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Diatomaceous Earth and Bees

This effective, organic pest killer (it's not a poison) won't hurt bees if used wisely.

Honey BeeWho hasn’t been bailed out by diatomaceous earth, basically a powder made of fossilized diatoms millions of years old? Keeping armies of slugs at bay, drawing a no-roach line between our apartment and our neighbors’ apartments, protecting seedlings from early season grubs and maggots. I’ve known people who’ve rubbed the stuff into their dog’s coat to stop fleas and heard that’s it’s a common big-city cure for bed bugs.

Diatomaceous earth has something of a miracle-cure reputation and it certainly is effective against many pests. It’s not a poison, but kills by scoring an insect’s hide as it crawls over the powder. Under the microscope, that powder looks like a pile of broken glass. There were suggestions that diatomaceous earth was an effective anthelmintic (a sort of cleanse, popularly known as worming) for sheep and goats, but a series of studies proved this not to be true.

Back when, trying to combat insect damage to my vegetables without the use of harmful chemicals, I heard DE was safe enough to eat. And, in a way, it is if bought as food-quality. But much of it isn’t and might even be dangerous if ingested. DE sold for pool maintenance and other filtering uses may have additional contaminants, including chlorine. It’s also been heated which concentrates its silica content. Much of the diatomaceous earth sold as OMRI listed (for organic use) is 85% silica or above. It contains naturally occurring remnants of crystalline silica, as fine as powdered beach sand. Like any mineral dust, you wouldn’t want to inhale it. Of course, there’s food grade diatomaceous earth that’s both recommended as a supplement for its healthy silica content and as an insect barrier around the house or in the garden.

Effective and long lasting! Safer® Diatomaceous Earth kills household and garden pests — fleas, ticks, ants, cockroaches, slugs, bed bugs and more — within 48 hours of contact. OMRI Listed for use in organic production.

Diatomaceous earth works wonders on larvae, maggots, and grubs; anything that crawls over it. How many times have we kept slugs off our favorite plants with a circle of DE flour? It addition to its Jack-the-Ripper reputation on crawling bugs, it also works as a repellant on flea beetles and grasshoppers. And no, it doesn’t cut your fingers when you use it. It feels like chalk. But then, you’re not an insect. (You may still need to wear a mask when applying it.)

Because DE is so effective, we have to ask about its effects on honey bees and other pollinators. While it turns out the bees have some defense against the powder — those furry hairs that cover much of their bodies — DE is neither good for them or a desirable thing to have taken back to the hive. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be used cautiously with the bees in mind.

Pauly, over at Worm Farming Revealed, checked out the possible diatomaceous earth exposure and dangers to honeybees and concluded that knowing a few things about bees and DE takes away most of the risk. He cites Tui Rose’s book Going Green Using Diatomaceous Earth How-To-Tips on how bees are protected: “When Diatomaceous Earth is applied to crops or orchards, the honey bee tends to protect themselves by simply avoiding those blossoms already treated with DE. However, if DE does get on a bee’s body, it is covered with slick hairs that are able to help prevent dehydration of body fluids.”

We can’t confirm that bees avoid DE. The body hair theory makes perfect sense. (Amazingly, earthworms aren’t harmed by diatomaceous earth. They’ve got that slick gooey mucous layer that helps them slide through the soil.) But, Pauley, in his wisdom, comes up with the best advice: “It is my opinion that diatomaceous earth should only be used when necessary to eliminate an over infestation of pests in the garden.”

Others have suggested that proper application of Diatomaceous earth can cut down on the risk to bees and other pollinators. If you can, avoid using it on or near blossoms. You know where the bees are headed. Give ’em a break. Also, apply, be it spray or broadcast, when bees aren’t active. This means applying in the evening as bees move back to the hive for the night. I’ve seen some sources suggest that morning is fine, too, and preferable because it will utilize the morning dew to capture the DE. But bees get active early in the warm summer months. They’ll be arriving, if not during spraying, then before the moisture has a chance to evaporate and leave the DE harmless to bees.

To his credit, Pauly has gone for a second opinion and its not encouraging. He spoke with David Burns of Long Lane Honey Bee Farms in Fairmount, IL who blogs at Honey Bees Online: “DE controls insects by cutting their exoskeleton and unfortunately bees fall in that category. Not good for honey bees. They will attempt to groom off the DE and thus it will do its job on honey bees too. Sorry.”

