09 January 2013

Diatomaceous Earth

Another activity for the online class I took was the following:  Look in your garden shed or online at the label of a pesticide (organic or inorganic is fine) you use in your own garden from time to time.  "Dissect" the label and discuss the following:
-brand name
-active ingredient
-type of formulation
-percentage of inert materials in the product
-locate and describe the signal words and symbols on the label- what do they mean?
- are there any environmental hazards you were unaware of?
-note special precautions the applicator should use when applying the product

Instead of talking about a mainstream product, I will be discussing something a little non-traditional.  I discovered this product years ago and thought it was a miraculous in its many uses.  I'm more realistic now, but I still think its very useful - diatomaceous earth, or DE.  I was able to find a label online that answers most of questions this activity asks for.

There are different grades of DE depending upon its use - it's very common in pool filtration.  There are also a horticultural grade and food grade - yes, food grade.  A lot of people will feed this stuff to their animals, and even ingest it themselves.  The labels I'm working off of today are for food grade DE.  There's probably very little difference between the two, except that the food-grade version may be more pure and has fewer contaminants, since it is eaten by people and animals.

Diatomaceous Earth is a fine powder containing mostly silica, which is derived from mining a fossilized hard-shelled algae called diatoms.  According to the product labels (Diatomaceous Earth Mineral Content, MSDS Sheet page one and two), it is called "Fossil Shell Flour D-10" and contains 95-100% Amorphous Silica - Natural Diatomite.  Although it is a fine dust, it is very sharp to small insects - as insects come into contact with it, DE's sharp edges pierce the insects cuticle or exoskeleton, causing it to desiccate and die.  It is a very good short-term, targeted pesticide - you can spread it around your affected plants or on the insects themselves, and then it will be gone, washing away with the next rain, or watering.

Chemically-speaking it is safe for people and animals, but there are a few precautions you should take while using DE.  Like I mentioned before, it is a fine powder and a little bit of an irritant, so safety glasses and a dust mask should be worn when applying it.  If it gets in your eyes, it's best to flush with water - if the irritation persists, you should call your doctor.  Breathing it is the biggest problem - if you inhale too much, you should get some fresh air.  Long term exposure to breathing DE may cause Pneumoconiosis, also known as "dusty lungs".

My personal experience with DE is limited to a pesticide around my chickens.  I've been adding it to their bedding to deter insects from making the henhouse a home.  And this past summer, when they would leave fly-attracting piles of droppings all over the yard, dusting them with DE was a good control for the fly population.

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