Diatomaceous Earth to improve crops
Diatomaceous earth is a naturally occurring siliceous sedimentary rock that appears like a fine white powder. It is made up of diatoms which are the fossilised remains of small marine organisms. They produce a soft powdery substance with an abrasive feel similar to pumice dust
The remains of diatoms are made of a natural substance called silica. Diatoms are formed over a 30-million-year fossilisation period during which they accumulate in the sediment of rivers, streams, lakes, and oceans. Today, silica deposits are extracted from these areas.
Silica is very common in nature, in fact, it accounts for 26 percent of the weight of the earth’s crust. Silica exists in various forms including sand, emerald, quartz, feldspar, mica, clay, asbestos, and glass. Silicon which is a component of silica does not occur naturally in its pure form. It normally reacts with oxygen and water to form silicon dioxide.
Silicon dioxide occurs naturally as crystalline and amorphous. While most diatomaceous earth is made of amorphous silicon dioxide, they may contain minute amounts of crystalline silicon dioxide. The first pesticide products containing silicon dioxide (diatomaceous earth) were registered in 1960 to kill insects and mites. There are 2 main types of diatomaceous earth namely:
• Calcined diatomaceous earth: although this soil is toxic to mammals, it is used for dynamite production, as well as water filtration.
• Food grade diatomaceous earth: Its wide range of uses include as an anti-caking agent, and crucially for indoor and outdoor growers, as an insecticide.
Diatomaceous Earth and Growth
Before diatomaceous earth can be used for purposes such as growing indoor and outdoor, it must have been gotten from fossilised freshwater debris, not saltwater. While saltwater diatomaceous earth can be used in some cases, the high level of salinity makes it a less ideal option. If the diatomaceous earth was obtained from freshwater, then it can be used in the following;
• Organic pest control
• Improving soil quality
• Improving nutrient uptake
One of the main uses of diatomaceous earth in cultivation is as an organic pesticide. While it may be harmless dust to humans, it acts as an acid for the types of pests that usually damage a garden. Diatomaceous earth is especially effective on insects that possess an exoskeleton.
The list of pests that are susceptible to diatomaceous earth are cockroaches, ants, aphids, mites, spiders, slugs, snails, mulch gnats, and thrips. Growers are known to use pesticides to deal with this menace, however, there are instances when these substances can impregnate the buds.
Diatomaceous earth is an all-natural method of dealing with a pest infestation, so it leaves little to no effects on plants. When observed under a microscope, diatomaceous earth appears similar to a group of razor blades.
These sharp edges cut through the protective covering of the insect and suck out their moisture. An insect unfortunate enough to consume diatomaceous earth, experiences the same fate, only from the inside out. For this reason, diatomaceous earth is very effective in keeping this problem at bay. And unlike traditional chemical insecticides, insects do not develop resistance to the effects of diatomaceous earth.
How to Use Diatomaceous Earths
There are several ways of applying diatomaceous earth. Diatomaceous earth can be applied by simply sprinkle plants from top to bottom. This method should only be used when the plants are not in the flowering stage. Use a container to sprinkle a layer of diatomaceous earth on the leaves covered with morning dew. If diatomaceous earth is to be used in the afternoon or evening, sprinkle the plants with water first. Then shake off excess liquid and dust. Once the mixture dries, your plants are protected against pests.
A diatomaceous earth spray is made by mixing 1 tablespoon of diatomaceous earth per litre of water. Before spraying, shake the mixture thoroughly and wear a mask to avoid inhaling particles. Spray the top and bottom of the leaves evenly. It is best to ensure that the leaves are wet but not soaked.
As a reminder, it is best to use the spray while the plants are still in the vegetative stage. If you use it in the flowering stage, the plants will absorb the spray, and individuals may consume it by smoking the weed. The diatomaceous earth is active and becomes active once the mixture dries.
As a general caution, whether you spray or use the powder, the layers should be kept thin. This is because too much diatomaceous earth could prevent the sun’s rays from penetrating the leaves, thus interfering with photosynthesis.
This method works best for plants in their flowering stage. It is also used by growers who are looking for complete protection of their plants. Diatomaceous earth is applied to the soil and left for several days. The mixture can also be placed through the soil beds or in a ring around the base of the plants.
If there is heavy rainfall, you may need to reapply the powder. If you detect a pest infestation, sprinkle an even layer of diatomaceous earth around the problem areas. It may take a couple of days, but you should notice a greater degree of control over the infestation.
Diatomaceous Earth and Hydroponic Crops
Diatomaceous earth is also available as a small rocks rather than the traditional fine powder. This is suitable for hydroponic cultivation because it is absorbent, durable, and porous. Also, the pH is neutral and is environment-friendly. Apart from silica, it also contains minerals essential for plant growth.
Plants benefit from the silicate and will develop into a robust, healthy crop with thick stem walls. One brand of diatomaceous earth claims that their product led to a 25 percent increase in pepper plant production compared to clay pebbles.
However, when used for soil, it is probably best to mix it 50/50 with clay pebbles if growing in large pots. The benefits of using diatomaceous earth include;
• It results in better aeration in the root zone of the plants
• The slow release of silica helps plants to mature more quickly.
• It is able to absorb 2.5 times its weight in water.
• The granules are porous, so they provide excellent thermal insulation
• They are reusable. After using, they can be washed thoroughly and soaked in a solution of one tablespoon of bleach per 3.5 litres of water for 24 hours. After rinsing the diatomaceous earth, they are ready for another use.
• Diatomaceous earth can help kill pests.
Diatomaceous Earth for Soil Conditioning
As a general rule, plants will perform better in good quality soil. The process of improving the soil as a growing medium is called soil conditioning. Diatomaceous earth works well in this regard by increasing the moisture retention in the soil. It retains a large amount of liquid and dries out at a much slower rate. With diatomaceous earth, the quality of the soil is improved, and benefits from more expansive root growth, not to mention a denser and tastier weed with more resin. The use of diatomaceous earth as a silicon soil conditioner is also being investigated. Studies looked at how it impacted sweet potato and strawberry crops.
Diatomaceous earth had the following benefits:
• Increased strawberry root mass by 100 percent
• A 35 percent higher strawberry yields
• More prominent flowers, fruit, and crowns.
• A 47 percent increase in yield and gross margin in sweet potato crop.
• Better nutrient uptake
Plant yield can be increased when they are made to absorb as high a percentage as possible of the nutrients, they are feed. When diatomaceous earth is applied to the soil, it helps to release nutrients and ensure they are available to your plants as needed.
The high silica content of diatomaceous earth is absorbed by plant tissues. As a result, plants are more likely to absorb nutrients when the dust is activated. Ultimately, they benefit from higher yields and better stability with small pH fluctuations.
In conclusion, diatomaceous earth enhanced soil can exchange air and water more easily. It helps plant develops root systems that ultimately leads to a better nutrient and water uptake. Plants grow best when they have a good air supply and adequate moisture content, and diatomaceous earth can increase both.
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