Finally, your compost is ready. It may well be ready to use straight on the garden.
But sometimes you may find you just have too much wood and debris.
You can get away with a bit of wood in your compost, and it can even be beneficial for fungi.
However, if you have too much you can find it leaches nitrogen from the soil. You’ll also want finer compost to use with seedlings. In either case, you may well want to use a compost sifter.
In the latest article in our compost tools series, we’re reviewing 6 of the best options available on the market. You also find 3 DIY projects to help you choose the right compost sifter for your gardening needs.
5 Best Compost Sifters
1. Top Pick: Achla Designs Compost Sifter Screen with Handles
The Compost Sifter Screen from Achla Designs is custom made for sifting compost and is reasonably price compared to other compost sifters.
The sifter features mesh with 3/8-inch by-3/8-inch openings, making it easy to separate fine particles from large materials so you can dispose of them or return them to the compost pile.
We like the addition of the handles on the side as they make this compost sieve more comfortable to hold and easier to store by hanging.
The Achla Designs Compost Sifter is made of durable galvanized steel and it measures 19 inches wide at the handles with a 4-inch diameter. It doesn’t actually look that sturdy when you have it in your hand, but looks can be deceptive, and this device has proved very long lasting.
- Stainless steel wire
- Stackable design
- Affordable price
Can be tricky to clean
2. SE Patented Stackable Sifting Pan: Choice of sizes
Second up is the Patented Stackable Sifting Pan from SE. It has a plastic body with a rust-resistant 304 stainless steel wire, which means it’s durable and will easily last many years.
We especially love the stackable design of this compost sifter, which allows you to place pans on top of one another to save space for efficient storage. This sifter can fit nicely over a 5-gallon bucket for quick use.
The SE compost sifter is available in a variety of sizes ranging from 1/2 an inch down to 1/70 of an inch. Depending on how fine you need your compost, we suggest using 1/8″ and 1/4″ pans.
- Variety of sizes
- Stackable design
- Affordable price
- Light weight
- Fits well into five gallon buckets
- Can be tricky to clean
3. Raw Rutes Cedar Garden Sifter: Rust Resistant, Natural Look
This cedar compost sifter from Raw Rutes is made out of rough-cut cedar lumber. As well as being sturdy it has a rustic, more natural look thanks to being lightly sanded.
Instead of the traditional hardware cloth, this compost sieve is equipped with a stainless steel grate that’s a lot more rigid with 3/8-inch gaps. This is a great size if you’re looking for an all-purpose sifter.
You can use it to sift compost into a tote, bucket, or wheelbarrow. It’s also pretty manageable to hold.
Do note that it won’t handle huge quantities of compost, but for smaller quantities it’s ideal.
- Rust-resistant grate
- Natural look
- Sturdier than hardware cloth
- Could use some handles
4. Raw Rutes Cedar Wheelbarrow Garden Sifter: Sturdy, long lasting, great for quantity
This is another excellent cedar compost sifter from Raw Rutes. Like the company’s handheld models, this wheelbarrow is made from rough-cut cedar lumber. It’s also been lightly sanded but not entirely finished to give a more natural appearance.
It’s equipped with a stainless steel mesh for extra durability compared to traditional hardware cloth. The gaps are 3/8 of an inch across, with a larger sifting area of 20 x 17 inches.
Do note that it is pricier than some of the options here, but the cedar wood means it will last for many years.
- Tough cedar construction
- Used in wheelbarrow
- On the pricey side
Last but not least, we have a wheelbarrow sifter from Kabells. Made in the USA, this sifter uses 100% real wood.
You can use this compost sieve in a wheelbarrow or manually thanks to the featured handles on the sides. The metal screen has 1/2-inch holes and the whole square tray measures 24 x 20 inches with a 3-1/2-inch depth.
- Large size
- Suitable for both manual and wheelbarrow use
- High price tag
What is a Compost Sifter?
A sifter is simply a fine mesh strainer that’s used to separate wanted materials from unwanted elements or to make sure that all particles of a material sample are no larger than certain particle size.
A sifter is a device with a wide range of applications as it’s available in various designs to be used for cooking, gardening, and preparatory purposes. It may also be known as a sift or as a sieve.
The sifter usually features a woven screen that could be mesh, net, or metal. The word “sift” comes from the word “sieve”.
