Diatomaceous Earth: Its Benefits And How To Use It In Your Garden

Diatomaceous earth (aka: fossil shell flour or DE) is a very common product with a wide variety of uses in industry, around the house and yard.

Even though you may never have heard of Diatomaceous earth, you probably have used DE and consumed it a standard ingredient in quite a few personal care products and food items.

DE has value as a supplement, a drying agent, a soil additive and an effective home and garden pest control agent.

diatomaceous earth garden

In this article, we will focus on using DE to control insect pests around your house and garden. We will also provide important information on the dangers of chemical pesticide use. Read on to learn more.

Why Not Use Chemical Pesticides?

Chemical pesticides (poisons) are the only substances purposely released into the atmosphere for the purpose of killing things. The suffix, “cide” is Latin for “kill“, and pesticides are used to kill rodents, fungus, insects and weeds in a wide variety of settings. For this reason, they can be found almost everywhere.

According to the website, toxicactions.org, over 5 billion pounds of pesticides are used in the United States annually. They can be found in every aspect of life including our food, water, air and soil. [source]

This is very bad news as pesticides have been found to cause problems such as:

  • Reproductive Difficulties
  • Endocrine Disruption
  • Developmental Delay
  • Kidney Problems
  • Liver Damage
  • Cancer

Watch this video from natural health tip #4 – avoid pesticides?

Children Are Especially At Risk

Pesticide contamination is problematic for adults and especially problematic for children. Children are exposed to pesticides from the moment of conception and continue to be exposed at home, at school and at play. The chemicals found in pesticides cause developmental delay and can cause problems as serious as brain damage. [source]

Chemical Pesticides Are Ubiquitous

Although some proponents of chemical pesticides say that when used properly and in the right amounts these substances present little or no threat, the fact is they build up. [source] They are everywhere, and they are unavoidable. We are exposed to them every day through inhalation; in the foods we eat; in the water we drink; through skin contact and even through our eyes. [source]

People who work in farm settings and those who live near industrial farms are at tremendous risk for illnesses and other problems caused by contact with chemical pesticides.

Facts about pesticides:

Wildlife and the environment in general are under great threat due to contamination caused by chemical pesticides.

Neonicitinoids are especially harmful to important pollinators such as bees, butterflies, hummingbirds, moths and other insects. This category of pesticide is also extremely dangerous to small mammals such as bats and also to reptiles such as lizards. [source]

Why Do We Keep Using Chemical Pesticides?

There’s lots of money in pesticides. As the companies making these poisons continue to put more lobbying pressure on the government to reduce regulations and increase the use of pesticides, we can expect for the problems they cause to increase exponentially if we continue to buy them and use them.

Luckily, we can vote with our pocketbooks and simply choose to learn about and use natural alternatives to benefit our own health and the health of our planet.

Do We Need Pesticides?

It’s easy to see that using pesticides has an extremely negative effect on people, wildlife and the environment, but are pesticides necessary? The simple and accurate answer to that question is “No!”

The fact is, it is not possible, necessary or even desirable to kill off all pests. All things in nature have some use and reason for being. It is entirely possible to control pests using natural means and a mindset that is aimed at coexistence-with rather than extermination-of the animals we term pests.

There are a number of ways to replace common household pesticides with all-natural alternatives that work just as well or better. When you adopt this way of thinking and choose to stop using pesticides in your own home, yard and garden you can become part of the solution rather than remaining part of the problem.

When you make this positive, proactive choice you will also save money while protecting the health and well-being of the environment, your loved ones and yourself.

Why Is Organic Pest Control Better?

When you choose organic pest control methods you are making use of time-honored, natural ingredients that strive to integrate cultural wisdom, available natural resources, biological and mechanical solutions to address problems with pests. These methods safeguard your health while helping to conserve biodiversity and support ecological balance. [source]

There are lots of different ways to control pests in the home, yard and garden with a combination of products such as essential oils, boric acid, vinegar, insecticidal soap and more. These ingredients are far safer and far more affordable than any commercially prepared chemical pest control.

