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Vetch: A Garden Volunteer and Friend

A fresh round of kurasunoendou (vetch) in my garden.

There are two things that perhaps define my gardening practice: laziness and curiosity. Together, these two things have led to a number of discoveries that have made my garden productive and insect friendly. (It also makes it a bit untidy, but that as Michael Phillips' mentions in The Holistic Orchard, is something we should probably just give up.) It also means that I physically and mentally make room for newcomers in my garden, and that includes a number of plants that others term 'weeds.'

One of these is vetch (Vicia sativa) a.k.a. kurasonoendou in Japanese, which literally translates as crow's field pea. A member of the legume family, it is often used as a nitrogen-fixing cover crop on farms that gets plowed in before it can set seed. Vetch is also grown as livestock fodder or as a companion plant for cereal crops. Humans ate it once-upon-a-time, too, although these days we prefer their close relative, the lentil. I figured that even if I cut it off and left it to dry on top of the soil that it would give valuable nutrients back to my garden.

Well, one thing led to another, and I never cut it back. The leaves were a pretty emerald green and the flowers a delightful deep purple. They had a nice scent, and the bees liked them. Since bees need all the help they can get these days, I decided that was reason enough to keep it; however, vetch soon showed me it had other benefits. I was also interested in attracting bees to other things that needed to be pollinated in my garden, so it seemed like a win-win.

Aphid Bait
The vetch grew next to a volunteer kale plant. Dinosaur or Italian kale does reasonably well in my part of Japan and because this plant had self-seeded itself I wanted to keep it around so I could collect the seeds. It didn't seem to mind the vetch climbing on it, so I left the news friends to have their fun.

Aburamushi (aphids) also do very well here in my part of Japan, and they like to snack on my kale. I have to keep an eye on things, especially as the kale seed pods get ready to dry. Aphids take advantage of every opportunity, so I was being vigilant. What I saw was that the aphids were all over the vetch. It, too, had set seeds, but the aphids were busy snacking on it in the meantime. I felt a little bit bad, but I noticed that because the aphids were so preoccupied with the vetch they did not pay any attention to the kale.

I let things run their course, and the vetch melted into the soil as plants do. The aphids did move on to some of my other greens, but they weren't too much of a problem. A new, expanded round of vetch has arrived, and once again I'm going to leave it be to see what happens.


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