Using Ladybugs and Diatomaceous Earth to Control Aphids

I’m trying something new this year to control aphids on my micro farm. Ladybugs and diatomaceous earth.

The first aphid controller I used were the Ladybugs. I had ordered these sweet honeys (1500 of them) a while back because the aphid population had seriously exploded; but because they weren’t packed properly, the container they were shipped in was cracked wide open, and only about 50 of the original 1500 arrived. And, to make matters worse, because it was so hot in Ohio where they were coming from, they couldn’t be shipped until the temp came down. Finally, they arrived and last evening, the ladies were released and the aphid problem should be a thing of the past for this season. You release ladybugs at twilight in order to prevent them from flying off. Apparently, they do not come equipped with night vision goggles. Next year, I’ll order earlier to avoid the heat and get a head start on the aphids before they get out of control.

The other tool I will use this year to control aphids will be diatomaceous earth, or DE for short because that word is way too long and arduous to type. DE is the fossilized skeletal remains of tiny microscopic plants called diatoms. They come in a variety of shapes like snowflakes, cones or tubes, and their shape has a great deal to do with the effectiveness of DE. DE is not a pesticide, but works through a mechanical means. Insects are covered with cuticle, which is a waxy coating that protects their bodies. DE, with it’s razor sharp edges, cuts through this waxy substance, lodging between their body plates; and because DE is also quite porous, starts sucking the juice out of them, drying the buggers out. Since using DE is a mechanical process and not a pesticide, bugs can’t develop an immunity to it. 

You can use DE as a wormer for your pets, or put it on their coats to kill off any fleas or ticks. There are a few warnings about DE you should pay attention to. Never buy DE that is swimming pool grade. This stuff may be great for filtering out pool water, but you don’t want this in or on your body, or your pets bodies. It can cause silicosis, a lung disease which can be permanent. The DE you want is called FOOD GRADE or GARDEN GRADE diatomaceous earth. But even with the safe version, you do need to take precautions. Try not to inhale it, because it can cause mucous membrane irritation. And since it’s like millions of microscopic katana blades, it goes without saying (but I’ll say it anyway); don’t get this stuff in your eyes. I’ve bought some of those hospital-type face masks you can buy at any drug store or multinational corporate big-box store to keep the dust out of my nose and lungs, and I’ll use some safety glasses to keep it out of my eyes. Goggles might work better.

There is one extra bonus on using DE in your garden. It provides 14 trace elements; which for the most part is something that is missing with modern farming practices because the chemical fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides leach the trace elements from the soil. You need these trace elements in your body for good health. 

But be careful not to put too much DE in your garden soil. It can kill off beneficials like earthworms. I’ll be carefully putting it around the edges of my growing boxes to take care of the ant problem; but I won’t be using the duster to spray the plants because it will kill off the ladybugs. Which would be self defeating.