8 Ways to use a Compost Sieve

In an ideal world the compost that we produce
for our gardens would be be perfectly ready, exactly when we needed it. And with the right mix of ingredients, and
a well made compost pile, that is adequately turned, and given enough time, I think this
is possible. But that’s often not the case, and many
growers, including myself, often want to end up adding compost to garden beds, before it’s
ready, before it’s had enough time to decompose, or reached that ideal crumbly texture. This is especially the case with the small
scale community composting facility that I operate, where a number of different people
add a wide variety of different materials, that is usually not chopped up very well,
or mixed adequately, and I definitely don’t turn it enough. There are always lots of clumps and compressed
blocks, that I’d rather break up before adding to the soil. I usually find lots of partially decomposed
woody material, a fair number of stones, and pieces of plastic, or cutlery or other debris
that is mistakenly or carelessly added in with the kitchen compost. As well as pieces of twine and other materials
from the gardens. I really don’t want any of this stuff in
my garden soils, and I needed a simple process to remove it all. I have seen a number of different methods
for sieving compost, but the best one seemed to be a simple sloped metal mesh or screen,
where you shovelled compost up onto the top and let gravity do the rest. I ended up building one from a metal screen
that I got from my neighbour, which was 60cm wide and 180cm long, and it had holes about
25mm wide or about 1 inch. I built a frame out of some scrapped wood,
and fixed the screen to the bottom of the frame with large staples, and added posts
to keep it upright. It was simple to use, shovelling compost up
onto the top of the frame, and the small particles dropped through the holes, and the larger
pieces tumbles down the slope of the screen, breaking up along the way. This simple piece of equipment does a remarkably
good job, leaving a pile of sieved compost underneath, and most of the stones, undecomposed
material, and a lot of the foreign objects end up in a pile at the bottom of the screen. But I found that I needed to shovel this pile
of unsieved material back up onto the screen two or three more times, to break up the clumps,
especially if the compost was wet. I decided to add stilts to the bottom end
of the sieve, and a few pieces of wood to divert the material that tumbled off the end
of the screen, into a bucket that I was able to fit underneath, making it a lot easier
to collect this unsieved material. Once the one bucket was full, I could swap
it with an empty bucket, and dump the contents onto the top of the sieve, which was easier
than shovelling to collect the material. This involved a lot more lifting, which was
compounded by the sieve being higher, which required a lot more upper body strength, but
it definitely speeded up the process. After a few runs down the sieve, I had a mix
of tough clumps, undecomposed pieces, stones, plastic and other unwanted material. I could manually pick out the larger pieces
of plastic and stones, but separating it fully was a tricky enough task in a bucket. For quite a while, I would simply dump anything
left in the bucket, back into a new compost pile, to go through the composting process
again, rather than putting in the work to separate it further, or getting rid of it
in some other way. This had the unfortunate impact of increasing
the amount of stones and plastic and unwanted material in subsequent batches of compost. I wasn’t getting rid of the stuff, I was
simply making more work for myself later. Trying to figure out ways to make this sorting
of material a lot easier, I decided to try to set the sieve in a more horizontal position,
resting on four posts, even though this seemed counter-intuitive at first. Of course, in this horizontal position, I
couldn’t make use of gravity to work over the clumps, but I didn’t need to shovel the
material so high, and I only needed to lift it once, so there was a lot less heavy lifting. This work was replaced by more work with a
spade, shovel or by hand, to break up the pieces on the screen. As I was a working over a larger area, it
was much easier to see and pull out the pieces of plastic, the undecomposed material, and
to push the stones to the end of the screen and into a bucket. It was also an easier height to work at, with
less bending and lifting. It was perhaps slower, but more thorough,
with less plastic and stones added back into the composting system. The compost could be sieved directly into
a wheelbarrow underneath, or in a pile, or even in a large bag to mature for longer. The downside of this horizontal orientation
was that larger material was able to pass through the holes, including some pieces of
plastic, and a lot of sticks were able to get through. It was also an issue that smaller stones were
more likely to get stuck in the screen, which made it harder to use a shovel, and this was
perhaps the biggest hassle of this orientation. After trying out a few things, I found that
filling a bucket with the original compost, and then turning it upside-down onto the screen, and then sliding it back and forth, world much better. A few passes over the mesh and most of the
compost would have fallen through the screen, and it was quicker at reducing it to a small
pile of cleaner material, that it was easier to manually separate. I still had to handle the bulk of the compost
material several times. Once lifting it onto the sieve, then transferring
the sieved compost into a bucket or a wheelbarrow, and then spreading it over the garden bed. As I often use a bucket to transfer the finished
compost into the garden, I realised that this meant that I could actually sieve the compost
directly over the garden bed. There was of course more work dragging the
sieve around, but I think there was less work in the end as I only had to handle the compost
material once. I’d fill the buckets from the compost pile,
take them to the garden and then sieve directly over the soil surface. This was also quite convenient when I needed
to spread compost over part of the garden, but I hadn’t got around to sieving a batch
of compost yet. I could essentially sieve the compost on demand. Now that I have this piece of equipment in
the gardens, I’m starting to use it for different things not just for sieving compost. I have found it really useful to use this
sieve to help clear rough and weedy ground. By cutting out chunks of soil and weeds and
placing it onto the sieve, I can bash it around and separate out all of the biomass from the
soil which falls through the sieve, especially the problematic weed roots, and it also clears
out the stones at the same time. It is a fair of work to dig out all of this
soil, but its possibly the fastest way to go from really rough ground to loose cleared
soil that is ready for shaping into beds and planting. I’ve even tried using the sieve to help
dig out a few beds of potatoes, which helps to ensure that no tubers are left in the soil
to regrow the next season. This is perhaps most useful in the Intensive
Garden where I usually double dig the beds, as this is several jobs done in one pass:
harvesting potatoes, double digging the soil, as well as helping to clear out any stones
and weed roots. I’ve even found it to be an effective tool
to help to thresh the small amount of wheat that I grew this season. While I originally built this simple sieve
to help improve the quality of my compost, it’s become one of the most useful piece
of equipment in my gardens, especially as I’m still clearing a lot of ground. It is interesting how the uses of a tool will
change over time, and how rarely I use it in the original sloped configuration that
I built it in. Of course different designs and uses will
fit different people and contexts, and as my gardens evolve, no doubt my own uses and
needs will change. I’ve been thinking of how I could adapt
it in the future, mainly to have legs that are adjustable, to a variety of different
slopes and heights. It would also be nice if it was lighter, and
collapsable, to make it easier to move around, and to store. It could be useful to inlay an additional
screen with smaller hole sizes, when I wanted really fine compost, but perhaps it’s better
to build a number of different sieves with different screen sizes, shapes and uses. But for now, I’m quite content with this
simple and rugged piece of equipment that I hacked together a couple of years ago, and
it’s been quite interesting to watch how my approach to some of the key tasks in the gardens has changed since I’ve had the use to this tool. It’s been about five weeks since I released
my previous video, and this delay was caused by an unexpected and quite dramatic event
that took place. But more on that in my next video. For now I’m glad to be back making videos
and I’m planning to do a lot more in the coming months. If you like my videos, and like the work that
I’m doing, be sure to subscribe, and if you want to support my work even more, please
check out my Patreon page, linked here or in the description below. But most importantly, thank you for watching.

