Nature's Way

A winemaking family embraces earth-friendly gardening at their Sonoma vineyard

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Biodynamics at a glance

"Biodynamics is the highest form of organic farming," says Mike Benziger. Like permaculture and sustainable agriculture, it emphasizes a self-sustaining ecosystem in which conditions are right for plants to practically take care of themselves. It also enhances the health of the surrounding landscape, which in turn promotes natural disease protection for the vines and contributes to wine quality. At Benziger vineyards, the goal of biodynamics is to produce wines with a sense of place. Home gardeners can ease maintenance chores by following some of its practices.

Attract pollinators. Many native and Mediterranean plants attract pollinators, including butterflies and hummingbirds. More to try: autumn sage, butterfly weed, California poppy, catmint, English lavender, Gaura lindheimeri, and Mexican hat.

Use natural controls. The Benzigers use no chemical fertilizers, pesticides, or herbicides, but rely instead on natural controls. They use compost and cover crops like crimson clover and mustard to replenish the soil. They rotate crops to keep diseases in check, and control weeds by cultivation and other mechanical means.

Recycle water and waste. Runoff from irrigation and rain is recycled through a series of ponds and wetlands that naturally cleanse it for reuse in vineyards and landscaping. All organic waste is composted, then reapplied to the soil after harvest.

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