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Uses of Diatomaceous Earth on the Homestead

11/28/2011 12:05:01 PM

Tags: Diatomaceous Earth, Organic Gardening, None-toxic pest control, homemade toothpaste, lice control for chickens, fly control on farm, Dutch Belted cows, Red Wattle hogs, Dorking chickens, organic worming medicine, Mary Lou Shaw

Red Wattle hogsSince hearing about Diatomaceous Earth (DE) a couple years ago, it seems to come up repeatedly in things I’m reading. I find it interesting that people are so enthused about it and that it’s recommended for many diverse functions. Now that I’ve begun to research and use it, I can see that many of its suggested uses apply to our homestead. 

Just briefly, DE comes from fossilized diatoms (algae) that have calcified and layered as sedimentary rock. In the United States, it is now mined from old lake beds which are mainly in Colorado and Nevada. It feels like a very light powder because each diatom is so porous, but they each have jagged edges. These properties are key to its functions. 

Unless you’re buying filters for a swimming pool, the DE you want must be “food grade.” This won’t be contaminated with anything toxic and won’t be dangerous to breathe or handle. You can buy the food grade DE at your local feed store, some nurseries and online. One brand for smaller quantities is called “Pure-Earth.” Our 50# bags are called, “Perma-Guard.” Now let’s talk about why you might want some. 

Worming medicine: This is our first year of having our Red Wattle hogs, and unlike the other animals, there is a strong recommendation to worm them. My husband bought a standard worming medicine at the local feed store and read the contents out-loud to me when he returned home. It’s not that we knew what most of the ingredients were, but when he got to the part that said “Any remaining medicine should be buried at least 18 inches deep in the ground,” we knew it wasn’t for our small farm. How could something considered that toxic be recommended for our animals or what could potentially be people’s food? 

After returning the unopened bag, we did an online search and DE was repeatedly recommended as a worming medicine. In the case of hogs, two tablespoons are given once-a-day, though we now have it mixed in the bulk feed. Additionally, intermittent rosemary and garlic are given—a combination we love to mix in our own meals! Using DE for a worming medicine certainly feels saner than serving the pigs poison.  

cabbage and cosmos in gardenFly Control: I’ve been purchasing “predator wasps” as an organic method of reducing the number of flies around our farm. Our Dutch Belted cows seem especially tormented by flies in the summertime. Putting DE in all our critters’ (horses, miniature donkeys, pigs, turkeys, chickens and cows) food means that DE comes out in their poop. As flies lay their eggs in the manure and their eggs develop into maggots, the DE is there to kill the maggots. It is thought to do this by scratching the maggots and causing them to dehydrate. Death occurs over about 48 hours and can make a big difference in reducing the number of flies. This is definitely going to be less expensive then purchasing predator wasps. 

Insecticide: DE is consistently listed as an organic means of controlling pests in the garden. Farmers have also used it for years in grain storage. It is a “mechanical” insecticide and so resistance to it can never develop. It is felt to work externally on crawling insects by scratching the exoskeleton, absorbing protective lipids and causing them to dehydrate. It perhaps works internally by causing bleeding in the gut. It is not to be harmful to bees, other flying insects or earthworms. If it truly causes harm to the gut, I don’t know if I believe the safety to earthworms. One writer swears he put it in his worm composter with no adverse effects, but I will go slowly with it in the garden where I can use other methods to deal with snails and slugs. 

I do like the idea of using it inside the house where I don’t have to be concerned about beneficial insects. It’s recommended for fleas, cockroaches, ants and bedbugs. I really appreciate the option of using DE instead of the toxic chemical alternatives. Additionally, resistance is growing to these chemicals, and DE may now be more effective. 

The one outside area that I am grateful to use DE as an insecticide is for our Dorking chickens. The chemicals available for lice are as nasty as the pig worming chemicals. DE works great, and I’ve set up boxes in both sides of the hen house so they can dust themselves. While I was at it, I gave the garage cat and dog a good dusting with DE to help with flea control. Amazingly, the cat has been repeatedly to the vet for allergic symptoms, and this solved it. To be on the safe side, I also dusted their beds. 

Hydroponic: DE is like perlite or vermiculite and retains water and nutrients in the soil. Its porosity means that the soil will also drain well. This makes it great for potted plants. This same affinity for liquids makes it a good absorbent and it has been used to clean up toxic spills. I can think of a few not-so-toxic spills that it would also be helpful with on the farm. Incidentally, I imagine this characteristic is why DE is used in cat litter. 

Dorking chickensMild Abrasive: Now you’re going to think I’m stretching things, but DE is commercially used as a mild abrasive both in toothpaste and as metal polish. We’ve been mixing our own toothpaste for a few years to avoid both the extra chemicals and the packaging of commercial brands. It was therefore only a small step to add DE to the baking soda and sea salt that we already use. It is nice to have only food grade DE around the farm so we can feel free to improvise. 

Thermal Insulator: I haven’t devised a means yet to take advantage of DE’s insulation properties. Perhaps by next summer I will pack bags of DE around the milk to maintain temperature as I am making cheese or yogurt! 

Filter: The porosity of DE means it’s used to make filters, including filters for our milk from the barn. I mention it here, however, just to be inclusive. 

That’s about all I know about Diatomaceous Earth. I would appreciate hearing from you what experience you’ve had with it. 

  Photos by Mary Lou Shaw 



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Post a comment below.

