The Compost Sifter

After it finally warmed up a bit yesterday afternoon, we got outside to do some soil prep. Many of our beds are filled with that 50-50 loam/compost mixture that we brought in last fall, so they won't need anything more than a top dressing of compost when things are planted. 

The areas where things were planted last year, though, need to be replenished, so we added a few wheelbarrows of compost and turned it into those beds. This aerated the soil as well. It's been great so far this season to be able to use our own compost from the piles we started when we first moved in back in 2010:


We started with the one closest to the garage, and there was a lot of good stuff at the bottom. We pretty much used most of that one — enough to be able to remove the wire from around the outside. We want to use these two piles up and replace them with sturdier pallet compost bins, so this was a good start on making space for those as well.

It's not like the compost just scoops up perfectly and is ready to go directly into the garden, though. There are lots of lumps and plenty of pieces of things that aren't fully broken down. Our pile had lots of dried leaves from this fall that were on top, and lots of pinecones that weren't fully decomposed yet. To deal with this, Kirk built a sifter:


It's basically a wooden frame (with fairly tall sides to hold the compost) with a hardware cloth screen stapled across the bottom. On one side of the frame is the stand, which is like a three-sided square. It is bolted to the main frame loosely enough that the stand can rock back and forth. Opposite the stand are two handles that stick out from the main frame. It works like this:


It works best with two people, so one can shovel compost onto the frame while the other shakes it back and forth to sift the compost through the screen. The person doing the sifting holds the main frame level and rocks it back and forth on the stand. We do it over a tarp, and then we just drag the tarp to where we need the compost and kind of roll it all up into the bed. This works ok as long as you don't try to drag too much at one time — it's heavy!

The sifted compost is soft and great, and a lot of leaves that haven't broken down get shredded so finely that they can be used anyway. Back in the Red House we had the sifting frame hanging from a tripod of big branches, but at that point we were using it for sifting soil when we dug garden beds. For compost, we wanted it to be more portable, so Kirk came up with what you see here. It can be folded up almost flat when not in use, and moved to any of the compost piles or garden beds without much hassle. It's been a very useful tool over the years, and not expensive to make, since most of it can come from scrap.

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