Here I go again…
Venturing into another “controversial” subject… I’m such a rebel.
Nope, I’m not talking about GMOs, or vaccines, or any of that stuff today. But rather, diatomaceous earth.
Whooooooooo…. Crazy, huh? I have such a knack for happening upon controversy in places I’d never expect it. But maybe that’s because we live in the age of the internet and even the slightest, silliest things are controversial these days. (Does anyone else get tired of that? Man oh man, I sure do… But that’s a topic for another day…)
Anyway, back to the diatomaceous earth.
You’ve heard me talk about DE before here on the blog. In fact, one of my most popular posts ever goes into all the details of using diatomaceous earth around your home and for your health.
However, even though there are all sorts of diatomaceous earth uses in your home and medicine cabinet, I actually use it outside my home, more than inside.
I sprinkle it in my chicken coop to cut down on flies, use it on my barn floor, and occasionally dust my garden with it as well. And since I’ve received tons of questions about using diatomaceous earth in the garden, that’s what we’re diving into today.
But first, a little background.
What is Diatomaceous Earth?
Diatomaceous earth (buy it here) is a ultra-fine white powder made from the fossilized remains of algae-like plants (aka diatoms).
There are a lot of different health claims attached to DE, but I personally am most interested in the pest control aspects of the stuff.
Diatomaceous earth purportedly works as effective, natural pest control as the fine powder is razor-sharp on a microscopic level. It slices into the exoskeleton and dries the insect out. Because it works from a mechanical standpoint, versus a chemical one, you don’t have to worry about insects developing a resistance, or spraying toxic pesticides on your plants. Which is why a lot of naturally-minded folks are fans of the stuff.
Diatomaceous Earth Safety
As soon as I even whisper the word “diatomaceous” online, I get pounded with emails and comments from people loudly proclaiming the “dangers” of DE. So I’m going to beat y’all to it today. 😉
Yes, there are some considerations to take into account when handling DE. Do I think it makes diatomaceous earth something to be afraid of? Nope. But do use common sense, and follow these guidelines:
- Always, always make sure you’re using food-grade diatomaceous earth, not the stuff designed for swimming pools.
- DE is a ultra-fine powder, which means it’s not great for your lungs. So avoid breathing the dust, or wear a mask when you apply it.
- DE is drying, and while it won’t cut your skin like it will an exoskeleton, it does feel funky if you get a lot of it on your hands. Feel free to wear gloves when you use it.
Diatomaceous Earth in the Garden
As you know, I’ve been locked in battle to save my veggies from hungry insects this year. I’ve been using my DIY Organic Pest Control Garden Spray recipe on the veggies getting hit the worst, and also sprinkling on some DE as needed. Which sparked an interesting conversation on my Facebook page the other day.
Diatomaceous Earth and Bees
Recently, it’s been brought to my attention that many folks are concerned about using diatomaceous earth in their garden because of the effect it may have on beneficial insects, especially bees.
As many of you know, the bee population is declining, which is a very serious problem. I wouldn’t want to do anything to add to this issue, so I decided to investigate further. Here’s the issue with bees and DE (in a nutshell):
1. You sprinkle DE all over your garden like crazy.
2. Bees come visit your garden to pollinate the flowering plants.
3. Bees land in the DE. Bees try to groom the DE powder from their legs.
4. Bees die = not good.
This has caused a number of gardeners to become very much against any use of diatomaceous earth at all. Nada. Zero. Zilch. However, I prefer a balanced approach of looking at issues, so I decided to investigate further.
After talking to a local beekeeper, and reading a number of perspectives, it seems as though the importance lies in how we apply DE, versus the notion that simply DE on the premises is inherently bad.
I have decided to follow these strategies for continuing to use diatomaceous earth in my garden, while keeping the bees in mind at the same time.
- Apply DE sparingly, and only to plants that are seriously effected by insects. For me, that’d be my poor beets this year. They are being eaten down to nothing…
- Apply DE in the early morning, or late evening, when bees are less likely to be out.
- Apply DE close to the ground, where bees are less-likely to land.
- Do not apply DE to flowering plants where the bees would be landing to pollinate.
- Apply DE on non-windy days to avoid it being spread over the entire garden.
Do I still think using DE is better than chemical pesticides. YES. Just only use it where you need it and use it with discretion.
How I use Diatomaceous Earth in the Garden:
1. DE is easiest to apply if it’s in a shaker container of sorts. If you only need to use a small amount, you can repurpose an old spice shaker. I needed a larger amount, so I poked holes in the lid of an old plastic coffee can.
2. Sprinkle DE on the plants being eaten by insects. Follow the considerations for bees above. Only use DE on the plants in your garden that need it. Don’t dust it all over everything.
3. Reapply after heavy rain, or watering.
Does it work?
It sure seems to– at least for me. I have noticed a decrease in insect problems after applying. The main disadvantage to DE is that you must continually reapply it, so it can be a bit of a chore. But if you are consistent, I do think it can be an effective garden pest control method which does not rely on harmful pesticides.
Let’s Sum it Up:
- Don’t stick your head in a bag of DE and huff it. Your lungs will not be happy.
- Don’t jump into a tub of DE and rub it all over your skin. Unless you want to feel dry and crusty.
- Don’t go crazy and dust DE all over your garden. Respect the bees and allow them to do their job.
- Don’t use DE if you don’t want to. Seriously. If you’d rather not use DE in your garden, that doesn’t bother me a bit. You can opt for a natural, homemade garden pest control spray instead, pick the bugs off by hand, or just buy veggies from the Farmer’s Market. Any of those options are just fine by me.