Are you trying your hand at winter gardening? I just ran across a very cool cover crop that supposedly helps keep pests at bay naturally!
My family recently visited Atlanta Botanical Gardens, so that my son could get a picture with Santa there. They have a pretty amazing Santa! He sits in front of a tree of poinsettias, and his beard is real. He also sang "Wheels on the Bus" to my 8-month-old, which won his little heart.
Winter gardening wasn't really on my mind on this visit, but I did want to check out their edible garden when we saw it on the map. I love that they are promoting the idea of growing food, and I wanted to see what they were growing, since I imagine the same food plants will thrive in my yard. Their selection of winter food plants was pretty much what you'd expect:
- collard greens
- mustard greens
- Swiss chard
Growing alongside all of their food plants was this beautiful ground cover. It reminded me of some varieties of moss that I've seen, and apparently it's good for winter gardening and for deterring pests! The plant is called hairy vetch, and as you can see on the sign that I photographed, it is:
...a cover crop that prevents weeds and attracts beneficial insects
Those sound like good qualities in a cover crop! I did a little research, and it turns out that hairy vetch - or vicia villosa - is a common cover crop in organic gardening. It's pretty beneficial in general, but once you plant it, it can be hard to get rid of, so make sure you choose its location with care.
Hairy Vetch: Beyond Winter Gardening
It also turns out that hairy vetch isn't just a cover crop for winter gardening. It's beneficial year-round. The plant improves the soil quality where it grows, which makes it a great companion crop, especially for acidic plants like tomatoes.
Hairy vetch might also make a good replacement for grass in your lawn! Folks use it as ground cover on pasture land. If it can stand up to trampling from big, four-legged mammals, I bet that it can withstand you and your kids playing in the yard!
It's moderately winter-hardy, and you can grow hairy vetch from seed in the fall. That means that if you hurry, you can plant it before the first freeze! Vetch plants don't handle extreme cold well, unless they're covered in snow. Hairy vetch is the variety of vetch that's most suited for winter gardening, but it may not survive the winter if you experience extreme cold for extended periods without snow.
You can get the down and dirty about hairy vetch in this article from Purdue University's Department of Agronomy. It's a little bit dry, but it goes into a lot of detail about vetch and about hairy vetch specifically.