So what’s a compost sifter? Well, it’s exactly what it sounds like — a device that’s used to sift compost.
Why would you need to sift or sieve compost? That’s what we’ll be discussing next.
Why Should I Use a Compost Sifter?
A compost or garden sifter provides farmers and gardeners with a convenient and easy way to sieve their own homemade compost. It may not always be necessary to sift compost before using it in your garden, but it does offer several benefits:
- Sifting helps separate unfinished compost materials from the finished product.
- Sifting helps separate undesirable debris and waste from desirable organic materials before spreading your compost in the garden.
- Sifting compost ultimately results in a better planting medium that’s free of lumps and clumps. It’s particularly valuable for making finer compost for seedlings.
- Sifting is an excellent way to aerate the compost, which will improve the soil structure of your garden beds. This saves you a lot of time and effort compared to the traditional way: turning over compost with a shovel.
- Sifting your compost helps you create high-quality compost for potting, containers, or soil amendment that’s just as good as store-bought options, if not better, because you can control what goes into the compost mixture.
- A compost sifter helps you save money that you’d otherwise spend on ready-made compost.
How to Make a Compost Sifter
A lot of gardeners prefer to make their own compost sifters at home so they can recycle materials they have lying around the house and save some money in the process.
If you’re also interested in this approach, here are a few of our favorite DIY compost sifter designs with instructions on how you can build them.
1. Simple Compost Sifter
Things you’ll need
- 2-foot wide 1/2-inch hardware cloth, available at any hardware store
- A sharpie for marking
- A wire cutter
- Scrap wood
- A circular Saw
- A pneumatic nailer (or a drill and some screws)
- A pneumatic stapler or a hand stapler
- Handles, optional
1. First, you’ll start cutting the scrap wood to size. Since we’re using hardware cloth that’s 2 feet wide, you should cut two boards to be 2 feet long and cut the other two boards longer to end up with a rectangle.
Keep in mind that the sifter is going to be filled with dirt and you’ll have to shake it as such, so try not to make it too big for you to comfortably handle. Otherwise, you’ll be putting your arms through a lot of unnecessary stress.
2. Next, nail or screw the boards into a rectangle. Be sure that all the connections are secure enough to withstand repeated shaking.
3. Grab your stapler and lay the hardware cloth over one side of the frame. Staple the hardware cloth across one of the two long sides.
4. Next, press the hardware cloth flat against the rest of the frame and staple until you reach about 3/4 down the short sides. If you go all the way, cutting excess hardware cloth will be a nightmare.
5. Now, hold the hardware cloth against the remaining section of the frame. Mark the point where you need to cut the wire to fit, and then cut it.
6. Once you’re done cutting, staple the fitted cloth down the sides and the last board. You can also go back and reinforce the corners if necessary.
7. At this point, the compost sifter is basically finished and ready for use. But if you want to make it easier to hold onto the sifter, we recommend adding some handles to the sides.
2. Wheelbarrow Style Compost Sifter
Things you’ll need
- 6 feet of 1 x 1-inch lumber
- 10 feet of 1 x 2-inch lumber
- 5 feet of 1 x 4-inch lumber
- 16 feet of 2 x 4-inch lumber
- 14 to 16 1-1/2-inch wood or deck screws
- 8 to 12 2-inch wood or deck screws
- 8 to 12 3-1/2-inch wood or deck screws
- One 24 inches x 36 inches piece of hardware cloth (galvanized metal screen), either 1/2-inch or 1/4-inch mesh
- Metal staples
- 2 Metal handles
- Some wood glue
- A candle
- Paint, stain, varnish, or water sealer, optional
- A jig or circular saw
- Drill and drill bits
- A staple gun
- Wire cutters
To build the frame:
1. Cut two 36-inch long pieces from the 2 x 4-inch lumber.
2. Cut two 27-inch long pieces from the 1 x 4-inch lumber.
3. Cut two 36-inch long pieces from the 1 x 1-inch lumber.
4. Screw the two 1 x 4-inch pieces to the bottom of the 2 x 4-inch pieces ( consider pre-drilling to prevent splitting).
5. Glue the two 1 x 1-inch pieces to the inside of the two 2 x 4-inch pieces. At this point, the three different pieces should meet at each corner.
