There are so many uses and applications for diatomaceous earth (DE) all around the world today. One of the main uses for DE is a filter media for wine, beer, juice, oil, and swimming pools. Another main use for diatomaceous earth is as a functional additive for paint & coatings. Then there's DE as an insecticide, animal feed, soil amendment, absorbent, seed coating and in fertilizer. The applications for DE are endless. In this post from Quantum Agriculture, Australia, Alan Johnstone covers what DE is and key uses for soil and animal care. The Aussie vernacular makes this post even more interesting.
Diatomaceous Earth consists of the fossilized remains of millions of microscopic single cell plants called diatoms which were deposited millions of years ago on the beds of oceans and lakes. Its uses in agriculture are many. It is a useful addition to compost heaps and the soil because it is a once living form of silica and has high paramagnetism. It stimulates healthy growth of plant root systems. It conditions the soil by making silica available to plants, improving cation exchange capacity, soil conductivity, and helps the soil to retain water. It is advised that a calcium source (hydrated lime, agricultural lime or gypsum) be added at the same time so that the calcium and cations can occupy the sites left by aluminum which is bounded by the soluble silica.
In the soil, soluble silica in the form of silicic acid plays a number of important roles: it binds aluminum, manganese and heavy metals thus reducing their toxicity. It also improves the plant availability of calcium and phosphorus and increases the number of beneficial soil organisms, particularly beneficial fungi.
Silica is deposited as opaline silica in plant tissue – this toughens the plant, making it more resistant to fungal attack. A high silica content also makes the plant less palatable to insects.
Soluble components of Australian soils, including silica, have been leached over millennia, particularly in high rainfall coastal areas. Soils should contain over 100ppm silica for optimum fertility.
It is used as an insecticide against hive beetle in bee hives, red mite and lice in chicken sheds, in grain storage and as an essential ingredient of biodynamic tree paste.
The insecticidal properties of diatomaceous earth stem from the fact that the hard silica skeletons are extremely sharp and abrasive, wearing away the exoskeletons of insects and drying them out. Because of these properties it is also being experimented with for worm control in all livestock. It becomes especially palatable when mixed with other stock feeds or with liquid (or dried and powdered) molasses.
DE use in gardens:
When sprayed on plants, it will deter grasshoppers and leaf eating insects in the vegetable garden and stay as a residual mineral in the soils, providing plant available silica and improving cation exchange. Silica, like calcium, strengthens cell walls resulting in robust and efficient plants. Silica improves brix levels and therefore flavor. Plants produce more flowers, and pollen is more viable resulting in better fruit set. Apply and rake DE into soil at the rate of 500g/m2.
For Fruit trees:
Apply to the soil in autumn. DE in the soil helps build up a reservoir of available carbon during the winter by absorbing atmospheric carbon dioxide, which helps kick start growth in spring. This leads to better fruit set and retention.
Use with horn silica, as in orchards, as an anti-fungal mist spray into canopy during humid and wet conditions.
Also use this combination at end of harvest, before leaf drop, to increase photosynthesis. It becomes stored in the soil as carbon over winter, ready for a good start next season. Mix with coffee grounds and place around stems of vines to deter snails and slugs.
Use of DE in a foliar and soil application leads to increased color, strong stems (no need for wiring ) and protection of flowers and flowering shrubs against fungal diseases.
DE and horn silica sprayed out at the two to four leaf stage will give lucerne solid stems and strengthen it against fungal disease and insect attack.
In a Seed Coating
Mix some Biodynamic Soil Activator in a little seaweed tea with DE and dolomite (in equal quantities) to make a tacky wet mix. Coat seeds in it and allow them to dry. This protects the seeds against insect attack.
In Grain Storage
DE is used as an absorbent dust insecticide for the control of various stored product insect pests in farm-stored feed and seed grain, and grain for human consumption.
For Animal Care
Bees: DE kills Small Hive Beetle. Beetle traps are available commercially through apiarist suppliers. Fill them with DE, which kills the beetles.
Horses: Hair splitting in horses – add ½ teaspoon DE moistened in water to their feed each day . In one case John helped with, in 3 weeks all the old hair had dropped out and new hair quickly grew with no splits, all shiny and healthy. Also their hooves improved – no splits and were much stronger. ( Good for our (human) finger nails and hair too! Maybe a little less sprinkled on porridge or muesli)
Poultry DE acts as a wormicide as well as external parasites. Put some in their dust bowls so they can cover themselves. Controls lice and red mites. Add ½ teaspoon to 2 Tablespoonful to the chooks’ drinking water after washing container out well. Keeps water clean.
Sheep: DE to treat parasitic worms in sheep
Charlie McCowen runs sheep at Bolivia in Northern NSW. He has been experimenting with diatomite in various forms since 2006. In the winter of 2008 Charlie started to feed his flock of test sheep a mixture of DE and salt. Results have been quite dramatic with a significant reduction in the requirement for drenching. You can take a look at Charlie’s sheep and his website which describes his trial at http://www.efficiency1st.org/diatomite.php Egg counts and cultures have been done on Charlie’s test sheep. You can find the data (at site above) and can see that the average egg count is around 220. Given that a count rate for Barber’s Pole worm of 300-500 is considered moderate this data is very encouraging.
Sheep Also try using as a rub to the skin after fly strike. As DE absorbs moisture and oils rapidly it may also help in those animals that have hollows in their neck or back that hold water and smell and attract flies. Maybe it could be puffed on as the animals are checked for flystrike and at crutching.
Cattle Can be used as a drench, the same as for sheep. 1 salt : 1 DE. Can be added to the rubbing roll with oil against Buffalo Fly. Also try spraying the paddock boundaries with DE ( soaked if not using Absorbicide which is finer at 10 microns) and horn silica (501). Repeat when moving cattle to new paddocks.
Precautions Wear a good dust mask when applying dry, as it is very dusty. DE is amorphous silica and much more soluble than crystalline (quartz) silica and is not regarded as a health hazard.