Gardening with Diatomaceous Earth

When I lived in North Carolina, there was an old fellow down the road who had a lovely garden. The plot was right next to the street, and I wondered about the runoff, but every year it looked like the Garden of Eden in there. I joked with my wife that he must have had a pact with the devil to have such a lovely looking garden.

Then one spring I was riding by his garden and it was covered with white powder. Covered! It looked like it had snowed on those plants. And it was then I realized what he was doing: Sevin Dust!

Yikes! Sevin is toxic to humans and considered a likely carcinogen. It allows you to grow beautiful vegetables, but who wants to eat them?

About the same time, I was growing beans in my nearby garden, and they were overrun with beetles. I tried several safe deterrents, with some success, but I eventually gave up and planted strawberries in that raised bed. They are effectively a weed and grew great.

Today, we have to deal with the same bugs. But how? Gardeners have a tool that works great on multiple insects and is not poisonous. It’s called diatomaceous earth, or just DE.

This stuff is mostly silica (glass), but is a very fine powder and rough at a microscopic level. To insects, it’s like ground glass, and it gets into their exoskeletons and just wreaks havoc, eventually killing them.

DE is not poisonous, and since it’s action is mechanical, not chemical, bugs cannot develop a resistance to it.

How is it used? I sprinkle some DE by hand onto plants with insect infestations, or on those that attract insects the most. For example, my eggplant plants attract flea beetles like the plague, so I dust them immediately after planting. DE has also been effective against worms that infest broccoli and cauliflower and cabbage plants.

Be careful when applying DE to blooming plants as you don’t want honeybees to be picking it up as they are pollinating your garden.

DE washes off in the rain, so you have to reapply, but it’s pretty cheap (40 cents a pound currently). Just be sure you buy the DE that is not heat treated (it must be uncalcinated).

I also use DE with my chickens. DE is sprinkled in their nesting boxes to control lice, mites, and fleas. I also put a sprinkle in their feed to help control intestinal parasites.

My cat loves a good DE dusting, which keeps the fleas off. And DE can help control roaches and ants in the house. All without you having to worry that you are destroying your ability to have children, or sending your spouse to an early grave.

So give DE a try. It’s pretty benign (to us) and controls insects with proper application.