Planting Chickling Vetch Guide What You Need To Know

Grass Peas A Green Manure Cover Crop

A field of grass peas

Chickling Vetch, also known as grass peas, Indian vetch, or Indian pea, and scientifically called Lathyrus sativus L.

It is popular as a cover crop and green manure and works excellently in intercropping and crop rotation gardens.

It is a viney upright annual member of the legume family. It helps us increase the nitrogen levels in our soil.

Depending on where you live, this plant can be used over winter in mild climates.

It is important to know that the immature seeds are toxic and can cause the disease lathyrism in large quantities.

In adults, it results in paralysis below the knees and, even worse, brain damage in children.

So if you have children who like to snack on fresh garden snacks, I would pass on growing these.

The best pH is 6.0 to­ 7.0, but a pH in the range of 5 ­to 8 gets tolerated well by this plant.

It also looks great in our gardens producing flowers with colors of white, purple, pink, and blue by mid-summer.

It is a drought-resistant plant, making it great to grow in hot climates that do not always get good rainfall.

Is Chickling Vetch an Annual or Perennial

Grass peas are an Annual that will need to get planted and grown from seed each year.

Chickling Vetch Growth Stages

  • 1) Germination
  • 2) Seeding growth
  • 3) Late vegetative
  • 4) Early bud
  • 5) Mid bud
  • 6) Late bud
  • 7) First bloom
  • 8) Mid bloom
  • 9) Full bloom

Chickling Pea Fertilizer Requirments

We do not usually need to add fertilizer when growing it.

If you want to maximize its growth, a fertilizer with no nitrogen, something around an npk of 0-10-10 to 0-20-20, will give the best results.

Suppose you are intercropping with a small grain. In that case, you can apply a second fertilizer application with NPK 10-10-10 in the fall to boost forage production.

How to Grow Chickling Vetch

You need to find a spot that will get full sun. They perform best on well-draining deep soil types.

The soils need a pH range between 5 to 8 and a temperature of 50 to 80 F. (10 to 25 C).

You must add some extra organic material if you are working with something like heavy clay soil. This will provide the ground with better aeration, or you should select a more suitable cover crop.

Even more important than the soil type is to place it in a location that will get full sunlight.

Using a couple inches of compost added to your soil can also work to apply all the nutrients the plant will need.

Seeding depth: Drill 0.5 to 1 inch deep, or you can broadcast and lightly till-in.

Space your seeds 2-7cm (1-3″) apart from each other.

While the plant is tolerant to droughts, it should get about 1 inch of water weekly.

Grass Pea Germination Time

Multiple factors will alter how long it takes for it to germinate. The depth planted, available moisture, and temperature will all change the germination speed we see.

Under ideal conditions, we should see our sprouts coming up within 7 to 14 days. To see sprouts within this time, we need the soil to be around 68 degrees F.

If we plant too late in the fall, the lower temperature of the soil may prevent it from sprouting until the spring.

When planted with unideal conditions, the germination time can be between 5 all the way to 30 days.

Soaking the seeds in warm water overnight can also help to speed up how quickly the seeds will sprout.

How Much Water Does Chickling Vetch Need

While the plant deals with droughts better than most crops, we should give it 1 inch of water weekly for adequate growth.

How Late Can You Plant Grass Peas

Grass peas are a cool weather plant that I can plant from April through mid-may.

You want your soil temperature to be between 10 to 16 C (50 to 60 F). The plant can thrive if the soil's temperatures do not dip below this range.

Killing Chickling Vetch Cover Crop

The two most common methods to kill grass peas are mowing or using a burn-down herbicide for no-till plantings.

It will likely survive and regrow if you mow it down before it hits flowering.

No-till is an effective method to prevent erosion and weeds from moving in.

Chickling Vetch Green Manure

The flowering process of the hairy vetch is very nice looking with its colorful blooms. But when it goes into flowering, most of the nitrogen in the plant will move into the pods.

If you want to till the plant into your soil as green manure, it's best to do it before it goes into flower.

Companion Plants

  • Carrots
  • Celery
  • Corn
  • Cucumber
  • Eggplant
  • Parsley
  • Peppers
  • Potatoes
  • Radish
  • Spinach
  • Strawberries
  • Turnips

Avoid planting peas near onions.

What Are The Benefits of Chickling Vetch?

  • Being a legume family member will help increase the nitrogen in our soil.
  • It works well when it is sown in with other small grains.
  • Tilling it into your soil as green manure will improve our soil's fertility and aeration.
  • It can grow in low-fertility soils where other cover crops may fail.
  • Its rapid growth lets it out-compete weeds.
  • It improves our topsoil tilth, creating a loose and friable soil structure.
  • It will attract pollinators like bees and butterflies to our garden when in bloom.


Grass peas are easy to grow and are a great cover crop, and we can till it into our gardens as green manure, helping to further improve the fertility of our soil.

Adding green manure to the soil is a perfect way to keep our soil healthy and reduce our need for synthetic fertilizers later in the growing season.

I don't advise using this plant if you have any young children.

The fact it is toxic and can harm them is something that you should not underestimate.

Many other pea types are not a risk and will provide most of the same benefits.

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