So we have somewhat conflicting accounts. There’s always something that needs to be weighed in the balance between harm and good, even in the world of organic gardening. I’ll go out on a limb here and say that I personally would rather not use diatomaceous earth if my use will harm bees, even in small numbers. Bees are in crisis now and we need to protect them all.

Still, I’d use DE on the ground to keep slugs away. And I’d consider spot usage say if a pepper plant suddenly harbors clots of aphids. See? I’ve already made exception to what sounded like an absolute decision. Used with care and consideration for bee activity, DE is still, in my book, the miracle cure. Let us know what shade of gray you are on this issue, here in comments (way) below, or on Facebook. (hasn’t that been an interesting place lately?). And be sure to tell us the extent and kind of the insect problems in which you’d employ diatomaceous earth. Anybody taking it as a supplement?

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30 Responses to “Diatomaceous Earth and Bees”

  1. LMason on July 2nd, 2014 at 2:44 pm #

    I take 2tbsp daily, also add to chicken feed as well. Love it!

  2. Dannielle on May 4th, 2015 at 3:32 pm #

    I use it on fire ant beds – especially when they’ve decided that my raised gardens are there for them & I can’t get into them anymore. But I only put it on the ground / on their mounds. Death to the ant!!!

  3. Mary on June 15th, 2015 at 12:40 am #

    Thanks so much for this! I was looking for information about this and I appreciate your balanced approach. Slugs are infesting my strawberry patch. I am going to use DE very cautiously now and go to great lengths to avoid the blossoms near my strawberries.

  4. Sara on July 3rd, 2015 at 4:30 pm #

    I put DE around the base of my tomato and pepper plants. Also around the base of the pots for my potted plants. The ants always take over every pot that has soil in it. I just did it yesterday, so I don’t know if it’s working yet. I made sure to avoid any blossoms in case it was dangerous to bees. I then thought about the earthworms and worried about them. Then I decided to look it up. Thank you for the information.

  5. Wendy on July 12th, 2015 at 11:38 am #

    I used it for Mosquitos. It worked great! I live in the woods and we have had a lot of rain. The population was horrendous. We dusted the air twice, in early am then pm. It was amazing.. I did try not to spray Flowers for bees and water edges for dragon flies, but I would recommend it.

  6. Lizzie on July 26th, 2015 at 9:23 am #

    I water off my DE because I found a bee struggling with half body dried out, felt so bad! I did not apply on flowers, just trunks of lilies and mixed green veggies because we have red lily beetle and a slug infestation.

    They die in 2 days but the little scorpions are not affected, still alive and biting me!

    • Sarah on June 19th, 2018 at 4:31 pm #

      So you found this worked on lily beetles? I use DE on my veggies and just got lily beetles for the first time.

  7. CarmenO on October 5th, 2015 at 2:19 pm #

    I live in Minnesota so I bring in my tropicals inside during cold season. One of my limes had an “infestation” of ants because it had scales, much as I hated killing the ants, I couldn’t bring them indoors. I first sprayed it with a soap (not to the point of soapy) and water solution. I then sprayed it all over with diatomaceous earth. I got rid of the ants and seems to have killed the scale also. I made sure there were no blooms open to protect the bees just in case. I just removed any that were.

    • Lori Wilson on June 20th, 2016 at 10:57 am #

      I have a terrible problem with ants going into my hives. I am curious of the effectiveness and whether or not it will harm my bees, if we sprinkle some around the base of the stand on the ground.

  8. Wendy Gibson on March 25th, 2016 at 3:24 pm #

    As a beekeeper seeking non-pesticide methods to fight varroa mites and small hive beetles, I wondered if anyone has tried DE in the bee yard right around the bases of hives? It seems like a perfect application since bees fly into their hives. Any one have experience with this???

    • Denise on May 12th, 2016 at 10:46 am #

      I am curious to know as well.

