Acceptable sifting method for turface?

briana_2006August 19, 2012

Hello all -

I have in the past sifted turface MVP by placing a small amount inside of insect screen - twisting the top closed and then rinsing the screen with a garden hose to wash away the fines.

I have several plants in the gritty mix that are doing well.

After I wash the turface I place it into a large container to dry (rotating frequently)

I am curious is this is an acceptable way of doing the job?

I have noticed if I put the washed/dried turface back into the insect screen some material (doesn't seem like a lot) still will pass through when shaken in the filter. - But I am guessing this may still be the case if sifting the material dry through a filter (i.e. hard to get every little bit out - unless you have a lot of time for sifting). Don't have the leaf blower idea as an option.

Also, when I water (if not fertilizing) I put the pot under the water faucet and soak. After soaking I tip the pot to get extra water out -- which there does seem to be a lot to drain out. Tipping the pot and draining makes me think perhaps I have not removed enough of the fines? -- Since tipping and draining is one way Al T gives to combat the PWT problem in peat based soils. However, I have also noticed that even after tipping to the point that there is really not much water coming out I can still find "extra" water in the drain plate a short while after watering -- making me think I have removed enough of the fines so that the mix is behaving as expected.

So, it may also be that I have removed enough fines and I should just allow the pot to sit longer in the sink to drain excess water without the need for tipping and then allow the "extra" water to come out on its' own.

Just thought I'd inquire here about the method I used to sift as it seems to work well for me and I will need to sift more soon.

So, I guess my bottom line question is will I have a significant perched water table doing the sifting by the method I described?



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penfold2(4b, MN)

When particles are wet they tend to stick together, so you may not be removing all the fines. Also, when you say you twist the insect screen closed, I assume you're using fiberglass screen rather than aluminum. Fiberglass screen has smaller holes than aluminum, so you retain more fines with it. With the combination of these two factors you may have quite a bit of fine material. I can't say for sure, but you may want to try putting some of this mix in a clear plastic cup or container with a small hole in the bottom and watering it. You will be able to see the PWT fall as it drains, and if the mix is well sifted the PWT should eventually reach the bottom or very nearly.

The tipping and draining, however, is something I get even in extremely coarse soils. It takes a while for all the small forces acting on the water and soil particles to stabilize. Pots usually have to sit for some time before they stop draining, but you may be able to speed up the process by tipping and draining.


    Bookmark   August 19, 2012 at 6:29PM
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I sift anything that needs to be sifted dry. I am not sure which way is better, but as Chris said, wet particles will stick together.
I made a sifter using piece of aluminum insect screen & some 1x3, it works great & faster than using smaller (when you twist it together) piece. IMHO, flat screen sifts more/easier/faster.

After combining ingredients, I sometimes wet the mix before using. Not too wet, just damp.


    Bookmark   August 19, 2012 at 8:50PM
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Loveplants2 8b Virginia Beach, Virginia

Hi Brianna,

I like to use the screens for the FirBark and Pine Fines, but when it comes to the Turface...I just use a strainer from the local box stores (Target, Kmart, etc) and it works great. I just put a little in and swish it around and collect the fines for sowing seeds for later. It has a long handle and is very easy to use. Go look in the kitchen section and i will bet you will find something very easy for you to use.!!! : )

Good Luck,

Here is a pic of mine..

Take care,


    Bookmark   August 21, 2012 at 2:16AM
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Loveplants2 8b Virginia Beach, Virginia

Sorry Brian...

Had a typo on your name!! : ) Ooops!!! LOL..


    Bookmark   August 21, 2012 at 10:51AM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

I agree - sifting dry ingredients works much better. I use:

Hey, Laura! Good to see you. You've been keeping yourself scarce around these parts. I hope all's well.


    Bookmark   August 21, 2012 at 1:34PM
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Hi Laura and Al, I have a sifter like you Laura, when I sift my floor dry #8822, It seems like I sift for ever and still some smaller pieces fall thru, how long do you sift a half cup? I also rinse afterwards. DKovacs

    Bookmark   August 22, 2012 at 4:51PM
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Hi Al, Are those screens aluminum and what size are the screens? Thank you for your help. DKovacs

    Bookmark   August 22, 2012 at 5:03PM
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Loveplants2 8b Virginia Beach, Virginia

Hi DKovacs,

I sift my Turface in that strainer for only a few good turns.. I dont make it to difficult and i just swish it around to remove the fines... So it is pretty quick!!