6. Measure the frame. It should be 24 inches wide from inside to inside (just above the 1 x 1-inch pieces) to allow the screen to sit on top of the 1 x 1-inch pieces.
To build the tray:
1. Screw the tray’s 2 x 4-inch side and end pieces together using 3 1/2-inch screws.
2. Cut the hardware cloth to fit the width and length (but not right to the edge) of the 2 x 4-inch pieces that you screwed together.
3. Staple the cloth to the bottom of the 2 x 4-inch pieces. You don’t need to put in a lot of staples, just enough to hold the hardware cloth tightly in place.
4. Screw the 1 x 2-inch pieces to the bottom of the tray.
5. Screw a handle to each end.
6. Measure the tray. It should be 24 inches wide from outside to outside to fit on top of the 1 x 1-inch pieces of the frame.
1. Smooth out the wood surfaces with sandpaper and seal using stain, water sealer, or paint.
2. Rub a candle on top of the frame’s 1 x 1-inch pieces as well as the bottom of the tray so that it slides easily.
- To use this compost sifter, load the tray with some compost and then slide it quickly back and forth on the frame to let the finer material fall into the wheelbarrow. After that, you can throw back the separated material that’s still in the tray back on to the compost pile or get rid of it.
3. Trommel (Rotary) Compost Sifter
Things you’ll need
- 1/2-inch hardware cloth
- 2 large surplus bicycle rims
- 4 rollers and bolts to attach
- A bit more than 8 feet of dimensional lumber
- Some wires to fasten the hardware cloth to the rims
- Lumber for the roller box
1. First, you want to remove the spokes from the bicycle rims. The easiest and fastest way to get the job done is by cutting the spokes using a strong wire or chain cutter.
2. Next, you should cut the hardware cloth to fit inside the rims. To do this, you’ll have to measure the diameter of the rims then multiply it by pi to get the circumference.
The circumference corresponds to the minimum length of the hardware cloth you need to cut. Don’t forget to add about 4 extra inches of cloth to accommodate the overlap of the seam.
3. Attach the hardware cloth to the rims by placing the cloth inside the rims and fastening it through the spoke holes using some wires (for example, household electrical wires).
Avoid over-tightening the wire otherwise it’ll break. Also, make sure that you flatten the wire on the outside of the rim to prevent the rollers from bumping over it.
4. Now it’s time to build the roller box, which is a rather simple structure that you can easily complete on your own. You can use 2 x 6-inch lumber pieces or go for 2 x 4-inch lumber if you want the structure to be a little lighter.
Assuming you’re using rims of about 21.4-inch diameter, then you’ll need 34-inch long side pieces and 19-inch long ends, which leaves you with a 16-inch gap in the middle. Keep in mind that one of the ends should be cut down about 2 or 3 inches lower than the other to let the drum slightly overrun the box so that the coarse materials can spill out.
- Note that these dimensions will differ according to the diameter of the rims you use.
After that, you’ll need to align the rollers. Place the finished drum on top of the roller box and mark the positions of your rollers. Finish up by drilling them into place.
If you’re not sure about the alignment of your rollers, you can attach them first with simple drywall screws and test their positioning. Then once you’re satisfied with their alignment, you can drill them into place.
Tips for Using a Compost Sifter
The following are a few tips for using a compost sifter to make sure that the process goes as smoothly as possible:
- Do not sieve soil or compost when it’s too wet or damp — if you do this, the wet compost will end up clumping together and creating lumps, which makes it a lot more difficult to sift out the unwanted debris and larger pieces.
- Avoid adding too much compost through the sifter at one time — you shouldn’t overfill the compost sifter because this will just make it harder to use the sieve and will waste time. Instead, you should divide the compost pile into more, smaller loads.
- Remove the unwanted debris, trash, and stones from the sifter regularly.
- It’s better if you sieve your compost into a suitable container or wheelbarrow right away. This saves you from having to move the finished product a second time.
- Find a comfortable position for sieving — sitting in a comfortable position while sifting reduces the strain on your body and helps you get the job done in less time.
A compost sifter can be a very handy garden tool as long as you choose the right design for your needs and use it properly. Whether you purchase one or make it yourself, you’ll end up with a finer compost that can be used for a wider variety of garden tasks.