How much thought have you given insect poop? If you’re like most people, not much.
Yet contrary to what many people think, insects DO poop, and their droppings go by the highly scientific name of frass. Some insects produce a liquid form of frass while others create small, dry droppings that are easy to scoop up. They tend to blend right in with your garden plants and soil, which is why you probably never noticed them before.
In either case, these droppings have more benefits for your garden than you probably realize.
The Importance of Chitin
Closely related to cellulose, chitin is a naturally occurring molecule that is found in the shells of crustaceans like lobsters and crabs, as well as the exoskeletons of insects. In many cases, it is also found in algae and yeast. Chitin’s benefit to plants is that it causes them to be fortified from their cell walls out.
When used in fertilizer, chitin triggers the immune systems of plants. Thus, causing them to rev up and defend themselves against predators like root-feeding nematodes and disease pathogens in the soil. The presence of chitin triggers plants to think that insects are eating them. Thus, causing them to build up their cell walls and release natural insect toxins as a defense.
Though chitin doesn’t act as a pesticide, its presence prepares plants to better withstand a pest-filled onslaught, should one come.
What is Insect Frass?
The term ‘frass’ came into the English language around the mid 19th century. It is derived from a German word that meant ‘devouring like a beast.’ We can only assume that the ravenous appetites of leaf-munching locusts and caterpillars provided the inspiration for such a peculiar name.
Just like bat guano or worm castings, insect frass is a natural form of compost. And, it can make a big difference for the fertility of your garden. But unlike guano or castings, frass comes entirely from plants that herbivore insects chew up. This means that when you use insect frass to add nutrients to your garden, you are essentially feeding back digested plants to your plants. Thus, making it a perfect, well-rounded form of plant food.
Because of this, insect frass is a high-quality organic soil additive. Even more so, it can make a big difference in garden plots and potted plants alike.
Where is Insect Frass Sourced From?
Insect frass can be bought from a wide variety of specialty garden stores. Cricket frass tends to be sold under names like Kricket Crap, while meal worm frass is often labeled mealworm castings.
How Does Insect Frass Benefit the Soil and Crops?
Though the percentage of nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium (NPK) aren’t as high in insect frass as they are in bird or mammal manure, insect frass is still a sustainable, beneficial form of fertilizer to add to your garden. Composting insect frass only adds to the benefits by maximizing the number of fungi within the frass. Additionally, it changes the pH level to make it better suited to perennials, shrubs, and trees.
Because insect frass is made entirely from digested plants, it’s full of the nutrients that plants require to grow robustly. Plus, the beneficial microbes from the guts of insects. Insect frass is also one of the only sources of chitin that is available from plants. Obviously, making it a simple way to access this valuable substance.
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General Application Rates
There are plenty of ways you can apply insect frass to your garden. Furthermore, the method you use depends on the use you want to put your garden compost towards.
Before applying insect frass to your garden, it’s usually best to pre-mix it into soil or compost. However, if your plants are already growing you can mix some insect frass in water and let it steep for several hours. Then, use it to drench the roots of your plants.
- For fertilizing raised beds: Plan to add a pound of insect frass to 20 square feet of garden space. Then, gently dig the top half foot of soil up, watering it thoroughly before mixing in the frass. For continued benefits, you can top dress the bed with more frass every few weeks throughout the growing season.
- For making a mix for potted plants: Plan on adding one cup of insect frass per cubic foot of potting soil. Then, add a sprinkling on top of the soil every few weeks for added benefits.
- For an insect frass tea extract: Add a ½ cup of insect frass into a gallon of dechlorinated water and use it to drench the roots of your plants within two hours of mixing it. If you have extra you can store it in the fridge for up to a week. This is due to storing it at room temperature causing it to go bad quickly.
Additional Tips for Using Insect Frass
To clear up any confusion you might have about the best ways to use insect frass, here are some additional tips and tricks for getting the maximum benefit out of this fertilizer.
- Frass is not a pesticide or a fungicide. Although, it works to prevent both predator insects and pests from harming your plants. For this reason, you don’t have to worry about frass killing beneficial insects or nematodes.
- Some insect frass will be sold as a mix between frass and insect exoskeletons (they are the little gold and black shiny flakes). There’s no reason to be concerned about this, as they are also beneficial for your plants.
- Insect frass can be used in hydroponics systems so long as you drain out the frass pieces before running the frass tea through the water pipes. Otherwise, the indissoluble pieces of frass might get stuck in your pipes and bring down the system.
- If you simply want the benefits of chitin for your plants and are less interested in the fertilizing aspect of frass, you can use less frass in your mixtures. A tablespoon per gallon of water should be perfect.