100 thoughts on “8 Ways to use a Compost Sieve

  1. Thank you so much for this amazingly detailed video! I have a tiny space and I think I am going to try and create a small sieve that can have a table top set on top for when not composting to be used for potting and storage!

  2. That's awesome. I have a 1/2 inch one sized to a Rubbermaid tote and a 1/4 inch the same size. I originally made a square 1/4 inch one for a garbage can but it was too big to manually use for long periods of time. Your system seems a lot more efficient but storing such a large piece would be problematic for me.

  3. This would work great for tuber plants like potatoes. You could screen out all the potatoes into a bucket at the end and let all the soil fall back down. Also, love the chickens

  4. To move it around, maybe add some wheelbarrow-wheels? if you put them 90° of the operating configuration the sieve, shouldn't move much, I think.

  5. Cool video! I'd like to build one that I could tow behind my lawn tractor maybe with a vibrating motor on a drill battery. Thanks for sharing!

  6. Good video. I made one some years ago with smaller holes that i put over a wheelbarrow it works well just have to move it about a lot for it to pass thru. I also have chickens I find thay make the best compost ever. I run 2 compost heaps one out side the run and one in the run. I put fresh material on the first heap let it brake down then to the chickens run. Thay love it and the compost is like black gold at the end about 4 or 5 months.

