allowed it to grow in my very wild Maine gardens. It looks especially beautiful twining among a riot of colorful day lilies and replaces lost nitrogen as a gift.

Here in New Mexico where the soil is so poor I planted hairy vetch last spring because the plant adds nitrogen to the soil, something we all need in this area.

Introduced from Europe as a rotation crop ( it is now considered native to parts of this country), hairy or woolly vetch has since become an established weed in many areas, especially along roadsides, waste areas, and in croplands. Many, of course consider it an “invasive” which I translate as a plant that has found a way to adapt in these times of Climate Change. A plant to be celebrated not demonized!

The cover grows slowly in fall, but root development continues over winter. Growth quickens in spring, when hairy vetch becomes a sprawling vine that exceeds 12 – 15 feet. Field height rarely exceeds 3 feet unless the vetch is supported by another crop like my giant weeds. Its abundant biomass can be both a benefit and a challenge. The stand smothers spring weeds, and can help you replace all or most nitrogen fertilizer needs but because it breaks down quickly the plant will not provide lasting mulch.

Few legumes (pea family) can match hairy vetch for versatility. Widely adapted and winter hardy it requires virtually no care to thrive. However, here in Abiquiu, I have found that it requires supplementary watering, a practice I have never engaged in before becoming a desert lizard!

The agricultural cover crop (as it is best known) grows slowly in fall, but root development continues over winter. Growth quickens in spring, when hairy vetch becomes a sprawling vine that can stretch its tendrils out to infinity with a minimum of care! Field height rarely exceeds 3 feet unless the vetch is supported by another crop. Its abundant biomass is as beneficial as it is beautiful. The stands smother spring weeds, and help to improve our soils for other plants.

Add to this that the plant provides nectar for so many pollinators. Gosh, what else could you ask for?


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