Who You Calling Diatomaceous!?
Ok friends, I'm going to let you in on a little secret weapon that we discovered a few years back called Diatomaceous Earth. I know, it sounds a little like a dinosaur park that is about to end in disaster, but I'll do my best to make this one sound sexy.
Diatomaceous Earth (DE) is a naturally occurring, totally organic pesticide that is super ridiculously safe. Like, so safe, you can eat the stuff. Some people actually do add it to their diets, claiming all kinds of health benefits, but I'm not nearly that brave. Or weird. We just love that we have found an effective pest control that is safe to use, especially with as many kids and animals as we have running around here.
Now for the cool part (nerd alert). DE is a really fine powder made up of crushed fossilized prehistoric diatoms. Those are little microscopic organisms from the ocean with really hard exoskeletons. So even though DE is totally soft like powdered sugar, when you zoom in close enough, its really sharp and pointy, and full of irregular holes and stuff.
Actual photo of Diatomaceous Earth x 1,000,000
(Ok, not really, can you believe that I couldn't find a royalty-free stock photo of the stuff?
Just trust me, it's super pointy. Or google it. That works too.)
It works in two main ways. The first is that the sharp edges are really bad for insects and bugs to ingest or inhale. They will cut up digestive or respiratory systems of tiny creatures, but the pieces are way too small to be dangerous to larger animals, like mammals or birds. The second way it works is that those little irregular pieces can dry out the mucus membranes of bugs, which is really really bad for them. It's kind of like putting salt on a slug. Cool!
If you look it up online, there are a bajillion different uses for it (fun fact, it's one of the main ingredients in dynamite!). Here are a few of the ways that we regularly use DE. We've been using it for a few years now, and although I can't vouch for all of it's claimed uses, it's actually really effective for these.
1. As a pesticide in the garden. DE kills and deters all kinds of insects, like slugs, fleas, mites, ticks, ants, roaches, whatever. Basically all your creepy crawlies. Sprinkle a little around the base of the plant, making sure not to get it on the flowers. As great as it is at getting rid of the unwanted insects, it's also harmful to bees and other pollinators. And we like our pollinators.
2. In our chicken food. We add a little DE to our chicken food, which helps treat and prevent parasites, especially worms. We had a hen that was given to us that always had a chronically poopy butt. After adding DE to the feed, within 2 weeks the butt was clean (told you I'd make this sexy). There are also some great minerals in DE that are super good for their diet. Healthy and happy chickens make the best eggs.
3. In our chickens' dust baths. Chickens love taking dust baths. We mix a little DE in to their frequent bathing spots and it helps with mites, fleas, and other nasty parasites.
4. Around the coop. Another great benefit to DE is that it absorbs odor really well. So we shake a little around and inside the coop, and as well as keeping the pests away, it keeps it smelling fresh-ish. The only place we don't put it in the coop is in the bedding, because we compost our coop bedding, and DE will kill the beneficial microbes that are essential to composting.
If you decide to give Diatomaceous Earth a try, keep in mind a couple of things. Make sure that you get food grade DE, especially if you are planning on feeding it to your chickens (or yourself, you weirdo). Also, it has been found to be harmful if inhaled for prolonged periods, so just be careful with the stuff, and don't go all Scarface on it.