Compost screening, the easy way

Citation metadata

Date: Annual 2006
Publisher: Manitoba Prairie Garden Committee
Document Type: Article
Length: 660 words

Document controls

Main content

Full Text: 

I've always been a believer in recycling, and composting was a natural part of this philosophy. Each year I am impressed by what comes out of my compost pile compared to what went in: namely all those kitchen scraps, leaves, twigs and garden clippings that are transformed in about two years into a rich, dark brown near-soil, if the pile is well aerated.

But, when the time comes to dig out the pile and distribute the composts around the garden, it is obvious that not all the ingredients have decomposed evenly, and some, like twigs, clearly need further time to fully decompose. The next logical step is to screen the compost before using it, which I did for using a simple homemade screen measuring about 30 cm (12") wide by 75 cm (30") long using wood scraps and 1/2" steel mesh (known in the trade as "hardware cloth").

I would place the screen on my wheelbarrow, which would act as the receptacle, shovel some compost onto the screen, and then lift and shake until only the twigs, spruce and pine cones, and other hard material remained on the screen. If there were any stones, plastic, metal or other material that would never decompose, these were placed in a separate container to dispose of later, and the remaining hard material set aside to return to the next compost pile. But, as the years went by, the compost seemed to be getting heavier and heavier, particularly if it was fairly wet, and it became increasingly tempting to skip this useful procedure and distribute the compost directly on the garden 'neat,' without screening.

The answer to my problem came one evening while I was watching a television program featuring the Egyptian pyramids and the work of archaeologists, particularly in sifting through evidence found around these burial sites. There, they had local labourers shovelling the desert sand onto screens which were held up by what appeared to be wooden rods, possibly made of bamboo. This system enabled the workers to shake and sift the sand fairly easily. The dry sand and soil dropped right through the screens to the ground and any artefacts, be they pottery shards, ancient jewellery or even bone fragments, were caught by the steel mesh. The glimpse of this device was fleeting and so the details weren't clear, and I didn't have any strong rods or canes to construct my own sifter.

What I did have was a "Bag Buddy" with sturdy steel rods which came to about my waist level (approx. 90 cm or 3'). The Bag Buddy normally works to hold open a large garbage bag for easy loading of leaves and such. I placed ordinary cup hooks about 25 cm (10") apart at each end of my sifting screen and hooked the screen onto my Bag Buddy, which is about 30 cm (1') wide at the top. The screen was large enough to take 2 to 3 shovels full of compost. Without having to hold this weight, the task of shaking and sifting was made much easier. A plastic tarpaulin was placed on the ground beneath the "bag-less" Bag Buddy to catch the newly screened compost, and before long I had the job done with much less effort. Now that the weight of the compost on the screen is being carried by the Bag Buddy, I added "sides" to the screen to about 8 cm (3.5") height, to help avoid spillage. For even finer compost, I made a second screen using 1/4" mesh. The material I produce this way is suitable for transplanting seedlings. However, for most purposes, the 1/2" screen is adequate.

This simple method enables me to more easily create those pails and pails of well-screened compost that my garden plants love so much.

David Matthews submitted his first article to The Prairie Garden in 1972. His collection of The Prairie Garden goes back to, and including, 1953. David gardens and composts, in Calgary, AB.

Source Citation

Source Citation   

Gale Document Number: GALE|A140997697