When dealing with insect pests outdoors, predatory insects are often engaged as a natural means of control. Indoors, essential oils such as rosemary, sweet basil, eucalyptus, catnip and cedar are often added to carriers such as water, vinegar and/or oils to create sprays and other natural insect killing or repelling products.

The focus of this article is diatomaceous earth, an affordable, versatile, natural pest control product that is very popular, useful and extremely safe to use. Diatomaceous earth can be applied lightly indoors or outdoors on an as-needed basis and will continue to work as long as the weather stays dry. [source]

One popular type of DE that is specifically made for the purpose of combating insects both indoors and out is Perma-Guard Diatomaceous Earth.

While this product does provide some excellent information on its packaging, it should be noted that its price per pound of product is a bit higher than other offerings of 100% DE. See our link in the final paragraph for our top choice in versatile, food grade DE!

What Is Food Grade Diatomaceous Earth Pest Control?

Food Grade DE is an all-natural product classified under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide & Rodenticide Act as being safe for use in the home. This all-natural, dry powder is made of diatoms. These are the fossilized remains of single celled algae.

This very fine, white or light tan silica powder presents insects such as:

… with razor sharp edges that cause damage to their exoskeletons. The substance also absorbs the protective oil from the surface of the exoskeleton.

How Does DE Work?

The cell walls of diatomaceous earth are made of silica (the main component of glass). This makes the individual particles sharp, abrasive and damaging to insect bodies. It is also effective against soft-bodied gastropods, such as slugs and snails if distributed in a thick line that forms a physical barrier. DE will not kill these creatures, but it will prevent them entering “off-limits” areas.

For insects, the combination of exoskeleton damage and the drying effect causes the pests to dehydrate and die.

This is not a speedy process, but if you keep DE distributed consistently in areas where pests are problem you will see a steady decline in your pest population.

Because DE’s deadly powers are physical rather than chemical, insects cannot build up immunity or resistance to it. No matter how long you use diatomaceous earth, it will continue to be effective against insect pests of all kinds. This is a definite benefit when compared with chemical pesticides.

Uses Of Diatomaceous Earth Are:

It primarily works like a pest control powder which “eats through” the exoskeleton of insects and dries them out.

Moreover, since the DE works on a mechanical level more than a chemical one, the insects do not develop any resistance to diatomaceous earth.

This becomes an eco-friendly alternative for killing insects as you can avoid using toxic sprays and insecticides.

In general, DE can be used for many purposes, but for a garden it is primarily used as a pesticide or insecticide. They also denote it as natural bug control.

Insects like:

ONLY USE Food Grade Diatomaceous Earth as a pesticide for vegetable production. This method is very popular among folks who are fan of natural remedies.

When we talk about the environment, the basic component is silicon which makes up most of the rocks, sand and land of our Earth.

It is also a component of fish bodies or marine animals naturally.

Moreover, since DE does not work on a chemical level, there is no question of it degrading or dissolving in water or vaporize to pollute air, causing damage to the environment. It’s environmentally friendly.

How To Apply Diatomaceous Earth In The Garden

1. Dry Method

Fill a container like a parmesan cheese container to use as a shaker for the powder. Garden duster applicators are available as well. Avoid creating dust, it can harm your respiratory system. Wearing gloves and masks is a must, especially if you have allergies and breathing issues.

Dust the dry powder on the plants. Experts suggest the best time suggested is morning and evening when the plants have little dew on them. The moisture helps retain the powdered DE. This powder is not effective when wet but when it dries up, insects begin to “experience” its effects.

Applying the powder to surrounding garden beds to help to kill crawling insects before they reach your plants.

A thick layer of DE at the base of plants helps to keep slugs, snails or squash bugs away. Be sure to apply DE on the upper as well as the underside of all plants for effects.

Reapply powder after it rains because it will get washed away.

2. Wet Method

Dissolve 4 tablespoons of Diatomaceous Earth powder into 1- gallon water jug. Seal the jug tightly and shake until the powder is dissolved.

Fill a sprayer or spray bottle with the DE mixture.

Spray plants with the solution but NOT dripping wet. Be sure to cover the undersides of leaves as well for maximum benefits.

Once the plants dry the residue left behind looks like a think layer of powder coating the leaves. The “wet” method is best suited where windy conditions are present.