    • Nats on July 31st, 2016 at 10:44 pm #

      I have just dusted around all my hives, heavily, for Small Hive Beetle larvae, which mature in the soil under the hive and then fly back in as adult beetles. We’ll see…

      • Leonard & Lynn Riepenhoff on September 16th, 2017 at 4:53 pm #

        Nats how did sprinkling diatomaceous earth on the ground effect the black beetles ? I saw 10 beetles on top of my brooder frames when I removed the top lid, I made and use a vinyl plastic window on top of my brooder super, allowing me to see the bees without disturbing them.
        I will be leaving on a 3 week camping trip early Monday morning Sept 18, hope to hear from you b 4 then. I’m a hobby bee keeper. I wonder if I mixed some with water and sprayed the ground around the base of the supers , have you tried that? I just sprinkled the powder on and around the ground up to about one foot from the supers edges and under the stand, and also put some on the tray under my screen bottom board yesterday, the bees aren’t able to access the tray so I thought that wouldn’t hurt the bees. . Leonard

  9. stacy on June 5th, 2016 at 8:38 am #

    DE is the only thing that has helped me with my ant problem. Harsh chemicals didn’t even work this well. I apply it in a huge circle around my entire house and on my wire holes, bricks, etc. When it rains, it seeps down into the crannys the ants travel, and boom, no more ants. It’s a miracle worker. Helps with fleas and ticks in my dog runs as well. Careful not to disturb the bees… we have a lot of blooms here.

    • caroll on August 9th, 2016 at 8:14 am #

      I want to get bees in the spring. Have all the gear ready, been going to local beekeepers meetings to learn as much as possible before I take the plunge. They discussed varroa mites during the last meeting. Chemical treatments were the only thing they all agreed on. They justified it by saying they take the honey supers of during treatment. I really do not trust this, these chemicals have to permeate the wood in the hive. If anyone has used DE to destroy Varroa mites without harming their bees, PLEASE let everyone know. I cannot bear the though of using chemicals on them.

      • Leonard & Lynn Riepenhoff on September 16th, 2017 at 5:01 pm #

        Hi Caroll; Did anyone respond some thing positive about controlling mites on our bees? I’d like to find something that helps control mites, I think a strong colony is essential. I once had a colony that was loaded with mites and it produced 90 pounds of honey anyway? Leonard in california

  10. Sandra Holden Kubinski on June 23rd, 2016 at 2:37 pm #

    Cinnamon around the base of hives keeps ants away.

  11. Terry Stokes on July 7th, 2016 at 9:23 am #

    I purchased this product as a harmless treatment for the small hive beetle which has destroyed one of my hives. I read this was a good treatment to apply on the ground. After reading some of these reviews I am now cautious to apply on the ground around hives. Has anyone used this safely around bees????

  12. Bee on July 25th, 2016 at 2:26 pm #

    Thank you for this article! I got some DE, but am concerned about harming beneficial garden dwellers.
    Along with bees, I am concerned about harming all the friendly & helpful spiders in my garden. Does anyone have advice on how to apply DE to get rid of cucumber beetles without disrupting the good guys?

  13. Pete on August 19th, 2016 at 8:47 am #

    Thanks “Bee” (above poster) for bringing this up, as no one else seems to have thought of it. As natural and organic gardeners, we are supposed to be thinking of the health of the soil as a whole system. There are thousands of species of invertebrates living in yard and garden soil. Now I don’t have any data on this (I guess there isn’t any) but it seems pretty intuitive to me that if you are dumping DE on your soil, especially in “huge” amounts as poster “stacy” mentions above, it is not just going to affect the things you know about (ie ants) but also many, many things you do not know about, a lot of which may be a critical part of the food web of your garden soil. (And even those that are not so critical, we at Planet Natural should be concerned about, as we are almost undoubtedly reducing biodiversity.)

    This sounds like a criticism but it is really more of a question. It seems to me that putting stuff in the soil that destroys the exoskeletons of insects and similar creatures is a *terrible* idea, since I want my garden soil — and any soil — to be teeming with healthy biodiversity. Am I missing something here? If so, please enlighten me!!

    • JChen on March 8th, 2017 at 6:59 am #

      From Reference.com: Sand is primarily composed of finely granulated silica and, depending on its location, can include various rock, coral, shell or lava fragments. It is lightweight and easily transported by wind and water. Its composition directly affects its color, resulting in black, white, pink and green coloring.

      The sand in the soil gets ground down to silt over time. So, it’s a natural component of soil. That’s not a definitive statement that it won’t harm other beneficial organisms in the soil. Just something to consider.

  14. Judy Massey on May 21st, 2017 at 6:10 am #

    I’ve been using diatomaceous earth on my dog and cat as we have been having a problem with mites. It works but seems to also have a negative drying out affect on their skin. Need to find a nourishing bath product and perhaps a food supplement to help with fur and skin.