  7. Simple tool, so many uses. This has give me some great ideas. I will make a smaller one that fits over a tub. When my flower borders get very weedy and need remedial action, I like to lift out the plants in autumn, divide them and then I try and get every scrap of weed root out of the soil.

  8. @RED Gardens
    I came back to revisit this video again, and come to think about an idea that would help separating plastics, wood, stones etc..
    The idea is to use a water to takde advantage of the floating power of plastics and wood, conversely the stones would end up at the bottom instantly.
    Using 2 alternating buckets and a kitchen drainer would do the trick, while reusing the same water.
    Probably particularly useful when the stone content is expected to be quite high.

  9. how did you get the screen to hold well enough that working a shovel across it does not destroy the screen?

    Thanks for the video; it was excellent knowledge.

  10. What were your chickens trying to get at? Was that after you threshed your wheat? Whatever it is they were really digging for it. lol
    Sounds like the sieve has given you a bit more freedom in terms of seperating your soils properties. 🖒

  11. I’m a new subscriber. I can’t believe you don’t have more subs! You have great ideas and you convey them very clearly, plus you film and edit your videos to make it all very easy to watch. Looking forward to watching more of your channel. Cheers from California!

  12. Sweet video! I used to keep raccoons and other animals out of homes with screen like that, you can also double the screen up but offset the grid so you have a finer sieve. then you could set up an assembly line type deal to get much finer compost

  13. Why didn't I come across your excellent videos before! I spent months(!) going over a rough patch of land to turn it into a new vegetable garden, digging it all out then removing all the stones and weeds…….with a 20" rotary sieve. Now not only do I feel a bit dim, but have arms like Popeye 😀 Excellent stuff, I have learnt more in the last hour watching your videos than I have from any book, thank you

  14. This video is so well presented, I was amazed. We gardened hard from when I was 25 until I was 50. Then we moved to no garden, lawn or anything. Now at 68 I started again for the grandkids. I am clearing forest land. I am also growing on the roof with a solar powered water valve. I was about to build a sieve today, when I saw this video, I felt like it saved me huge amounts of time and effort.

  15. OK, I made a compost sieve that is cloned from this video, and I took a picture of it….maybe 4 hours labor:

  16. This has me thinking… this would be an excellent way to sift my soil over my beds to eliminate the nutsedge root networks that invade my area. Hmm… thinking. Thanks for such a thorough treatment of this too. My sieve is currently too small for such work but the one you built is simple enough to construct. Thanks so much!

  17. Now that's working-smart. I like how you improved productivity using a basic tool. Tanx for sharing your experience & learnings.

  18. As always, I like your pragmatic approach. I also use a sieve but mine is smaller and has a smaller gauge mesh so I produce really fine soil, almost completely free of stones.

  19. Excellent! Thank you so much for your work and desire to help others. This, with some minor modifications, will help me so very much as I begin my own journey into small scale home farming or Crofting as its known by here in the Scottish Highlands. Great work! 👍

  20. I'm definitely going to build one but thinking on making interchangeable siv sized. Your videos are awesome.. keep em comming.. thanks

  21. All of your videos are a testament to be efficient… awesome an thank you, I can definitely learn from you… blessings from Texas

  22. in my small garden, I found a round fan shield in the local recycling center/town dump.
    it fits perfectly over a garbage can.
    I shovel my dirt onto the screen, then rock it back and forth, then lift and empty the rocks and roots into a bucket.

  23. Thinking about the manual separation of stones, sticks, plastic and other debris; partially fill your catch bucket with water so everything that isn't stone floats to the top? Or use a secondary bucket to dump your catch bucket into for the same purpose.

  24. u can build one of those with an old wahing machine + Ur screen .

    Like this one :

  25. Just look for an outdoor lounge chair at the local dump and strip off the adjustable locking mechanism from the back. It's a great multi-angle locking hinge that's easy to find, and they're made to be able to handle being outdoors.

  26. a simple solution would be to make a cylinder out of your mesh and then rolling your compost with in the cylinder like a washing machine.

