Vetching

Vetching: to eradicate and/or harvest vetch.

It is the third week of April in Alapaha, Georgia, and the vetch is ready to harvest. I imagine very few people are able to identify vetch. I learned about it only recently – perhaps almost exactly two years after taking the picture below from the ditch of a canopy covered dirt road in the midst of an area that is, for perhaps a quarter of the year, a swamp. It now grows along our fence row – probably transported in from  free mulch acquired from the Tifton landfill, but maybe from birds.

Vetch is quite invasive, or said differently, successful, healthy, and well-adapted. Whatever the case, it has invaded our garden and planting areas.

A couple weekends ago, I was pulling vetch and florida betony and wondering why I was spending so much time on my hands and knees pulling healthy plants to replace with plants that won’t grow nearly so well: especially given that both betony and vetch are edible. I have eaten each and am still alive. I have also eaten poke weed raw and lived to tell about it, and I ate potatoes and did not get the plague.

Vetch, vicia, is related to peas and lentils. According to Zohary et al (2012), via Wikipedia, vetch was one of the first plants cultivated by humans – around 10,000 years ago, across Eurasia. In addition, it is also nitrogen fixing, and some varieties are important sources for pollinators. Knowing this did not make me feel better about pulling vetch.

I have since decided to stop removing the legume. I mow and harvest instead. The leaves and the raw seeds taste like English Peas. I have yet to cook the seeds because they are so tiny – about the size of mustard seeds. This is likely the reason we pull the vetch and then plant sweet peas. If the plant historians (would they be called evolutionary botanists?) are correct, human cultivation has, in fact, moved in this direction: over time, the larger-beaned varieties of vicia cultivated more regularly.  And so the practice of removing and replacing is then perhaps a matter of convenience and efficiency.

Contributors to wiki note that during famine, people have returned to eating vetch. Coming to understand these things is, as noted in other posts, an element of my apocalypse preparedness plan, which in turn, is part of my psychological wellness plan. I keep a small stock of staples, but I think it more interesting, cheaper, and would be more effective in the long-term to know what abundant and scarce local food sources hide in plain sight from most. This approach is also better aligned to my desire to live more intimately with nature. Of course all human creations are natural also. I suppose to live more intimately with nature might be something like nakedness. Culture puts clothes on nature that keep us from seeing the reality that lies beneath. To embrace nature when she and I are both clothed is great, but with less clothing is even better.

Curly Dock seems to be seeding the same time as the vetch. The leaves of the plant I have been tending have been present for some time – I would guess at least a year. It popped up in what is now my compost pile. The pile began as something of a hegel-culture garden experiment. The garden spot was not successful by common standards. The soil, I believe, was too thin, and perhaps all of the ashes I added from the fire pit messed up the soil’s acidity. I had one tomatillo that was enormous and incredibly productive. There was also a fennel and a couple bean plants that did alright. The dock showed up and remained – and I did not cut it down. It is enormous now, and I am harvesting the seeds and leaves as I harvest the vetch.

If a single image could represent the philosophy of change and cycle currently at the heart of Alapaha Paganism, it might be that of an opened vetch pod. The vetch plant is healthy and strong. It fixes its own nitrogen – in association with bacteria. It is not commercially produced, and when noticed at all, it’s history and use are neither recognized nor understood. It is a prolific, esoteric plant. Plus, and most importantly, the open seed pod looks like goat horns. If we subscribed to a different and older worldview, we might believe that Dionysus or one of his many related incarnations were associated with vetch – and that vetch was infused with the spirit of this god. Since it does not appear to be mind or state altering, as one might first assume of a plant associated with Dionysus, the spirituality of vetch must be found in other qualities. I don’t think I will try to pin that down immediately, but will abide with the plant a bit longer until its spirit presents itself.

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