The Wonders of DE

15 Aug

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Long time no blog.  We’re sorry!  Things have been wonderfully busy during our first month and a half, but it has taken away from our blogging time.  We’ll do better, we promise!

Now, on to the topic at hand.  It’s bug season, and here in Boulder, we’ve had an incredible amount of moisture in the last few weeks, so it seems people are experiencing more pests in their gardens and on their chickens.  We’ve had quite a few people come by the shop looking for “dia-I’m not sure how to pronounce the rest – earth.”  What they’re looking for is Diatomaceous Earth, also known as DE.  This is one of those amazing products that everyone should know about, especially if you are trying to keep things pest free and all natural at your urban farm, garden or home.

A little about our friend DE.  DE is the fossilized remains of teeny tiny aquatic organisms called Diatoms.  These remains are commonly found in ancient lake beds from way-back-when.  Each particle is incredibly porous (which makes it light weight), and has very jagged, sharp and incredibly hard edges (on a hardness scale, diamonds are a 9, Diatomaceous Earth is a 7).  It’s those edges that make DE such a useful tool for the gardener, chicken keeper, pet owner, housekeeper and just about anyone else who doesn’t like certain insects.  Sharp edges and insects with exoskeletons don’t get along.  The sharp, abrasive edges of the DE scratch at the cuticle of insect’s exoskeleton, absorbing important oils and fats from the insect, eventually drying them out and causing death by dehydration.

If you are noticing unwanted insects in the garden or mites on your chickens (or even cats and dogs), it’s time for a little dust bath of DE.  Fill any old bottle with some DE, poke holes in the top, and gently shake where you want it to go.  With chickens, it’s important to get under the wings, around their leg feathers, and places where the DE can make it closer to their skin, and not just roll off their feathers (do avoid the vent for obvious reasons).  It’s also a good idea to dust a bit in their coop and nest boxes, and any other place you fear could be hiding mites.  Some folks add it to the chicken’s dirt bath area as preventative measure.

If your chickens are mite free, and you’re only seeing issues in the garden, take a similar approach to dusting your veggie plants.  Some recommend dusting when things are a little damp, as this allows a little better control of where the DE goes (it will stick when wet rather than blowing around).   When DE is wet, it loses it’s sharpness, but that will return once dried.  We personally don’t dust our garden unless we are seeing a pest problem, and we then dust with caution.  DE can’t distinguish between the good bugs and the bad ones, so we try to avoid using it unless there’s a need, and let the good bugs get to work.  We also never dust directly on a flower as to protect the pollinators.

Diatomaceous Earth is safe to use.  It’s non-toxic, and as we mentioned, it’s effectiveness lies purely in those sharp edges. Some folks experience a bit of irritation when DE makes contact with skin and eyes, and we certainly don’t recommend lots of deep breathing when working around DE, but food grade DE is non-toxic and completely safe for humans to use.  Some people even add it to their diet to “scrub out” their digestive tract.  We can’t speak to that aspect, but highly recommend it to control any unwanted pests.   It is important to note that you MUST find food grade DE (it’s not hard, we carry it in the shop).  DE without the “food grade” distinction may contain toxic additives and should not be used.

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