Masks and gloves are essential here too. Some people also prefer wearing goggles while spraying the powder.

How Do You Use “Fossil Shell Flour“ Around The House?

Using DE is simplicity itself. Apply a light dusting. Look for areas that are frequented by insect pests and simply sprinkle DE lightly in these areas.

Indoors, apply it to the back of cabinets, and your baseboards, behind wall sockets and other nooks, crannies, cracks and crevices where insects hide.

Outdoors, sprinkle it around sensitive plants or dust plant leaves lightly to impact all manner of insect pests. When insects come in contact with the substance, it sticks to them and effectively kills them.

DE will not attract insects, so in some instances you may want to combine it with a substance that will attract pests to it. If you are trying to draw insects, you can mix it with dry bait, such as sugar. This can be an effective treatment on ant hills.

This video shows how you can use an inexpensive squeeze dispenser to apply diatomaceous earth powder around your house and yard. Use a light application for insects. Apply a thick line when dealing with slugs and snails.

Keep your powder dry! It’s important to remember that DE is not effective unless it is dry. If you sprinkle it outside, you must remember to replenish it after rainfall. Also, do not use it in damp areas.

Before reapplying DE indoors, you should clean up your previous application. Depending on where you have applied the substance and how much is present, you can sweep it up with a whisk broom and dust pan; use a damp towel to wipe it up, or use a shop vac to vacuum it up. Be sure not to use your regular household vacuum cleaner as the course substance can be very damaging to the motor.

Even though DE is non-toxic, you may want to wear a dust mask, eye protection and gloves when applying it or cleaning it up. Remember that it is a dusty and very drying substance, so it could cause some itching and discomfort if you are in contact with it for an extended period of time.

Make DE & Essential Oil Insect Repellent Stations

There is one instance in which you would use DE damp. You can use it as a base to make essential oil insect repellent stations.

When you do this, you are not using the DE to kill insects. You are just using it as a medium or carrier to deliver the scent of the oil. Some people use cotton balls for this purpose, but DE holds the essential oil scent longer and can be reused indefinitely, so it is a better choice.

Begin by making a paste of DE and water. Add a strong smelling essential oil such as lemon or cedar oil or oil of lavender. Mix the essential oil in at a rate of about a dozen drops per ounce of DE and water paste.

Put this mixture into small jar lids to make repellent stations. Place these in out-of-the-way corners and under furniture where insects might hide.

Replenish your stations monthly with a few drops of water and essential oil.

Is It Safe to Leave DE Out All the Time?

For mammals, food grade diatomaceous earth is not only safe it is also desirable. It is commonly added to grains, pet food and other dry food products as an anti-caking agent and to help prevent insect infestation.

Food grade diatomaceous earth imparts a number of health benefits, and it is often added to natural personal care products such as toothpaste. Many people use it as a dietary supplement, and the silicon it contains is said to be helpful for strengthening bones and improving the quality of skin, hair and nails. [source]

When used as a supplement for poultry, DE helps control intestinal parasites and results in hens laying larger and more nourishing eggs with stronger shells. Additionally, when used as a dust bath for poultry DE helps control and even eliminate bird mite infestation. It also makes a nice dust bath for pet birds and chinchillas.

Food grade DE is safe to eat and can even be used as a deworming product for your pets. Talk with your veterinarian about the amount to use. Generally speaking DE is safe when used as a flea powder on cats and dogs. Some farmers hang burlap bags of it from barn rafters so that livestock can bump against them to dust themselves as protection against flies. [source]

As long as you are sure to get food grade diatomaceous earth, it will pose no threat to you, your pets or non-insect life. Be aware that food grade DE does not discriminate between beneficial insects and non-beneficial insects

Be careful where you put the product. Avoid areas frequented by beneficial insects. You don’t want to damage your populations of bees, ladybugs, butterflies and other desirable insects.

Remember to only use food grade DE. There is pool grade diatomaceous earth available, but this is not the same thing. This substance is intended only for swimming pool filtration. It contains a lot of crystalline silica and is not safe to come in contact with or to consume.

What’s The Difference Between Food Grade DE And Pool Grade Diatomaceous Earth?

