Introducing: ‘The other-cide’


Fungicide, herbicide, pesticide, insecticide, infanticide, genocide, left-side, right-side, flip-side, dodecahedron with 12 sides. Too many ‘cides.

We don’t have to kill things in order to grow things. This mindset is an archaic relic of the ‘great’ chemical revolution in agriculture. Which allowed for massive, albeit temporary, gains in yield, whilst diminishing soils and food quality. This mindset is further tied to our own dominator culture which strives to control every aspect of our agricultural systems, something that we determine to be out of place must be gotten rid of. Poor ‘misplaced’ plants: gone. Insects playing their crucial role: gone. Pathogens cleaning up and disposing of sick plants: gone. Instead of taking the time to properly understand what role all these organisms play in our systems and what signals they are indicating, we find it more convenient to douse them in a life-killing chemical and be done with it. However this is a very limited view, which doesn’t take into account the complex web of interactions between various life forms. Surprise, surprise everything has its place, with a slight shift of consciousness this all becomes very clear. That evil fungal pathogen ripping through our lovely green vineyard is really just a friendly companion informing us that our vines are unhappy and need to be returned to the earth pronto. It’s a tough message to receive, but one that needs to be received if we are to address the root cause of the problem, instead of just treating symptoms. 

Just beyond our current global mindset in modern agriculture you will find a big ball of life giving potential waiting to be tapped into. All we need to do is provide some catalysts or strike a match, igniting this life potential that evolved long before we the apes walked the earth. Surprisingly, or unsurprisingly, plants have been living along side organisms that want to kill them for millennia upon millennia. And being the clever beings that they are, they have developed resistance systems….. 

Plants essentially have two main mechanisms for defending themselves: Systemic Acquired Resistance (SAR) and Induced Systemic Resistance (ISR). 

Systemic Acquired Resistance is a plants response to being infected or coming into contact with a pathogen, they kick into gear by pumping immune defence proteins to vulnerable areas (and they also produce lipids to tissue surfaces). The limiting factors in SAR are usually a reliable source of amino acids (complexed nitrogen) and enzyme co-factors, which allow the plant to transform these amino acids into further complex proteins. The main trace mineral needed in the transformation of amino acids to plant immune proteins is copper. 

Induced Systemic Resistance is a mechanism which fires up plant defences prior to an infection by a pathogenic organism. Usually as the result of a benign bacteria or fungi stimulating a plant response. 

An adequate supply of silicon will further allow the plant to fortify their cell wells. 

This season we have had quite a bit of Downy Mildew pressure as a result of the sheer quantity of rain we’ve had (just over 200mm in January alone). Being young, naive, and maybe a little too bold, we made a decision when we took on this vineyard six months ago that we wouldn’t spray out any fungicides, herbicides or pesticides. Sticking to our young, idealistic, and rain-soaked guns, we opted to steer clear of any chemical intervention. Including no elemental sulphur or copper (which are both allowable inputs in certified organic and biodynamic agriculture). In lieu of fungicide applications we instead went heavy on the application of nutrients to the vines at appropriate growth stages.

We undertook a soil analysis over winter:

My limited, non-tertiary, agronomic knowledge essentially informed me that our soils are constipated. Both lacking in plant available minerals and organic matter and also soil microbiology. I was once constipated for 3 days after taking some heavy painkillers post-surgery. Wasn’t nice, needless to say I pitied our soils. 

The following is a vine SAP analysis that we took a few months ago from our Cabernet block:

As our soil is well and truly backed up, we opted to bypass the soil digestive system and focus our attention on fertilising directly via foliar feeding.

SAP analysis gives you a fairly good, though not perfect, indication of what minerals are presently available for plant metabolism. Apart from being a little high with calcium and manganese, everything is pretty slick. This was after a month or so of nutrient foliar applications. Minerals like Calcium (maybe a little too much), Magnesium, Potassium, Silicon, Phosphorus, Nitrogen (mostly in the amino acid form), Boron, Manganese (a little heavy handed), Copper, Iron, Zinc, Molybdenum and probably a few others I’ve missed. Specifically for plant defence the key minerals here are the minerals which exist in the plant in the smallest quantity (trace elements), most of the metals are enzyme co-factors of some sort or another. Copper is the star of the show in this circus, providing the much needed spark plug for the enzymatic conversion of amino acids into plant defence proteins. 

For example, ensuring a small quantity of copper fertiliser, we use NTS Copper Essentials (AOC certified), which with appropriate water rates equates to around 150mL of pure copper/hectare, applied on a regular basis (ideally every 10-14 days), gives the plant a sound supply of the copper they need to create defence proteins. The key to making such a small amount as effective as possibly is chelating with amino acids or fulvic acid and making applications with a spray oil (we use cold pressed and emulsified canola oil with omega-3 fish oil). We usually also spray out some liquid fish, which both provides some amino acids for a Nitrogen source, a chelating agent and a basis for protein production. But more importantly some fatty acids which the plant can use for lipid production. Lipids are a good physical barrier against potential pathogens. 

Not only do you get the benefit of strengthening a plants own immune system, but applying a regular supply of nutrients to the plant improves the quality of the crop, the overall plant health and optimises the plants photosynthetic rate. The last point obviously has many positive outcomes. The best of these being the plants ability to send a decent portion (can be over 50%) of its photosynthates out into its root zone. This stimulates soil biology and builds soil from the rhizosphere out. Winner, winner, pasture raised chicken dinner. 

Although we’ve had some Downy outbreaks over the past few weeks, it hasn’t gotten to a crop damaging point. I’m sure there are vineyards using the ‘cides that have sustained more Downy damage than us. We look forward to fine tuning this approach going forward. 

As the famous poet Anthony Keidis so eloquently put it:

“Once you know you can never go back, you got to take it on the other-cide*”

*change of grammar the authors own work


Share this post

Related Articles

Jackie & Elliott Paradoxa


First generation farmers who believe that soil health & nutrition is not only important but also very cool. Our minimalist philosophy carries from our feet on the earth, through our hearts and to our vines.

Our favourite posts

Stay in our orbit

Join our newsletter to be the first to hear about product drops, blog posts & adventures…