Like all monocultures, vineyards are vulnerable to attacks and infestations of what we term “pests”. Vine Mealybugs, Planococcus ficus, are soft-bodied scale insects that flourish in the warm months, sucking sap from the vines. They not only damage the plants but they can also be vectors for plant diseases such as the leaf-roll virus. To decimate Vine Mealybugs, conventional farmers mostly spray cocktails of harsh chemicals such as Organo Phosphates.
At Avondale, we certainly wanted an alternative method of pest management that fitted with the principles of our holistic BioLOGIC® approach and maintained the integrity of our commitment to organic and biodynamic farming. We looked to Nature to find better ways to counteract Vine Mealybugs, and prevent infestation and disease.
We discovered that the Vine Mealybug has natural enemies in the forms of a small wasp, Coccidoxenoides perminutus, and a ladybird-like species, Cryptolaemus montrouzieri both available in South Africa from an insectary. These insects prey specifically on the Mealybug, and represent no harm to the ecosystem.
Over the years, we have undertaken controlled releases of these two natural predators which have successfully ensured that Vine Mealybugs do not threaten the health of Avondale’s vineyards. We now release far smaller numbers of the insects at various stages in the summer months to act as a preventative measure as their natural populations are sufficient. The wasp larvae arrive at the farm carefully packaged in matchboxes which are positioned in the vineyards. When the time is right, they hatch and make their way out into the vineyards to do their work. This benign method of natural pest control is a great example of how it is possible to mimic Nature’s solutions, and completely avoid the use of toxic chemicals on the land where we produce our food and wine.