Your compost may be ready to use directly in your garden, but most of the time, it makes a better growing medium if you sift it first.
Finding a compost sifter for your backyard composting isn’t difficult. There are hundreds of different designs and sizes available. The hard part is finding one you want to use.
Below we’ll cover all you need to know about compost sifters, including our top picks. We’ll also explain how you can make a DIY compost sifter using scraps you might already have.
What Is Compost Sifter?
A compost sifter or compost screen is a garden tool that filters debris and wood from your compost. It’s usually made from a wood or metal frame covered in hardware cloth or sometimes chicken wire.
Compost or soil sifters come in all sorts of shapes and designs. There are sifters that sit readily on a wheelbarrow, others that do best leaned against a garden bench, and smaller sifters that you can move around readily.
Even trommel sifters or rotary screens can help you sift through large amounts of soil and compost at a faster pace.
What’s the Benefit of Compost Sifter?
Sifted compost is a better growing medium for a few reasons. For one thing, it’s free of wood and debris. Though some wood in compost is okay, too much will leach the vital nitrogen from your soil.
Sifting also creates aeration in your compost. Aeration improves the soil structure, making it easier for plants to grow. This is especially true for root vegetables, like carrots, that prefer an easy path through the dirt. Finer compost is also ideal for seedlings whose roots are not yet mature.
You can also use your compost sifter to sift the dirt in overgrown garden beds. There, it will help you sort out and remove rocks, weeds, and harmful pests.
Best Compost Sifter Review
Below you’ll find the top three compost sifters available to buy. After that, we’ll provide project steps for those who prefer to DIY.
The Achla Design Compost Sifter features ⅜ ” wire mesh and galvanized steel construction. It’s durable and should last through multiple gardening seasons.
The openings on this sifter create excellent aeration and are ideal for sifting compost into a relatively fine composition.
The depth of this sifter is decent given that you’ll have to operate it by hand; it’s too small to use a shovel with. We don’t suggest filling it all the way up with compost or soil, as that makes it too heavy. Filling it up ¾ of the way allows for easy operation.
That means this sifter might not be the best tool for bigger projects and is best suited for smaller garden plots.
Of course, the handles are a lovely addition. Not only do they make the sifter easier to use, but they’re also ideal for storage. Just hang your sifter on a wall in the shed! Unfortunately, the handle bolts tend to come loose season to season, but it’s pretty simple to retighten them.
- Durable construction
- Handles make it easy to hold and store
- Small mesh openings ideal for compost and soil aeration
- Too small for larger projects
- Handles need to be tightened regularly
The Speak and Jackson Garden Riddle, also known as a sifter, is unique in that it doesn’t use hardwood cloth or any type of wire in its basket. Instead, the entire sifter is constructed from chrome-plated steel.
Not only is chrome-plated steel more durable than wire mesh, but it’s also rust-resistant. It will resist soil adhesion, too, allowing sifted soil and compost to glide effortlessly through the basket’s holes.
Unfortunately, the chrome-plated steel has very rough edges, and Spear and Jackson don’t provide any handle on their product. That means you’ll need thick gardening gloves to use this tool.
Really though, you were probably going to wear gloves for your garden work already, so needing them for this compost sifter is hardly an inconvenience.
- Chrome-plated steel construction for durability
- Rust-resistant construction
- Resists soil adhesion
- No handles
- Sharp edges, requires gloves to use
With a traditional build from rough sawn sustainable cedar, the Raw Rutes garden sifter provides gardeners with a sturdy and durable tool.
This handheld sifter is lightly sanded for a smooth but natural finish, giving it a rustic aesthetic that many gardeners love. It also features a steel mesh basket, which is stronger than standard hardwood cloth.
All that said, this sifter is made of unfinished wood, and splinters can become a problem with use and time. So, you’ll want to wear gloves to protect your hands.
The rectangular shape makes it easy to use over a compost bin, tray, or even a small wheelbarrow, but this sifter is light enough that you can also use it by hand without any trouble.
While we wish the Raw Rutes Cedar Garden Sifter had handles, we can’t complain. This sifter is durable, easy to use, and should last a long time.
