Eww! The Icky Part of Making Awesome Wine. (Why We Handpick Japanese Beetles off of Vines.)

How to Remove Japanese Beetles

Icky, beady-eyed, creepy-crawly Japanese Beetles look at our vines as an all-you-can eat leaf buffet. Pulling them away from their feast is our least favorite part of farming but it has to be done.

We remove beetles by hand so we can keep pesticides off of the grapes and out of your wine.

What are Japanese Beetles?

As the name suggests, the iridescent beetles originated in Japan. This cool old newspaper article shows they hitched a boat ride from the Orient to the US in 1916.

Each oval shaped insect is between 1/3 to a 1/2 inch long. They live for about four to six weeks and in that short time they can cause quite a mess.

The bugs multiply quickly and send out pheromone signals to attract mates. We work to remove the bugs quickly because those pheromones lure armies of potential paramours.

That’s why plant experts recommend against using Japanese Beetle traps. They just concentrate the pheromones in one area and attract even more beetles.

What Damage Do Japanese Beetles Cause?

These six-legged plant gluttons eat the bulk of a leaf but leave the veins behind. The remnant looks like a skeleton. So, we call what the beetles do “skeletonizing.”

Warning: We’re about to take a trip back to science class here.

The lacey-looking leaves can’t handle photosynthesis. That’s the process of turning energy from the sun into plant energy.

That process requires clorophyl, a chemical within leaves. When the bugs chow down on the bulk of the leaves, they don’t leave enough clorophyl behind for the vines to survive.

Bottom line…they ruin the vines so we can’t make wines. Not good.

Ok – Science class is over!

How to Remove Japanese Beetles Without Chemicals

While many farmers spray pesticides to kill the bugs, we do everything we can to avoid that. The sprays also kill the good insects (like ladybugs) that help to naturally manage our vineyard eco system. That just leads to needing more chemicals to try to balance things out.

So, we get our hands dirty. We pick the beetles off individually. We pluck or wipe them off of leaves. Then, we dunk them into a container of soapy water. They can’t escape after their wings get soapy.

We’ll spare you the photo of the can of doom interior. Trust us, it’s gross. (There’s a shot of it in the video at the top of this post if you’re into horror films.)

When Do the Beetles Come Out?

Japanese Beetles emerge on the hottest, stickiest days without breezes.

The bugs are the most active when it’s over 85-degrees outside. We start to see them around Independence Day and continue finding them through Labor Day.

What Do They Eat?

Japanese Beetles are not picky. There consume more than three hundred plant varieties. Unfortunately for us, they really, really like grape leaves.

We find at our vineyard they are huge fans of Concord vines (That’s the type that most grape jellies are made from). That may be because Concords have especially large leaves.

Better Vines = Better Wines

We could save many, many hours by spraying instead of picking beetles but for us it’s just not worth it. In addition to protecting the environment, we believe minimizing chemicals on vines leads to more vibrant wines.

You can read more about our other sustainable growing practices on our blog.

Is there anything else on the vineyard you’d like to learn about? Just let us know in the comment section.

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