Good Dirt – Diatomaceous Earth

Diatomaceous Earth – The good dirt

Wikipedia: “Diatomaceous earth ( /ˌd.ətəˌmʃəs ˈɜrθ/) also known as D.E.diatomite, or kieselgur/kieselguhr (that’s almost as fun as huglekultur!), is a naturally occurring, soft,siliceous sedimentary rock that is easily crumbled into a fine white to off-white powder. It has a particle size ranging from less than 1 micrometre to more than 1 millimeter, but typically 10 to 200 micrometres. This powder has an abrasive feel, similar to pumice powder, and is very light as a result of its high porosity. The typical chemical composition of oven-dried diatomaceous earth is 80 to 90% silica, with 2 to 4% alumina (attributed mostly to clay minerals) and 0.5 to 2% iron oxide.[1]

Diatomaceous earth consists of fossilized remains of diatoms, a type of hard-shelled algae. It is used as a filtration aid, mild abrasive, mechanical insecticideabsorbent for liquids, matting agent for coatings, reinforcing filler in plastics and rubber, anti-block in plastic films, porous support for chemical catalysts, cat litter, activator in blood clotting studies, and a stabilizing component of dynamite. As it is heat-resistant, it can also be used as a thermal insulator.

It was discovered in 1836 or 1837,  by the peasant and goods waggoner, Peter Kasten, when sinking a well on the northern slopes of the Haußelberg hill, in the Lüneburg Heath in north Germany . Initially, it was thought that limestone had been found, which could be used as fertiliser.  An engineer, Wilhelm Berkefeld, recognised its ability to filter, and developed ‘filter candles’ fired from diatomaceous earth. During the cholera epidemic in Hamburg in 1892, these Berkefeld filters were used successfully.”

The list of applications goes on…

“Industrial – In 1866, Alfred Nobel discovered that nitroglycerin could be made much more stable if absorbed in diatomite. This allows much safer transport and handling than nitroglycerin in its raw form. He patented this mixture as dynamite in 1867, and the mixture is also referred to as guhr dynamite.

Filtration – The most common use of diatomaceous earth is as a filter medium, especially for swimming pools.  It is used in chemistry as a filtration aid, to filter very fine particles that would otherwise pass through or clog filter paper. It is used to filter water, particularly in treatment of drinking water and fish tanks. It can also filter other liquids like beer, wine, syrups, sugar, and honey without changing the color, taste, or nutritional properties. Other industries such as paper, paints, ceramics, soap and detergents use it as a fulling material.

Abrasives – The oldest use of diatomite is as a very mild abrasive and has been used in both toothpaste and metal polishes, as well as some facial scrubs.

Insecticides – Diatomite is used as an insecticide, because the fine powder absorbs lipids from the waxy outer layer of insects’ exoskeletons, causing them to dehydrate. Arthropods die as a result of the water pressure deficiency base on  Fick’s law of diffusion. This also works against gastropods and is commonly employed in gardening to defeat slugs.

Medical or food-grade diatomite is sometimes used to de-worm both animals and humans.It is most commonly used in lieu of boric acid, and can be used to help control and eventually eliminate cockroach and flea infestations . This material has wide application for insect control in grain storage. It has also been used to control bedbug infestations.

Absorbent – Its absorbent qualities make it useful for spill clean-up and the U.S. Centers of Disease Control recommends it to clean up toxic liquid spills. These qualities also lend themselves to use in facial masks to absorb excess oils. It has been employed as a primary ingredient in a type of cat litter. The type of silica used in cat litter comes from freshwater sources and does not pose a significant health risk to pets or humans.

Thermal – Its thermal properties enable it to be used as the barrier material in some fire-resistant safes. It is also used in evacuated powder insulation for use with cryogenics. Diatomaceous earth powder is inserted into the vacuum space to aid in the effectiveness of vacuum insulation.

DNA purification -This one was above my head and dealt with double strands, RNA, chaotropic agents, ionic strength buffers and something called guanidinium chloride. For the truly interested, check it out on wikipedia!

Agriculture – Natural freshwater diatomaceous earth is used in agriculture for grain storage as an anticaking agent, as well as an insecticide. It is approved by the US Department of Agriculture as a feed supplement.

It is also used as a neutral anthelmintic (dewormer). Some farmers add it to their livestock and poultry feed to improve the health of animals. “Food Grade Diatomaceous Earth” is widely available in agricultural feed supply stores. It is acceptable as organic feed additive for livestock.

Freshwater diatomite can be used as a growing medium in hydroponic gardens.

It is also used as a growing medium in potted plants, particularly as bonsai soil where enthusiasts use it as a soil additive, or pot a bonsai tree in 100% diatomaceous earth. Like perlitevermiculite, and expanded clay, it retains water and nutrients, while draining fast and freely, allowing high oxygen circulation within the growing medium.

Natural diatomaceous earth (dried, not calcined) is regularly used in livestock nutrition research as a source of acid insoluble ash (AIA), which is used as an indigestible marker…?…Natural diatomaceous earth (freshwater) is preferred by many researchers over chromic oxide, which has been widely used for the same purpose, but which is also a known carcinogen and therefore a potential hazard to research personnel…”(and again over my head but interesting nonetheless!)

How does all this translate practically for the homesteader or backyard gardener? Consider its properties and harmless, organic nature and think of all the things you can do with it.

– use it to protect your food in storage

– use it to keep bugs out of all your buildings. Sprinkle it all around the chicken coop and chicken tractor to keep it roach free, seal it up in all the walls of the cabin. It will work forever as long as it isn’t getting wet. Since it isn’t a chemical, it doesn’t have a shelf life. As long as it’s there, it’s working. It is perfect for storage buildings where bugs infest.

– use it to kill fleas on all your pets, including kittens and puppies that aren’t old enough for other methods of flea control. It works in bedding, carpet, under the house, etc. to keep the fleas under control. U it on the baby chicks when they have mites. That’s another good reason to sprinkle it under the bedding in the hen house.

– Use it in place of traditional wormers to keep all your animals worm free. It is cheap, safe, and effective. It is safe enough to take preventatively, even for humans.

Remember that you can get food grade and general purpose/pool grade.


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