 

Paula
7/19/2014 8:31:49 AM
I use it all around the outside foundation of my house when ants and spiders start to come calling. Takes care of that problem. And it is far cheaper then iffy chemicals.

collette
6/5/2014 12:08:20 AM
Im a first time user of DE and after reading the comments im excited to see it work.Im currently helping a friend spay and neuter about 50 cats and some of the cats stay in an old house on the property.Its full of roaches and probably fleas so I needed an organic solution.Shes worried I might hurt them with chemicals.I would never do anything to harm these poor cats but Im glad I found this.I've wanted something natural to treat my own cats.I have two that will not let me put Advantage on them so I figure if I treat the areas they sleep I can cover them that way and putting it the food for worms is excellent for ferals.I will let you know how it goes.I would like to know how much do you mix with the pets food.And to Debbie Gregory,what is the combination of DE and coconut oil that you use?

Edward van Natta
3/9/2013 4:27:33 AM
Me like want reading on this ! Me like get Information on this ! Hope hear from some one , me get off the grid see go on Earth see people do .

Cheryl Pelton Bresin
11/15/2012 12:20:52 PM
We use Food Grade DE on a around our farm. My husband and I have also taken it for parasite control. During my husbands use he ridded himself from a nasty toe nail fungus. We did a little experiment and took him off of the DE for a short time, The toenail fungus returned. When he resumed his intake of 1 heaping tablespoon of DE in water per day, it disappeared. Our thought was since DE contains extra minerals, it is possible that he is lacking one or more minerals that are found in Diatomatious Earth.

Ann Allen
6/1/2012 2:42:32 PM
We use it on our dogs as needed. I rub it into their coats to get it down to the skin. Turns them a little grey for a few days, but they never have had a problem with external parasites, even when our neighbors are plagued with ticks. I also spread it along the backs of my cows where those little annoying horn flies like to rest. Works pretty well there, too.

Debbie Gregory
4/9/2012 11:05:17 PM
I wasn't aware that food grade DE *wasn't* dangerous to breathe, although I would gaurd against it anyway. I have used it to deworm my cats (and for flea control), once I found a means of delivery for my finicky felines; it does work great. They wouldn't eat it in their food no matter what I mixed/made, even fresh tuna, salmon, etc. Then It occurred to me to try mixing it with the unrefined coconut oil that I rub on their front paws to prevent hairballs and they lapped it right up. I'd read on friend's blogs to be careful using it in the garden as it can kill beneficial insects too. I'd like to learn more about that and enjoy reading others shares in comments. I've talked with long time farmers here in Eastern NC and they've not ever heard of it, but the conversations have stirred interest. It's good for humans too because of the mineral content of silica which is grossly lacking in modern diets/food.

Boo Prince
11/30/2011 5:06:22 PM
I am a big fan of DE and use it on my chickens and my dog. I put it in their food and in the case of the chickens, dust it round their enclosure, in the coop, and nest boxes. It definitely takes care of mites, fleas , ticks and reduces fly populations. PLS NOTE: DE IS DEADLY TO BEES! It is very very important not to use DE on plants that are pollinated by bees. It is a mechanical and therefore indiscriminate insecticide. I use it on potato leaves and on tomato plants but not on any bee-attracting plants.

BRUCE MCELMURRAY
11/30/2011 1:40:11 PM
We sprinkle it on our dogs. We use it infrequently and only when they have a known problem. It can also be given orally in their food for worm problems. It is not a good idea to breathe it but then again I have chronic asthma and have not had a problem with it in normal use. We thought our dog had sarcoptic mites when we adopted him and applied it to various areas in the house and it is so fine it floated in the air every time we moved around. We never confirmed the mites but it does attract to electronics like computers, TV's, satellite boxes and so forth. I would suggest covering openings with cheese cloth if possible. It didn't seem to harm them but we spent a lot of time cleaning. We purchased ours on line from a place in California and most places who sell it also sell the applicators. We personally use an old plastic spice container with the holes in the top which seems to work well. We can direct it where we want but it sometimes puts out more than we would like. Hope that answers your questions and I have learned to wear a face mask when applying as a safety precaution. I don't think inhaling any dust like DE is a good thing to do.

B May Johnson
11/30/2011 12:34:12 AM
It's sometimes called fossil shell flour, it is a drying agent as well and just 1 tablespoon mixed in a 5 gallon bucket with dry peas, beans, lentils will keep any weevil larva from hatching and ruining the food--from now on--. Been using it for years If you're using it as a wormer just sprinkle some on the dog or cat food every once in a while.

Gean Vandehey
11/29/2011 10:18:43 PM
I always read things on what you can use DE for but never anything on how to use it.Please tell be how you use it do you sprinkle it on your dog or do you feed it to him? Also I think that it is dangerous if you breath it in.Do you know if this is true?

BRUCE MCELMURRAY
11/29/2011 10:03:35 PM
Excellent post Mary Lou, and we have been using DE for years. I did a blog on this site a while back on DE and Carpenter Ants. We also have a personal blog site and I have posted the virtues of DE there as well. It is a cheap alternative to chemical sprays. We used it to control mites on our dogs. I would suggest that when purchased that an applicator be purchased along with it as it can be hard to apply. Also when used outside and it gets hard, take a broom to it and it is just like new again. We have used it for years and only use the food grade. The other form is used in swimming pool filters and not suitable for human use.







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