- Durable steel mesh basket
- Natural and pleasing aesthetic
- Convenient rectangular shape
- Unfinished wood can leave splinters, use gloves
- No handles
How to Build a DIY Compost Sifter
You can purchase a sifter like the ones above, or with a bit of time and effort, you can create a DIY compost sifter instead. To do so, you’ll need to have the following:
- ½”, ¼”, or 5/16″ hardware cloth
- sharpie for marking
- 2x4s or scrap wood
- drill and screws
- nail gun
- handles (optional)
- Cut your wood to size using your saw. You can make your compost sifter any size you need, but sticking to a standard 2 x 4 feet is usually easiest.
- Lay your wood pieces out and mark where they’ll connect to form a rectangle. Then, drill pilot holes for your screws. Add the screws at the connection points, and you should have a wood frame for your sifter.
- Now, use your nail gun to attach the hardware cloth. Start by stapling down one of the longer sides.
- Then press the cloth flat and staple ¾ of the way down both short sides. Leave the final side undone.
- Hold the wire cloth against the remaining, unstapled edge, and mark where you’ll need to cut it. Then, use your wire cutters to cut across.
- Staple the cloth to the remaining long side and final ¼th of the short sides. You may also want to go back and reinforce the corners.
- After that, your DIY sifter is usable, but you should consider adding handles for extra convenience. Just attach them with your drill and screws to either side of the wooden frame. They’ll make using your sifter that much easier!
How to Use Compost Sifter
Using a compost sifter is a pretty straightforward process. With smaller sifters, you can use your hands or a small trowel to shovel compost from your compost bin into the sifter basket. Then shake it back and forth to free the smaller bits.
Larger sifters work best with a shovel while leaning against a wall or bench. Place them at a 30-degree angle for best results. Then shovel your finished compost over the upper part of the sifter’s mesh.
Gravity will do most of the work for you, but you can also use your shovel to guide the compost down the sifter’s wiring, pushing the smaller bits through and removing any debris.
Although using a compost sifter is easy, there are a few things to know before attempting it. For one thing, you won’t be able to use it if your compost is too damp. Damp compost will clump together, making it hard to sift out larger debris alone.
You also want to ensure you don’t overfill your sifter at any point. It’s better to use small, quick loads than larger ones. It may seem like more work, but it will save you time in the long run.
Of course, a compost sifter isn’t solely for sifting compost. It also comes in handy if you need to sift soil in a previously uncared for garden bed or if you need to hose down rocks to create a garden path.
Sifting compost is reasonably straightforward, but if you’re a novice gardener, you might still have a few questions. Let’s see if we can answer them.
Do You Need to Sift Your Compost?
No, you don’t necessarily need to sift your compost. However, sifted compost has several advantages over the stuff in your compost bin. And, you’ll want to sift it if you notice any rocks or bigger twigs.
How Do You Make a Wheelbarrow Sifter?
Making a wheelbarrow sifter is similar to the standard DIY sifter we discussed above. However, your wheelbarrow sifter needs to be large enough to stretch across your wheelbarrow.
So it can sit comfortably, you’ll need to build a frame and then an inner tray that holds the mesh wiring. The structure will straddle the wheelbarrow’s edges, keeping it secure, while the tray moves like a drawer, allowing you to sift the compost through quickly.
What Can I Use Instead of a Sifter?
There aren’t any other garden tools that you can use in place of a sifter. Given that they’re pretty easy to construct with scraps you might already have on hand, it’s best to build (or purchase) a sifter if you need one.
When Should You Sift Compost?
You should sift compost directly before laying it in your garden. So, usually, that means sifting your compost pile in spring and again in fall.
How Long Does It Take Compost to Dry Out?
With the right technique, you can usually dry out wet compost in a day or two.
To do so, try adding “dry browns” (dead leaves) or sawdust to your compost pile. Check it after 24 hours to see if it’s dry enough to use. If it’s still damp, you can repeat the process one more time, adding more dead leaves or sawdust to help absorb more excess moisture.
Compost sifters aren’t required for making your garden grow, but they’re certainly a helpful tool! You can use them to weed out wood and rocks you don’t want in your soil, and they’re great for aeration purposes.
But chances are you’ll find your sifter is good for more than just that. Whether you’re cleaning rocks for a walkway or sifting soil in an overgrown bed, a compost sifter is a tool every gardener should have.