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Compost Sifting

Once you have created your compost pile, you need to be able to get the compost out of it. The easiest way to do that is to shovel the rich compost from the bottom of your pile. Since everything won't compost at the same rate, there will be some items in your compost that need to be returned to the pile for further composting. The best way to accomplish that is to sift the compost. There are many different sifter designs available, but this one is easy to make and easy to use.

Necessary Materials

1" x 4" Lumber (or 2" x 4")
1/2" Hardware Cloth
1-5/8" 8D Nails
1/2" Roofing Nails or Heavy Staples
Wheelbarrow

Measure the longest point of your wheelbarrow. Don't worry, your wheelbarrow is not being "dedicated" to your compost pile. Measure the widest point of your wheelbarrow. Add 2" to each of these measurements. Cut 4 pieces of lumber for each measurement. So, if your wheelbarrow is 26-1/2" wide and 33-1/2" long, you will need 4 pieces that are 28-1/2" long and 4 pieces that are 35-1/2" long.

I use a simple lap method of joining my boards. See the illustration below for my lap method. Notice that it doesn't require any special cuts on the boards. Note, the measurements I told you to take are based on this method of lapping. If you use a different method, you may need to adjust your measurements.

You will be making two "boxes" that look like the above illustration. I used three 8D nails at each joint to hold the boards together firmly.

Cut the hardware cloth so that it goes at least halfway across the width of the boards, but doesn't go past the boards (this will ensure that you don't have any sharp pieces to cut your hands on when using the sifter). Use the roofing nails or staples to firmly attach the hardware cloth to one of the boxes.

Put the second box on top of the screened box so that the screen is the "filling" in your "sandwich". Use additional 8D nails to attach the two boxes together (I toed in a nail from the outside on each board of the joint).

Voila! You now have a sifter that will fit securely on your wheelbarrow. The top box provides a good holding place for the compost to be sifted. Since most wheelbarrows have rounded corners, you have may some spots that aren't over the bed. You can either be aware of those when sifting your compost or use something like leftover formica or 1/8" hardboard which has been cut to cover those spots.

Put the sifter on your wheelbarrow and make sure that it is near the compost pile. Shovel the compost into the top box and gently rub over the material like you are looking for something in the soil. Remember, the compost needs to WANT to go into the wheelbarrow. There are no extra points for forcing things through the hardware cloth. Also, the types of worms that compost your garbage well won't be happy in your garden, so throw them back into the compost pile to continue their great work.

As you find things that you know aren't going to go through, break them into smaller pieces and throw them back into the compost pile for further decomposition. Most of these items will be high-carbon items, such as twigs and pinecones, so you may want to add this week's lawn clippings to the mix. I tend to let a few weeds grow around my compost bin since it's in an out-of-the-way place. After I have sifted my compost and thrown the remainders back onto the pile, I pull all of the nearby weeds and adds them to the mix for the necessary nitrogen content to keep the pile "hot". This is also a good time to check to see whether your compost needs a little watering.

When you've got nothing left but "rubble", throw it back in the compost pile, remove the sifter from the top of your wheelbarrow and revel in the glorious black gold that you now have ready to wheel to the right place in your garden.


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