The production methods used to create the two types of DE are quite different. Pool grade DE is prepared using a process known as calcination that incorporates very high heat levels.

This process transforms the silicon dioxide content into crystalline silica, which is extremely dangerous to the health of both animals and humans. For this reason, this type of DE must only be used for swimming pool filtration. It has no other purpose.

Food grade diatomaceous earth is also known as Food chemical Codex grade DE. In order to be considered safe for consumption, this product must comply with specifications regarding its heavy metal (e.g. lead and arsenic) content.

Food grade DE is not calcined and is made up mostly of amorphous silica. It should contain no more than 1% crystalline silica.

Why Is Some Food Grade DE White and Some Gray or Tan?

The mineral content of the product affects its coloring. Most DE is very pure white, but the presence of naturally occurring minerals can cause the product to vary in shade from light brownish-gray to white.

Do Natural Pest Control Methods Really Work?

Yes, non-toxic pest control does work; however, it doesn’t work in the same way as chemical pesticides. It’s important to understand that when you use natural pest repelling and controlling ingredients you must take a holistic approach. This means combining natural methods and being very consistent and persistent. [source]

Unlike chemical pesticides, natural products don’t kill off vast swathes of insects and other pests all at once. Furthermore, organic products don’t usually have a residual effect.

For this reason, most organic pest control products need to be applied frequently for best results. It is also smart to use them in rotation and/or in combination with each other to prevent having your pests build up a resistance to them.

DE Does Not Kill Insects Instantly!

When you spray an insect with chemical pesticide, it dies on the spot. Conversely, you may observe insect pests walking right through DE seemingly unfazed. Don’t despair! It takes a while for the DE to damage the insect exoskeleton and decimate the critter!

As a matter of fact, a number of factors affect the speed with which DE works to kill off insects. The size and type of insect is one very important factor. Additionally, the ambient humidity levels and the particle size of the DE may affect the speed with which it works. Temperature also plays a role, as does the level of infestation. It naturally takes quite a bit longer to deal with more insects.

Generally speaking, you may see significant results within 24 hours of proper application of DE. This is especially true with very small fairly soft-bodied insects such as bedbugs, dust mites, bird mites, termites, black ants and red ants. Leaving the DE in place and replenishing it as-needed will reap greater results within a week’s time.

Large, tough insects, such as merchant grain beetles can take as long as three weeks to deal with. Likewise, it can take a couple of weeks to deal with heavy silverfish infestation. It is important to remove any clutter, manure, leaves or other items that may be sheltering insects such as silverfish and beetles. This will help ensure that the insects make good contact with the DE.

When dealing with especially pervasive pests, such as bedbugs, you must clean thoroughly and use a combination of methods of natural pest control, such as DE, essential oil sprays, heat and sheer diligence to ensure you have eliminated all eggs, larvae and adults.

No matter what kind of pest you are dealing with, keep a close eye on the infestation. If you feel that the insects have been completely eradicated, you may wish to clean up the DE completely and not reapply it; however, keeping a light application out at all times will not hurt anything and can certainly help prevent a re-infestation. This is especially true of very persistent insects such as bedbugs, fleas and ants.

Food Grade DE Makes A Handy, Thrifty Addition To Any Home!

Diatomaceous earth is generally recognized as safe (GRAS) by the Food & Drug Administration (FDA). For this reason, it is included in hundreds (if not thousands) of products for household and personal use. Among these are more than one-hundred and fifty products intended for pest control.

In addition to its pest control value, food grade DE is also useful as a dietary supplement to help:

  • Deal with parasite infestation in humans and pets
  • Improve bone, joint and ligament health
  • Detoxify and remove heavy metals
  • Enhance colon and liver function
  • Benefit skin, hair and nail health
  • Improve immune function
  • Increase energy levels

Food grade DE is easy to find at your local animal feed store or online, and it is amazingly affordable. Generally speaking, you can expect to pay a couple of dollars a pound. As promised, here is our top choice in versatile, food grade DE.

This amount will last you ages, even if you use it to dust your house and yard and supplement your pet’s food and your morning smoothie. A little bit of this safe, all-natural product goes a long way and can do you, your family and your household a world of good.

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