Insectaries and IPM at Benziger Winery
Benziger Family Winery in Glen Ellen, in its practice of natural and biodynamic farming, follows an Integrated Pest Management or IPM strategy that the Master Gardeners and UC Extension promote and support in the reduction of pesticide use in gardening. IPM, or Integrated Pest Management is a pest control strategy that emphasizes natural predators, biological controls and certain cultural and physical practices, using pesticides as a last resort. Insectaries are gardens of plants that are host to specific natural predators that control garden pests. They are coincidentally hosts to bees and butterflies that promote pollination, a very important task in agriculture.
The Benzigers years ago made a commitment to natural farming, as well as environmentally responsible business practices, and strive for sustainability and the preservation of their 85-acre Sonoma Mountain family winery. Mike Benziger, founder and CEO says "Natural pest control is the most natural and responsible way to farm." In 1987, the winery implemented its Integrated Pest Management (IPM) program on the home ranch, installed two insectaries, and a waste-water reclamation facility. The recycling system consists of a collection pond and wetland thick with various aquatic plants, where water gravity-flows and is purified as it works its way through the intertwined root systems of myriad plants. Additionally, a cow pasture and a sheep pasture provide organic manure for use in fertilization of both the vineyards and the insectaries.
The farm is essentially a closed system, with all grape must and vine prunings becoming compost, cow and sheep manure becoming fertilizer, and winery waste-water being recycled for use in vineyard and insectary irrigation. This results in unique soil ecology of microorganisms indigenous to the property--healthy, porous soils that allow water, air and nutrients to penetrate deep inside the soil strata, which in turn fosters strong, wide, deep root growth that penetrates all soil layers and transfers elements from each layer to the fruit, and ultimately the wine.
Organic and natural farming precepts practiced at Benziger include:
- Pest control through soil management and promotion of diverse animal, bird and insect populations that lead to self-regulating predator and prey relationships
- The promotion of crop fertility through compost, manures, green manuring and crop rotations, along with regular application of compost preparations and biodynamic field sprays
- No use of artificial fertilizers, pesticides or herbicides
- Weed control by cultivation and other mechanical and manual methods
Grape vines are attacked by dozens of insect and mite species, but only a handful of species in a few distinct pest categories cause enough consistent and significant damage to be considered major pests in California.
The Insectory, a vital part of the pest control system at Benziger features beneficial insect attractor plants including:
Moonshine Yarrow—Achillea millefolium
Prairie Coneflower--Ratibida pinnata
Purple Coneflower--Echinacea purpurea
Monch --Aster rikartii--
Beneficial insects attracted by these include ladybugs, assassin bugs, lacewings, syrphid flies, minute pirate bugs and parasitic wasps. These help control the primary vineyard invertebrate pests: leafhoppers>assassin bugs; spider mites>ladybugs; omnivorous leafrollers>assassin bugs, minute pirate bugs, lacewings; and mealybugs>syrphid fly.
In addition, to assist in pollination, and help further with insect control, hummingbird and butterfly attractors are planted throughout the garden:
Texas Red Yucca
Malibu Yellow Red Hot Poker
Desert Beard Tongue
Yellow Gem Kangaroo Paws