Building a Basic Compost Sifter
In my opinion, everyone should be composting and there are a ton of resources on the internet about what should and shouldn’t be composted. So, no excuses…get to composting!
In order to be able to use the finished compost for your garden or potted plants, you’ll need to be able to separate the fully broken down material from chunks of unfinished “stuff” in your compost. The easiest way to do this is to run it through a compost sifter. A basic compost sifter is simply a frame with a mesh screen that will filter smaller material through and leave larger material to be returned to the compost. It’s a pretty simple piece of equipment but essential for creating usable compost soil.
If you have a typical compost bin, you’ll be able to pull finished compost from the bottom of the pile and simply dump it on top of the sifter. With the sifter placed over a container of some sort, you can shake the sifter lightly and watch the soil work it’s way through the screen. I usually have to use my hands to work the last of it through and to remove any foreign objects I don’t want to put back in the compost. The result is a nicely textured collection of soil that you can use in your gardening beds or containers.
Making your own compost sifter is pretty easy. You’ll need a few nails or screws and some basic materials.
This thing doesn’t need to be fancy. I used scrap material I had around the house as well as rejected material from the scrap bin at Home Depot. The only thing I had to buy was the metal mesh for the screen. There is no real standard for choosing your mesh, it just depends on how fine you want your finished soil. To get really fine soil you could build a couple of sifters with different size mesh and work it through both. I have found that 1/2″ metal mesh works really well and gives me a satisfactory finished product.
- Place your 1x4s loosely in a rectangle on your working surface with the 2x2s at each corner.
- Starting at one corner, set your 1x4s up on end and line up your edges with the shorter board held to the inside (use a square if needed to hold a 90-degree angle).
- Set the 2×2 inside the corner flush against both boards (you could use a clamp to hold it in place).
- If using screws, predrill two holes on each 1×4 going into the 2×2 (I used a pneumatic nail gun and shot two nails through either side into the 2×2).
- Repeat this for all four corners to complete the frame.
- Turn the frame bottom side up and place your screen on the frame (this is a good time to double check that your frame is aligned properly using a framing square).
- Lay the 1″ stripping down over the screen on the long edges and predrill about 6 holes down the length of the sifter making sure to center your hole into the 1x frame.
- I used 1 1/4″ wood screws to fasten the stripping to the frame. Don’t be too aggressive about seating the screws or you’re likely to split the wood.
- Any excess screen can be clipped off or bent over the edge so it won’t catch on things.
- Turn the frame back over and you’re ready for the first shovel full of dirt!
Using your new Compost Sifter
Now that you have this handy, new, beautifully crafted compost sifter it’s time to put it to work.
Choose a container to collected the sifted soil. This could simply be a wheelbarrow, just make sure it’s large enough to collect what falls through your sifter otherwise you’ll be scraping a lot of your compost off the ground. I mix my compost with some store-bought soil and coffee grounds so I sift mine into a Rubbermaid bin with a lid.
Now place the sifter over the container of choice and place a few shovels of compost directly onto the screen. I then lift one side slightly and give it a gentle shake, letting the material settle and sift through the screen. Do this for a minute or two, it will depend on how fine your compost is. I watch for it to thin out and leave “clumps” of compost then I work the rest by hand. The larger stuff left on the screen goes back into the compost then I start again with another shovel full.
The result should be a nicely textured, rich soil. For even better texture I add my saved coffee grounds after it’s sifted and stir it together by hand.
We’d love to see pictures of your DIY compost sifters. Feel free to send us pictures of your setup and let us know how it works for you.