If i add more to the strainer, then i will move it around with my hands to get the fines to the bottom. You would be amazed at how quickly the fines fall through.

I even try and carefully take the scoop from the bag into the strainer and carry it outside from the greenhouse. I try to be as still as i can. Those little fines will fall everywhere. I collect them for later use.

Good Luck!!

Hi Al!!

I have been a little busy lately here in VA!! Thanks for asking!!! It is nice to be around again and to see these new threads with great information on them. Hopefully i will be around more often than i have been!!

All is well.. My daughter is going to have a little one in a few weeks, so i have been busy with getting her ready and taking care of other important things in my life right now.

I am not used to being a "Grandma" LOL.. so i am ready for this next phase in my life... : )

I am very happy with everything right now.. it is a great time in my life... Thank you for asking.. : )

Take Care,


    Bookmark   August 22, 2012 at 5:13PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

That all sounds wonderful, Laura! Glad to hear all's well. ;-)

There are 2 sets of screens, each in 5 different sizes. The finest size is aluminum insect screen. Then, I have hardware cloth (galvanized steel) in 1/8, 1/4, 3/8, 1/2" sizes.

If you're making the gritty mix with pine bark, you can get by with alum insect screen, 1/8, and 1/2.


    Bookmark   August 22, 2012 at 8:43PM
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Thank you Al and Laura for your quick response. Going to go and do some sifting now. DKovacs

    Bookmark   August 23, 2012 at 12:09AM
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calistoga_al ca 15 usda 9

I have just one frame with 1/2 inch hardware cloth similar to tapla's. I have several screens 1/16 to 3/8 that I just insert into the same frame as needed, right on top of the 1/2 inch screen. Al

    Bookmark   August 24, 2012 at 9:06AM
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Thanks everyone for the replies.

I now have a sieve sifter with several screens - however the screens I believe are all too large to screen the turface properly.

So, I have taped the fiberglass insect screen tightly to the sifter frame so I can sift the next batch of turface that way. I used it for a small amount (1 quart size) and it worked well.

Are the holes on the fiberglass insect screen significantly smaller than on aluminum insect screen?

Just as an experiment I placed a small hole in the bottom center of a typical plastic drinking cup. The hole diameter is ~ 5 mm maximum. I then filled the cup nearly to the top with the previously washed through the fiberglass insect screen and dried turface. I poured water through the cup a few times to wet the turface and then watched as the water drained from the cup as I held it at eye level. I could see the air return to the cup as the water exited, which seemed to be complete within a couple of minutes. I then turned the cup carefully to the side (without losing turface) to see if anymore water came out from the top of the cup. I didn�t see anymore water coming to the top of the cup.

I will definitely use the screen/sifter assembly next time when I sift turface since I won�t have to wait for it to dry before use.

Assuming the experiment discussed above did I luck out the last time when I washed the turface through the fiberglass screen? It seems to me I washed out enough fines so as not to support a significant perched water table. Just curious if I should do anything to the mix that I have already used?


    Bookmark   August 25, 2012 at 6:51PM
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Al, did you make your sifters? They look great.

    Bookmark   June 13, 2013 at 1:31PM
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Loveplants2 8b Virginia Beach, Virginia

Hi !!!

I remember asking Al about his sifters, he did make them and my DH copied his... But when he made mine, he made them with 2x4 ' s and they are really heavy.. I have learned how to use them, but I have also gained muscles... Lol.. Make them smaller and with smaller pieces ,

Hopefully Al will chime in and tell you the size of the wood that he used!!!

I love my screens and I would recommend them to anyone who can " lift them.." If made like mine!! Seriously, they are wonderful and I use them all of the time!!!

Have a great evening!!!


    Bookmark   June 14, 2013 at 12:45AM
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