These days with all of the concern over food quality, widely used chemical pesticides are viewed askance by those wanting to live more naturally. If you are among this group, you will want to find ways to grow your own food without harmful pesticides. Learning how to use diatomaceous earth in the garden can help eliminate some of the chemicals you’d prefer not to have on your food.
There are few things that I would consider ‘miracle’ cures, and while some might beg to differ, I believe that diatomaceous earth (DE) is one of the best ways to deal with garden pests. Formed from the fossil remains of tiny aquatic organisms (called diatoms), it has been touted a cure-all for many of our household, homestead, and animal health issues. Using diatomaceous earth in the garden can be one of your answers to chemical-free pest control.
Is it Safe to Use Diatomaceous Earth in the Garden?
Diatomaceous earth most commonly comes in ‘dust form’, is not a poison. As a matter of fact, it is non-toxic. It has been widely used as an insecticide in homes, gardens, and even on pests. Diatomaceous earth is known to kill insects with exoskeletons. When exposed to DE, their bodies dry out as the DE absorbs the oils and fats from the insect’s exoskeleton. DE is a safe substance for use in your home, in your garden, on your homestead, and around your animals.
Though DE is quite safe, there are some cautions. Avoid getting it into the eyes of your animals, or your eyes, when you apply DE, as it will cause irritation. Because the edges of DE particles are quite sharp, one should avoid breathing in (or allowing your animals to breathe in) DE that is in the form of crystalline dust (often used in pesticide products). If crystalline DE is breathed in, it can cause shortness of breath and may accumulate in lung tissue or lymph nodes.
However, there is another form that DE comes in, called amorphous, which is rapidly eliminated from lung tissue, according to the National Pesticide Information Center. Still, because some crystalline DE can be found even amongst amorphous DE, it is best to avoid a situation where anyone–human or animal–can breath it in.
Finding the Right DE to Use
There are a few types of DE that you can use in your garden. Most people use the type that is the white pure food-grade DE, with no additives. This type is expensive, but worth it because it will not harm you if you happen to ingest it on your vegetables. As a bonus, it won’t harm your pets and children if they happen to get in the garden become exposed to it. As a matter of fact, many agree that there are benefits to feeding it to our pets, and ourselves!
At our local feed store, we can also purchase a large bag of DE mixed with clay (pictured below), which is considerably less expensive than the pure variety. I use this type when the DE when there is no chance that anyone will ingest it, but usually not in the vegetable garden or animals.
Pros and Cons
As with any pest control substance we use in the vegetable garden, there are questions we need to ask ourselves:
- What are the ramifications of using this substance in my garden?
- Will it do something to my body if I consume fruit from plants treated with this substance?
- Will my animals be harmed if I use it?
- Is it poisonous?
- How do I wash it off?
- What ultimately happens if it gets into the water table? Will it harm beneficials in my garden?
In this section, we’ll find some answers to these questions, as well as discussing the pros and cons of using DE in our vegetable gardens.
Probably the biggest pro to using it in the garden is that it’s non-toxic to humans and animals. Food grade diatomaceous earth can be eaten, which means if you get it on your garden veggies, it won’t hurt you (though you may want to rinse before eating).
DE can be used to keep bugs with exoskeletons away from your plants, like roaches and other unkind pests. However, you should know that if you have abundant beneficials with exoskeletons, like ladybugs, you’ll want to try to use it sparingly, or find another chemical-free solution that won’t kill them.
It’s not a set-it-and-forget-it type of solution for pest control. It must be reapplied once it gets wet, so it’s important that you do that if you are trying to control a colony of bad bugs. I have found that when I am treating my garden for pests with any natural form of pest control, it usually takes me a concentrated daily effort for about two weeks to get things under control. If you are spending more time than that, you may want to try something stronger or quicker, especially in a more acute situation.
Another con is that you have to be careful not to allow it to kick up into the air while you apply diatomaceous earth. It is unsafe for you to breathe in crystalline versions of it, which is in DE products designed to be used as pesticide. For your sake, and any pets/livestock that may be around while you are using it, avoid creating dust with it because it can cause irritation in the eyes, and because it can cause respiratory issues for you and your animals. A mask can be worn while applying to your garden.
There has been some concern over whether or not DE is harmful to our already-dwindling bee population. According to this article on the Planet Natural Research Center website, making sure to avoid getting diatomaceous earth on plant blossoms can help alleviate the issue. And as mentioned before, you will want to consider your beneficial bug population when choosing to use DE in your garden.
How to Use DE in the Garden
Spread powder around the base of plants that are prone to attack, or on leaves of plants that are under attack. Make sure not to breathe any of it in. Reapply after rain.
Want to learn more about natural and organic pest control methods that you can use this year? Check out this video that a couple gardening friends and I put together to help you keep your garden pest free this year!
BONUS: Using Diatomaceous Earth on the Homestead
- As a preventive and treatment for internal parasites: dogs, cats, rabbits, chickens. I love using DE this way—it’s one of the easiest prevention tips we could ever use for protecting and treating our animals for worms. We have had great success with treating one of our rescue cats with a bad case of worms by adding DE to his food for a couple of weeks.
- As a preventive and treatment for external parasites. Diatomaceous earth can be sprinkled and brushed into your animal’s coat on a daily basis as a preventive measure against fleas. It can also be sprinkled into animal bedding, where your chickens take their dust baths, and really anything with which your animal’s fur, feathers, or skin will come into contact. There is one caveat for using DE this way, though–if there is a chance of dust kicking up, it’s probably best not to use it this way. However, Lisa Murano from Murano Chicken Farm has a great article about using DE in her chickens’ dust bath.
- For controlling pests around the homestead. DE can be used in your garden, in your pet’s sleeping area, and for keeping bugs out of specific areas, such as around animal feed, in a patio area, and other places you want to be bug-free. Sprinkle DE into your carpet and leave for a few days to eliminate a flea infestation.
- For your own health. Many people are doing cleanses, or making their own natural hygeine products. My friend Tessa Zundel of HomesteadLady.com takes DE “with bentonite clay to pull toxins and break up gunk.” Jessica Healey of Scratch Mommy has a homemade deodorant post using DE in the ingredients list.
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And as if I haven’t given you enough information to convince you that DE can be useful for your homestead, inside and out, check out these posts for using DE on your homestead!
Diatomaceous Earth and Its Uses
7 Ways to Use Diatomaceous Earth on Your Homestead