What is Diatomaceous Earth? – Backyard Food Growing


Diatomaceous earth is a naturally occurring substance that comes from the cell walls of fossilized diatoms. These are a type of single cell planktonic algae that lived in the ancient oceans and freshwater lakes millions of years ago. It’s a finely powdered fossil basically.

Diatomaceous earth (DE) is made from the fossilized remains of tiny, ancient, aquatic organisms called diatoms. Their skeletons are made of a natural substance called silica.

Over a long period of time, diatoms accumulated in the sediment of rivers, streams, lakes, and oceans. Silica is very common in nature and makes up 26% of the earth’s crust by weight. Various forms of silica include sand, emerald, quartz, feldspar, mica, clay, asbestos, and glass.

There are many uses and applications for diatomaceous earth for gardening and our own internal health. It’s used both in the garden and inside the home for pest control, it can also be used internally as a health product which is said to play a crucial role in bone development among many other benefits.

Food Grade vs Industrial Grade

If you choose to use it internally for health, make sure that you buy “food-grade” diatomaceous earth, such as this product or from the ones shown below. It can also be purchased at health food stores. Food-grade diatomaceous earth has been purified and is good for human consumption. The FDA refers to this product as “Generally Recognized as Safe”, which is as good as it gets from the FDA.

However, inhalation of any DE can be dangerous and should be avoided. The industrial grade is meant for absorbing spills, used as a filler, anti-caking purposes, abrasive cleaner, pet litter and more.

In this case right now, we’re just going to talk about it and it’s uses in the garden for pest control. It comes in the form of a fine powdery dust. The first pesticide products containing silicon dioxide (diatomaceous earth) were registered in 1960 to kill insects and mites.

How Does DE Work

DE is not poisonous and it does not have to be eaten in order to be effective. DE is microscopic sharp shards, so when the bugs get it on themselves it’s sharp and cuts their exoskeleton. DE for insects is similar to what it would be like for a human to deal with being covered in powdered shards of glass. The powder gives cuts and causes the insects to dry out and die by absorbing the oils and fats from the cuticle of the insects exoskeleton. It has sharp edges which are abrasive, thus speeding up the drying process.

It remains effective as long as it is kept dry and undisturbed. Do the application of it early on a day where no rain is expected. If it gets wet, reapplication is necessary when the area is dry again.

The dust is known to be harmless to birds, pets, fish and other wildlife. This product will work in the home on bedbugs, fleas, ticks, cockroaches and spiders too. The downside is that it’s kills beneficial insects as well. I recommend applying it at the garden later at night when most of the insect activity is done. Don’t apply it directly to flowers as this will cause a problem for the bees trying to get the pollen from the flower, it’s best used at the soil level or when no flowers are present.

Amorphous vs Crystalline Silica

Amorphous silica is silica in its naturally occurring state. It is a trace mineral that every mammal on the planet needs to live. Diatoms are found in all water sources and is the main food for aquatic life. Definition of Amorphous: from the Greek a, without, morphé, shape, form.

It becomes crystalline when it is exposed to extreme heat by commercial manufacturing means and minute amounts through natural extreme heat when close to volcanic activity.

The type of diatomaceous earth used in swimming pool and other, filtration systems is crystalline silica that has been heated to make it crystalline. Crystalline silica is extremely dangerous when inhaled or ingested. It is not biodegradable. Perma-Guard Diatomaceous Earth contains less than one half of 1% of crystalline silica and is considered GRAS (generally regarded as safe).

The FDA considers the safe levels of crystalline silica as 3% or less. Naturally occurring crystalline silica is found in all water sources and the dirt blowing in the air during dust storms. (Source)

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