Vexing Vetch | Intrepid Gardener | – The Keene Sentinel


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I’d been noticing it for the last few years. First a few sprigs in the peony garden. Then I saw it slinking its way up the branches of a young hydrangea in the flat rock garden. Well, this year it’s everywhere. Its twining, choking habit just seems to have exploded and I’m not sure there’s much I can do about it other than diligent weeding of the stuff. It’s vetch.Vicia is the Latin name for vetch according to I found a ton of articles about vetch and since there’s over 240 varieties of vetch world-wide, I’m guessing that’s why I leave the research still a bit confused about exactly which type has proven to be the bane of my garden existence here in Dublin. I feel pretty sure it’s hairy vetch, though.Vetch is a member of the Fabaceae family. A legume… just like peas. I remember learning as a kid that it was planted as a protein-rich pasture crop. It’s also planted in a mix with grains and grasses in fields to be later cut and stored as silage for livestock to feed on throughout the winter. I’m suspecting the organic circle of life is to blame for my inundation with it. There’s nothing better than composted manure (preferably cow but horse is ok in a pinch) to condition our soils with organic matter and help produce beautiful gardens.Cows and especially horses don’t completely break down the seed material of the fresh pasture crops they eat or the winter silage. So, seeds of various plants in their diets pass right through them and remain in their manure. Seeds are tough little warriors and even remain viable after the composting process. Thus, when I had a few yards of composted manure delivered a few years ago, I was unintentionally inviting all kinds of “weeds” into my garden every time I worked that “black gold” into my soil. Such is the life of a gardener trying his best to be as organic as possible.Interestingly, I was reading about vetch at and it was reporting specifically on hair vetch and crown vetch. Believe it or not, new strains have been intentionally developed over time to prevent a root nematode problem. Egads! Furthermore, young hairy vetch has a low bloat potential which is important for livestock BUT as the plant matures and gets tougher, it develops toxins that can actually be harmful for the animals. That’s why farmers must pay careful attention to not only the maturing process of the vetch they plant, but also the percentage of its seed planted in a pasture grazing mix.The violet-purple racemes of vetch blossoms is actually quite beautiful. Maybe I should just be grateful that while I’m vexed at why my peonies are producing far less blooms this year than usual, they’ve all got a gorgeous wreath of vetch draped about them. I’m kidding of course. As far as my peony problem this year, I think I did several things wrong. I didn’t improve the highly acidic former forest soil enough when I established the bed, feathery ferns, again quite pretty, are taking over and then I had the brilliant idea of mulching the peonies with bark mulch last spring. We know how fussy peonies can be about planting depth. I think the combination of all these elements have led to my needing to dig them all out and start over in the fall.As far as the vetch is concerned, I’ll just keep weeding. It will slow it down, but it certainly won’t stop it. The wiry vine has 1-to-3-foot tap roots. So, even when you pull it and see you’ve gotten some root with it, there’s probably more. Try to avoid throwing it in your compost pile while it’s still green. Let it dry out completely… and definitely before it develops seed pods. Otherwise, you’ll wind up like me and my mistake of throwing a little Virginia creeper in my compost pile. Having covered nearly half of the pile (the half that’s already nicely composted of course,) navigating through the creeper, as pretty as it is, to get at the compost is a real drag!

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