    • Deanna on March 13th, 2018 at 3:18 pm #

      A good oatmeal based shampoo would help your dog. You can also get Mane n Tail shampoo and conditioner at Walmart cheap and it is good for all animals. If really necessary, a homemade mayonnaise mask after washing on the dog, rubbed and massaged in to the fur and skin would do wonders for the fur and dry skin after a DE treatment, then rinse after letting sit for a few minutes.

  15. barbaraf on June 27th, 2017 at 11:23 am #

    Take care NOT to put DE directly ON dogs and cats, because it can dry out their skin severely. I found this out the hard way with my little Westie. Caused itching and scabs! Rather, I am told, sprinkle it judiciously in and around their beds, kennels, etc, to kill the fleas, and (I hope) ticks, mites, etc.
    Since my senior age Westie has allergy to grass and coughing/ throat cartilage problems common to small dogs, I rub into underside of bedding carefully and then slap bedding outside, so when he gets in there’s no “cloud” of silt created that might aggravate his breathing and cover his bed with a sheet or blanket.
    I actually have been taking DE (USDA FOOD GRADE) for high blood pressure. When I am consistent (I’m not too great about consistency…sigh) my BP drops to 120/80 or less. My Dr was shocked.
    Don’t know how it works, but it seems to. Some recommend gradually increasing from a tsp to 1 TBSP per cup of water or juice. I mix 1 TBSP per cup of water, stir briskly, let it settle for a few seconds and drink it. I discovered this when I googled for an alternative to chemical BP meds like Lisinipril which were causing memory problems and just made me feel…not good.
    Take care about your source, though, I’d recommend.

  16. Ruth Meredith on April 13th, 2018 at 7:15 pm #

    I have been using food grade diatomaceous earth since 2013 in my top bar hives with great results against small hive beetles and varroa mites. It is important that the bees do not roll around in the dust. But I am using screened bottoms on the hive that have a solid IPM (integrated pest management) board underneath them that is “bee-tight”. On this solid board, I layer the DE. As the bee groom, the varroa mites and small hive beetles and larvae from the wax moth and small hive beetle all fall through the screen and into the DE where they are desiccated. No need for chemical interventions to control the varroa, which the varroa are building up a tolerance to. I live in the humid south, so the DE needs to be changed out frequently. Be sure to scrape it in the trash so any critters don’t get down into the soil to pupate.

    • katie b on May 25th, 2018 at 6:33 pm #

      This is bad advice.If you think the small hive beetle, their larva, and or the wax moth, is on the bee itself, avaliable to be groomed off, you are miss-informed.
      Secondly, the varroa mites that the bee can dislodge while grooming are most likely dead or dying, While their offspring are busy growing inside with the sealed drone larva. You have to treat for mites. Or the hive will be dead in 2-3 years. science.
      There are non-chemical/organic mite treatments that work. NOT coconut oil either.
      Good luck with what you are doing Ruth, but do not give out bad advice.

  17. Sarah on April 28th, 2018 at 3:15 am #

    I have been considering using DE for ticks, especially this year, as we seem to have a large problem. But there is very conflicting info on whether it harms bees and other beneficial insects, if it is effective if it gets wet,etc.. When you read on the internet, I always try to keep in mind who is providing the information also since the companies who sell the product have a large stake. I see lots of questions about bees here and only two anwsers that seem to from actual beekeepers; which is again conflicting. Any other bee keepers want to chime in?

  18. Elisabeth on May 5th, 2018 at 11:33 am #

    I am a garden novice, and I am hoping that DE might be the solution I’m looking for against the biting ants that currently inhabit my little plot of dirt. I’m glad to hear that it is safe for earthworms, and I hope that keeping at ground level will not endanger bees.

  19. Fizzlecat on May 11th, 2018 at 6:19 am #

    For those that have tick problems, some may consider free ranging a few chickens, or if noise won’t be a problem, guineas. They are great predators of ticks and other pests. Trimming my the flight feathers on one wing will keep them in your fenced yard. Chickens are also marvelous cheap entertainment, and will furnish part of your breakfast! 😀

    On another note, imported fire ants are a continuing problem at my place. Like one poster said, they’re in every flower pot, in the garden, under anything that lies on the ground for any length of time, and now in my raised beds! DE only seems to aggravate them temporarily!!👹

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