Diatomaceous Earth

I received some samples from the good folks over at EP Minerals and EnviroTech Soil Solutions, Inc., who make diatomaceous earth (DE) products. I like and use DE, so it won’t be hard to put them to good use.

It Starts with Diatoms

Algae are simple aquatic plants which include multi-celled forms such as Kelp and more primitive single celled forms such as diatoms. Individually, they don’t live very long, usually under a week, but as a species diatoms are thought to be in the ballpark of 200,000 million years old.

Diatoms live in the upper sunlit areas of fresh and salt waters, and are a common phytoplankton. Sunlight is critical to diatoms as they rely on chlorophyll and photosynthesis. Individual diatoms are frequently too small to be seen with the unassisted eye and are usually observed with the aid of a microscope.

A special characteristic of diatoms is their ability to make silica oxide shells called “frustules”. These frustules tend to be intricate and geometric, forming a protective silica cover dotted with openings for nutrient uptake and waste disposal.

When a diatom dies, the organic portion will decompose and the frustule will sink to the bottom. In areas of dense diatom populations, this can result in a sediment layer formed from a vast numbers of these discarded frustules. While the organic component decomposes quickly, their silica exoskeletons can remain in sediment layers for millions of years. The layers of diatom frustules can be mined, and the material collected is referred to as diatomite or diatomaceous earth (DE).

Diatomaceous Earth

Since the frustules (broken or whole) still have voids and holes they are much lighter and more porous than a solid piece of silica would be. Diatomaceous earth is used in a variety of ways: as a filtering material for swimming pool water, toothpaste abrasive, liquid absorbent, and as an important component of dynamite to name a few. It is also used for gardening. Diatomaceous earth for gardening should be amorphous silica and contain little crystalline silica or active contaminants.

Depending on mining and processing, diatomaceous earth may be sold as chunks of stone of various sizes or ground into a powder.

Uses for Diatomaceous Earth

Chunks of diatomaceous earth may be used as a component in a growing medium. By virtue of its voids, it holds both water and air well. It may be used as a substitute for perlite with similar results.

DESECT is a Diatomacious Earth insecticide.

Dry powdered diatomaceous earth is used as a mechanical insecticide. It can be used for cockroaches, ants, fleas, ticks, grasshoppers, and a variety of other pests. It absorbs fats and oils from the insects exoskeleton while the sharp edges scrape and damage their protective coating. It is frequently applied to the medium around the plant, but may also be used on plants themselves. A bulb may be used to create a dry cloud for application, but take care to limit inhalation of the powder. It can also be applied by sprinkling dry, or by mixing with water to apply and then allowed to dry. If used directly on the plants avoid harvestable portions as it will leave a residue, and avoid spraying flowers to protect bees. Reapply as needed.

Warning

While diatomaceous earth is not poisonous and is generally considered to be non toxic to animals, breathing any fine powder can have detrimental health effects. Take care to keep out of eyes and lungs.

Empire Builder Potting Mix

Made with Coco Coir, Sphagnum Peat Moss, Composted Forest Humus, Worm Castings, Coco Chips, Lava Rock, Pumice, Perlite, Gypsum, langbeinite, sea bird and bat guano, fish bonemeal, feather meal, bonemeal, limestone, greensand, alfalfa meal, kelp meal, glacial rock dust, azomite, soybean meal, and rice bran.
Empire Builder Potting Mix is made with Coco Coir, Sphagnum Peat Moss, Composted Forest Humus, Worm Castings, Coco Chips, Lava Rock, Pumice, Perlite, Gypsum, langbeinite, sea bird and bat guano, fish bonemeal, feather meal, bonemeal, limestone, greensand, alfalfa meal, kelp meal, glacial rock dust, azomite, soybean meal, and rice bran.

I was invited to visit the facility where Empire Builder is mixed. I was really impressed with how clean and nice the compost they use was. It was a “hot” pile, and had a clean earthy smell to it.

Empire Builder potting mix.
Empire Builder potting mix.

This is my first time using the product, but the ingredients appear to be top notch. A very nice potting mix.

root pouches filled with Empire Builder potting mix.
root pouches filled with Empire Builder potting mix.

Just Right Xtra

Just Right Xtra Premium Potting Mix
Just Right Xtra Premium Potting Mix
A mixture of coir, humus, worm castings, diatomaceous earth, subcultures M and B, sulfate of potash, bone char and rare earth.
A mixture of coir, humus, worm castings, diatomaceous earth, subcultures M and B, sulfate of potash, bone char and rare earth.

I’ve had good luck with Just Right Xtra. It is made in New York, and I’ve visited the facility. It has one of the most horrific mixing chambers I’ve seen.

The teeth of the Just Right Xrta mixer wouldn't be out of place in a horror movie.
The teeth of the Just Right Xrta mixer wouldn’t be out of place in a horror movie.
The Just Right Xtra mixer means business.
The Just Right Xtra mixer means business.
Just to try it and see, I cut the top off of a bag, poked holes in the sides, and planted.
Just to try it and see, I cut the top off of a bag, poked holes in the sides, and planted.

031

Squash

Homemade Soil Cubes for Germination

Homemade soil cubes
Homemade soil cubes
These starting cubes are made with potting mix and a cube press.
These soil cubes are made with potting mix and a cube press.
A cube press, spatula, potting mix, water and a tray.
A cube press, spatula, potting mix, water and a tray.
This metal soil cube press wasn't cheap, but has made many starter cubes and is still in good condition.
This metal soil cube press wasn’t cheap, but has made many starter cubes and is still in good condition.
This is 1 part Just Right Xtra to 1 part Just Right Lite.
This is 1 part Just Right Xtra to 1 part Just Right Lite.

The mixture should be light, seedling mixes are a good choice. My current favorite is a 50-50 mix of Just Right Xtra and Just Right Lite. Add enough water to make a doughlike consistancy, and let set for 1-2 hours. The mix should be able to be pressed into balls and somewhat hold their shape.

The press is well filled with potting mix. The form is set into place, and the piston holds the cube in place while the form is removed.
The press is well filled with potting mix. The form is set into place, and the piston holds the cube in place while the form is removed.

Allow the cubes to dry and they will firm up. However, they will always be a bit fragile, and are much easier to break than commercially made cubes.

These homemade seed starting cubes can be used to well, start seeds of course.,
These homemade seed starting cubes can be used to well, start seeds of course.,
Soil Cube
Soil Cube

Soil cubes

Blumat Bucket Watering System

Water is held in the bucket, and released as the clay spike becomes dry.
Water is held in the bucket, and released as the clay spike becomes dry.

This Smart Pot has sprouted sunflowers.

Blumat bucket fitting
Blumat bucket fitting

To attach the fitting to the bucket, a hole needs to be made.

A hot soldering iron can make holes in plastic buckets easily and without splitting.
A hot soldering iron can make holes in plastic buckets easily and without splitting.
Here the Blumat bucket fitting is installed
Here the Blumat bucket fitting is installed
The Blumat spike should be filled with water and soaked for an hour before use.
The Blumat spike should be filled with water and soaked for an hour before use. The cap on top adjusts the watering level, so should be set to shut when wet, and open when dry.

I haven’t had the pleasure of trying these before, but the concept seems very cool. If they work well, it could be very useful in areas where water has to be carried and left.

003

005

054