Diatomaceous Earth: A Natural Pesticide Alternative

Credit: keattikorn

Post by Contributing Writer, Jill

Last season, my garden was a war zone.

Our abnormally wet spring resulted in armies of various bugs invading our homestead. Grasshoppers bombarded my face as I walked through the tall grass. The leaves of our spinach plants were so full of holes that there was little left to eat.

But the final blow came when I went to check on the progress of our sweet corn. I grasped an ear and pulled down the silk. Instead of plump, yellow kernels, I was greeted by a giant, juicy worm who seemed to glare at me from his corncob home.

I have been passionate about maintaining an organic garden, but I must confess that last year seriously caused me to consider purchasing some insecticide!

Thankfully, I didn’t. But, I did start doing some research on organic pesticide alternatives. There are myriad options and recipes available, but I found one that is reportedly very effective and all natural.

Credit: hinnamsaisuy

Diatomaceous Earth (DE) is the remains of fossilized diatoms. Basically, it’s ancient algae. It is ground into a very fine powder which feels like talc to us humans. But it’s deadly to bugs.

Interestingly, it’s effectiveness comes from a physical standpoint, rather than a chemical one. You see, even though the fine powder is smooth and soft to us; microscopically, it is sharp and abrasive. Rather than poisoning the bugs, it tears through their body walls and settles into the soft areas around their joints. An added benefit to this is that insects will not build up immunity to Diatomaceous Earth (DE) as they often do with chemical pesticides.

It’s a completely natural substance, and is often mixed in with grains to prevent insect infestations. It is also commonly used with animals to control parasites and some people even eat it!

Credit: Arvind Balaraman

Using DE in your garden:

  • Most importantly, be certain to purchase food grade Diatomaceous Earth (DE)anytime you are using it in your garden or around your animals. A processed form of DE is sold to use in swimming pool filtration and it is not safe for consumption, so be sure to check your labels!

I purchased mine through Azure Standard; More Than Alive and Bulk Herb Store are other good sources. A horticultural grade of DE can be found in garden stores, but it sometimes has additional chemicals added to it as bait. I feel the safest using food grade.

  • Repurpose an old bottle, preferably one with a shaker-type lid. Use this to lightly sprinkle the DE on and around the affected plants. It might be helpful to lightly spray the leaves with water first, so the fine dust will stick to them.
  • Consider wearing a dust mask while applying DE. While diatomaceous earth isn’t toxic, it is very fine and easily breathed into the lungs, especially on a breezy day.
  • Keep it mind that DE will kill all of the insects in your garden, even the good ones. For that reason, I suggest using it only in the areas that are serious trouble zones. Some bugs are good for your garden!

I love finding safe, natural alternatives to everyday problems around our homestead. So watch out bugs! This year I will be armed with my bottle of Diatomaceous Earth (DE).

I am bound and determined to actually have some spinach in my salad this year.
Jill writes from the homestead she shares with her husband, baby daughter, and an ever-changing assortment of animals. When she’s not in the kitchen preparing traditional foods, you’ll find her outside riding her horses, growing vegetables, milking goats, and killing rattlesnakes. She shares homesteading tales and kitchen tips at her blog, The Prairie Homestead.

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12 comments to Diatomaceous Earth: A Natural Pesticide Alternative

  • Thanks for this post!

    I had seen this in my buying club’s catalog, but never knew what to use it for. And though it is not typical of me, I never asked! :-)

    We are hoping to try another run at a garden this year so I am going to get some and be ready!


  • Good luck with your garden this year! I hope it’s a success. :)


  • Denise

    I have been told, from the farmer who sold it to me, that diatomaceous earth needs to be re-applied after it rains.


  • Since this product is a “dust”, does it hurt honey bees?

    We have a couple of hives and I wanted to check to see if you knew this.



    Michele Reply:

    @gina, Yes, it can be harmful to bees, too. I would be especially cautious in using it if you have beehives! Only use a little bit in a small area, where you feel it is necessitated by a severe pest problem. Use your best judgment there. :)



  • DEE

    We have nine colonies of honeybees but still use DE safely. We only use it on our most affected plants which are squash around here. We apply at nite and we never dust with it when the plants are bloomng. We also have tons of flowers all thru our acre garden so bees have alot to work on. And consider…you might harm a bee or two but their working lives in the summer are only 5-6 weeks so we sometimes have to sacrifice a few to harvest for our families’ need. DEE


  • […] might remember my post several months ago about using diatomaceous earth as a natural pesticide alternative. I still think that’s a great option, especially in an “emergency” situation. […]

  • Jenny

    Last year we were over run with grasshoppers. Nothing worked! Not even DE. And it does need to be reapplied after watering or raining.


  • Mary H

    DE is not effective once it gets wet. Just thought I’d make sure everyone knows that. I have done quite a bit of research on it, and ordered 10 lbs from Pure Earth. They have a FB page if anyone has questions. =) Good luck with your garden. =)


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