Vicia sativa L.
Common vetch, spring vetch, garden vetch, tare.
Author: John Frame
Pubescent annual with scrambling and climbing growth habit. Stems arising from the base are hollow, squarish in cross-section and up to 2 m tall. Slender taproot system with numerous lateral branches. Leaves compound pinnate with 3-8 pairs of opposite leaflets and 2-3 terminal tendrils. Leaflets narrowly oblong, square at the apex and with a small projecting mid rib. Stipules small and divided. Inflorescences borne singly or in pairs on short peduncles arising at the base of the leaves, mainly blue to purple but sometimes white and self-fertilized. Seed pods contain 4-12 round but flattened seeds, mainly black to greyish in colour.
Native to southern Europe. Utilized as cool-season annual in semi-arid Mediterranean regions with October-April rainfall of 200-400 mm (Papastylianou, 1995). Also grown in North Africa and continental west and central Asia. Introduced to other temperate countries of the world, e.g. North America for spring and/or autumn sowing depending on climate.
Adapted to a range of soils but not acidic, poorly-drained soils. Rapid growth rate. Sprawling growth form but grows upright when sown with a companion cereal, e.g. commonly with oats and to a much lesser extent with barley or wheat in the Mediterranean area (Caballero, 1993).
Season of growth
Mainly spring to summer whether spring- or autumn-sown.
Some spring cultivars are susceptible to frost but others are cold hardy and can be sown in autumn. Less cold hardy than hairy vetch.
Intolerant at early stage of establishment.
Prefers well-drained, moderately fertile soils pH 6.0-7.0. Responds to P fertilization. Less tolerant of poorly-drained soils than hairy vetch (Hoveland and Donnelly, 1966).
Rhizobial inoculation of seed advisable if grown on land where not grown before.
Land preparation for establishment
Well-cultivated, uniform and firm seed bed required for good results.
Normally drilled, whether sown pure or in combination with cereals or cereal/forage peas, but can also be broadcast. Can be direct drilled (sod seeded) into warm-season grass swards to extend grazing season, e.g. in southern USA.
Sowing depth and cover
Sown at 3-5 cm with a good soil cover.
Sowing time and rate
Spring or autumn depending on farming system. In Mediterranean areas, 100-150 kg/ha when sown pure, or 50-150 kg/ha together with 20-70 kg/ha oats when sown in hay mixture (Caballero et al., 1995b); vetch can make up 40-70% of the hay composition in such mixtures. In the UK, vetch is more commonly sown at 10-30 kg/ha in cereal/pea/vetch mixtures for arable silage (Whytock and Frame, 1985b). In the southern USA, 30-40 kg/ha is used for pure-sown stands and somewhat lower rates when used in mixture with a cereal.
Number of seeds per kg
16 000 to 20 000.
Soils of moderate fertility suitable. The main requirement is for phosphate, at an application rate dependent on the soil P status.
Tolerance of herbicides
Tolerant to several pre-emergence herbicides, e.g. linuron, prometryn (Caballero et al., 1995a).
Vigour of growth
Vigorous growth once well-established.
Dry matter yields
In north-west Spain autumn-sown stands of V. sativa and V. villosa averaged 1.90 t/ha DM when harvested in April and 5.18 t/ha in May (Iglesias and Lloveras, 1998). In central Spain, 3.12 t/ha DM was obtained from a monoculture harvested at pod-setting stage (Caballero et al., 1995b); in the same trial common vetch yielded 1.74-3.21 t/ha in vetch/oat mixtures, with increasing vetch yields as the proportion of oats in the sown mixtures was reduced from 40% to 10%. In other work there Haj Ayed et al. (1995) obtained 6.36-6.76 t/ha DM. In Cyprus vetch yielded 4.5-6.0 t/ha DM when cut at the hay stage (Papastylianou, 1990); pure-sown vetch did not respond to fertilizer N application but its yield decreased with increasing N application in vetch/oat mixtures while oat contribution increased. A survey of the role of forage legumes in arable cropping systems of the Mediterranean area reported the range of hay yields of common vetch/cereal mixtures as 2 to 6 t/ha (Caballero, 1993).
Suitability for hay and silage
Utilized for hay or silage, particularly arable silage, in the UK from cereal/vetch or cereal/pea/vetch mixtures (Whytock and Frame 1985b). Mixtures of vetch and small grain cereals are grown for haymaking in the Mediterranean area (Caballero et al., 1995b). Autumn-sown vetch is winter grazed or can be ploughed in as green manure in southern USA.
Valuable source of protein and minerals. On a DM basis, average values of crude protein (CP) in spring of autumn-sown V. sativa and V. villosa in north-west Spain were 25.1% in April and 17.3% in May; correspondingly, acid detergent fibre (ADF) values were 28.2% and 32.6% (Iglesias and Lloveras, 1998). In central Spain, autumn-sown common vetch harvested at the pod-setting stage had 19.6% CP and 29.6% ADF (Caballero et al., 1995b). At growth stages 30% and 60% DM in pod seeds mean whole plant CP content was 19.3% and 16.7%, respectively, and digestible dry matter (DDM) 63.4% and 59.1% (Caballero et al., 1995c); plant part composition is shown in Table 1. For common vetch hay production, the maximum nutrient yield is attained when the seeds within the pods have a DM content of 45-55% (Caballero et al., 1996b); mineral composition of plant parts at this growth stage is shown in Table 2.
Table 1: Mean fibre (ADF), protein (CP) and digestible dry matter (DDM) values of plant parts at two growth stages (30% and 60% DM in pod seeds) of common vetch (Caballero, et al., 1995c)
Table 2: Mineral composition of plant parts of common vetch at the maximum nutrient yield stage, i.e. when the DM content of the seeds in the pod is 45-55% (Caballero et al., 1996a)
Highly acceptable as grazed or conserved forage.
Can be grazed by a range of livestock, including zero grazing (green fodder cut and carried). Lax grazing necessary in order to leave the basal axillary buds which are the regrowth sites.
400 to 1500 kg/ha in the USA (Miller and Hoveland, 1995)
European cultivars include Gravesa, Hifa, Nitra, Barvicos, Delphi and Aneto (the latter three late-flowering types are cold hardy and can be sown in autumn as well as spring). USA cultivars include Williamette and Warrior; hybrids include Cabana White (V. sativa x V. cabata). Vantage and Nova II (V. sativa x V. cordata) and Vanguard (V. sativa x V. serratifolia)
Can be affected by powdery mildew (Erysiphe pisi) (Papastylianou, 1995).
Several pests which can cause plant damage in the USA are listed by Miller and Hoveland (1995): pea aphid (Acyrthosiphon pisum), corn earworm (Heliothis zea), fall armyworm (Spodoptera frugiperdaI), and spider mites (Tetranychus spp.).
Short-term catch crop. High nutritive value. Protein-rich, highly acceptable feed for different classes of stock. Valuable constituent of vetch/cereal mixtures.
Moderate yield and quality. Ideally requires companion cereal species to avoid lodging and harvesting difficulties which occur with monocultures.