  27. Have you considered building a smaller one that could fit on your bucket directly, so you could fill the bucket with compost, put the sieve on and shake it over were you want to use the compost. Then you just have to clear what remains in the bucket. It would be way easier to carry around in my opinion.

  28. Mate, i made a sieve and started using it after I got the idea from your video.

    My question for you is what can the leftovers be used for? I've got a big pile of it now and can't think what it might be useful for?

  29. For the double-digging application, try making it about 15 inches shorter and 15 inches wider; use a rake to sift the compost through.

  30. I like your chickens being part of the sieving process. I guess they remove all grubs from your compost.

  31. Thanks, the more we share our ideas 💡 about gardening the less crap 💩 food we have to buy and eat. Self reliance is wonderful.

  32. Great video! Made so by the humility and the constant "learning", open-minded approach! Thumbs up! (For ease of mobility of the sieve, how about adding one pair of wheels on the front supporting legs?)

  33. Hmmmm…. this is great!
    I am going to build something similar. I have some mod ideas to suit my situation.
    Thank you!

  34. I only have one or two to things add #1.A worm bed as a bio composter, an after a year I remove the worm and start a new bed. Then I add a measure of peat moss, small chard hummus, perlite, vermiculite & river sand. I know some would say that a lot. But for a 2,000 + sq ft southern exposure Greenhouse? But for me it's therapy with all my raised beds. I do wont to thank all the people on YouTube channel that showed how to build a little piece of heaven for myself, right here on Earth!

  35. I made a rectangular box with hardware cloth on the bottom. I made extended handles on both sides. Put it over a wheelbarrow and shlosh (?) it around. Works great.

  36. Plastic and wood floats, stones don't maybe this can help filter large quantities of unwanted material. Also the water will clean the waste making it easier to visibly sort out the plastic…?

  37. I built one for my starter garden. It works good, especially since i have a lot of bamboo growing in the yard.

  38. Thanks for going through your whole process. I thought the configuration you were using at first kinda sucked. Then you morphed into exactly what I do. Then you improved on it. Then you improved on it again. Then you used it in awesome ways that I never would've considered. Great video.

  39. Add something that can vibrate… And a second layer with small smaller holes to get the smaller rocks

  40. Put wheels on one end, this will make it easier to move around the garden. Great idea and I plan to make one myself. Cheers mate.

  41. This is a keeper. Ingenious. Thanks for doing the hard graft so the rest of us can learn from your experience. Another great video.

  42. These sieves or mash screens are so extremely expensive here in Austria. 50cm x 100cm cost about 30 euros, which i could afford, but still it´s quite extreme. and when i think about making some small handsieves for gradually sieving from bigger to smaller compost it will cost me a fortune. maybe a hint where to get them at a good price? thanks, greetings from austria 🙂

  43. I use a similar sieve on my property and it works well. I am going to scale up to your size, What I do for a finer sieve of mater is construct a think box that fits in my larger sieve with a finer mesh screen. Good luck.

  44. Thanks for Sharing..
    👌 👍 👍 ❤ 🍊 🍎
    🍉 🍊 🍎 🍓 🍉 ☕
    ❤ 💛 💚 💜 💙 ❤
    Be my YouTube friend
    🍀 🌸 🌻 🌹 🍁 🌺
    🎀 😊 👋 😊 😊 😊
    Grertings Malaysia
    🌻 🌹 🌷 🍁 💐 🌺

  45. В СССР всегда брали панцерную кровать. Просеивали всё, от щебня и песка, до земли. 😉 Старая тема.

  46. I made a small one that fits over my wheel barrow but the same process. The upside down 5 gallon bucket is a great idea

  47. Put that SOB be some big pnuematic casters man. I have my little raised garden boxes I build on some heavy duty casters, if it gets too hot and sunny down here I can just wheel it up under the patio roof a bit to keep my plants cool and back out when the sun isn't too potent, I think that would be a great addition to your sieve you could just push or pull it into position then lock the casters in place.

    You could probably go a step further with some interlocking tubes for the legs. Think like, a mop with an adjustable handle length. You could pop a pin on two legs, pull up with some weight on the base and elevate one end to go back to gravity doing some work.

  48. INSTANTLY recognised your voice from a video I saw you do a few months ago when you set up your grow tunnel!
    I know I'm gonna love this video too 🔥 😍

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