Need an adventure for your kids? Bury some craft store gemstones or marbles in the sandbox, give the kids a sifter and step aside as the treasure hunting begins. Kids love to sift and discover artifacts in the sand. (Note: This exercise is not so fun when cats roam the backyard.)

Compost Sifter (1)

As an avid gardener I understand the value of compost and have compost piles in various stages at any given time. Interested readers can refer to my Composting Blog Posts for a description of my technique. As I mix the piles I remove pine cones, large sticks, and anything else that appears to be non-compostable in a reasonable time interval. Still, the finished product often includes elements like small rocks, partially decomposed pine cones, tree bark and so on.

Our clay soil welcomes the larger organic materials but sometimes I want a cleaner mix perhaps for a potted plant. The photo below shows pine needles, bark chips, and even a few leaves left behind after a quick sift. These can be returned to the compost bin for another session or scattered as mulch in the full sun garden beds to slow evaporation during the summer.

Compost Sifter (3)

Compost Sifter (4)

Sifting the compost through ½” hardware cloth yields a cleaner mix of soil and organic material. I can fill a pot with this material to support a tender plant needing to beef up its root system or to offer triage to a plant that is struggling in the garden.

Compost Sifter (2)

My trusty sifter served for years but the frame is rotten and only the hardware cloth keeps the assembly together. Its time to build a replacement!

I chose pressure treated 2”x2” as the frame for my new sifter. The rectangular sifter will require a top and bottom of equal length and two sides of equal length. I chose straight cuts rather than attempting to miter the corners. Remember the sifter needs to be functional and impervious to the elements rather than a finished pieced of furniture.

Compost Sifter (8)

The size of the sifter depends on the gardener’s strength. Ask, “How much compost can I safely support and shake through the sifter?” My frame is approximately 14”x18” and holds a heaping shovel of material.

Compost Sifter (9)

Drill pilot holes to prevent splitting. I used #10 deck screws (2½” in length), drilled pilot holes with a 5/32” bit, and inserted two screws per corner. The addition of the hardware cloth makes the frame even stronger.

Compost Sifter (7)

Assemble the frame. Enlist an extra set of hands if needed.

Compost Sifter (10)

No one I know likes splinters so I took time to run the orbital sanded (120 grit) along the frame taking special pains to round over the edges.

Compost Sifter (5)

You may need to experiment to find your preferred method for snipping hardware cloth. Tin snips make short work of it but can be hard on the hands. Wear gloves and perhaps long sleeves to avoid scratches. Note that a Sharpie works great for marking the cut lines. Watch for sharp points extending beyond the wood. Snip and file as needed.

Compost Sifter (6)

I tacked the hardware cloth in place using a staple gun then added wiring staples for extra stability. Similar staples secured the screen on my old sifter for years.

Compost Sifter (11)

At some point I hope Granddaughter Fern will join me in the garden. This smaller sifter should fit nicely in her hands when the time comes. Of course I will return the sifter to the shop to carve her name into it if she asks. I’ll even paint the whole thing pink. Anything for Fern.

Compost Sifter (11)

I added eye bolts to enable hanging the sifters at the garden bench out of the mud but within easy reach.

Compost Sifter (13)

Who is ready to sift compost and pot some plants?