In this latest series of blog posts, I am going to highlight some of the ways that we use Nature’s strategies so that we have no need at all to apply agrichemicals on our farm in order to manage pests. One of the most effective, responsible and long-lasting ways to reduce damage from pests is to introduce or deliberately boost natural populations of ‘beneficials’ – be they helpful predators, parasites or pathogens.  Providing habitat and food sources for a range of organisms within the farm ecosystem is an important way of working with Nature to manage pests and avoid the use of pesticides and fungicides that poison the environment.

Nowadays, it is relatively common in the Cape Winelands for farmers to include ducks in their pest management strategies, but Avondale was a pioneer of this practice in South Africa.  We’ve also included chickens in our arsenal; so while the duck posse sorts out snails in the vineyards, the free ranging hens dine on the fly larvae.  We’re fortunate that Avondale is also an attractive home for a range of naturally-occurring birds of prey including Spotted Eagle Owls, Rock Kestrels, Yellow-billed and Black-shouldered Kites which help with rodent control, and insectivorous bats which help to keep the moth population in check.

The key to attracting these kinds of natural beneficial predators is to protect biodiversity on the farm.  There are several characteristics of Avondale that support this:

  • Significant tracts of indigenous vegetation helps to balance the monoculture of the vineyards and orchards, and ensures that the farm is a healthy living system supporting both the predator and prey species that should be living on the land
  • Our cropping systems are also diverse and that ensures that our block of vines and fruit trees are in fact, vibrant plant communities, rather than crops in a sterile environment
  • Of course, our organic and biodynamic practices, which are completely free of the use of agrichemicals, are essential to maintain the farm as a diverse and healthy living system
  • As we say at Avondale, ‘Soil is Life’ – the foundation of biodiversity on the farm is our soil, rich in organic matter, humus and humming with micro-life

Specific beneficials can also be introduced to the farm as a substitute for using chemicals to prevent disease.  A good example of this is the use of Trichoderma harzianum as a substitute for poisonous fungicides.  The pruning of vines and fruit trees leaves wounds and makes the plants vulnerable to a range of fungicidal infections that can create severe damage.  In conventional farming, chemical fungicides are applied to the wounds to prevent this.  However, the action of these commercial fungicides is short term, less effective and poisonous.

Instead, we look to Nature for a solution.  Trichoderma harzianum is a fungus that attacks and parasitizes other fungi that could be harmful.  Available in powder form, we spray it onto the pruning wounds which they then colonise and keep the potentially harmful fungi in check and the vine disease-free over the long term.

From owls and bats to bacteria and fungi, Nature has a dazzling array of solutions for us to use to promote more life and healthy balance in the farm environment.