sifting/screening compost

njitgradMay 30, 2014

I know that one batch of compost in my 3-bin system is nearing completion but due to its chunky consistency I think that it what's slowing down the process. I really could use the compost to top dress my raised beds ASAP to help the beds retain moisture. Would it be a good idea to screen the compost through 1/4" hardware cloth, use the screened material in the garden as a top dresssing, and then toss the larger material back in with the already-started newer batch of compost in the 2nd bin?

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floral_uk z.8/9 SW UK

If you are just mulching with it the larger pieces are not a problem. If you want the extra work sifting is fine too.

    Bookmark   May 30, 2014 at 11:44AM
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So during my lunch break today I sifted a wheelbarrow's worth of compost and tossed the unfiltered compost back into an empty bin. I was suprised how much I screened through just by applying pressure as if I was washing laundry on a washboard.

One thing I noticed is that my compost was quite wet, contrary to the comments of some forum members when I posted a video a few weeks ago. This made the screening process a bit harder especially since I was using a 1/4" screen. I think from now on I'm going to cover the tops of my compost bins when any appreciable amount of rain is expected.

The bright side of doing this "extra work" is now the compost that didn't make it through isn't as clumpy as it was, which will speed up its decomposition.

I would say that the consistency of the filtered compost resembles gritty 5-1-1 pine fines, rather than the fine coffee-grind-looking stuff that I've seen in YouTube videos. I really had no other choice but to do this because I really needed to top dress my beds before the summer heat kicked in to prevent compaction, weeds, etc. and I didn't want to add wood mulch or anything else that could eventually tie up the nitrogen in the soil.

I even had a few minutes to top dress the beds around my leaf lettuce before I had to head back to work.

    Bookmark   May 30, 2014 at 1:50PM
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1/4" is pretty fine. I've done it in small amounts to impress folks but IMO 1/2" is more than adequate for most applications. Our shaker screener is 5/8" and it is good enough for most peoples gardens.


    Bookmark   May 30, 2014 at 3:09PM
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Karchita(WA Z8)

Personally, sifting compost is one of my least favorite garden tasks, so I just use it chunky. In addition to saving a lot of labor, it lasts longer as a mulch, which is what I want.

    Bookmark   May 31, 2014 at 1:06AM
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I fuss with the compost I use on one area of my lawn just so it looks nicer. I believe tieing up nitrogen is blown far out of reason. I actualy believe incorpirating compost of various stages of completion has it's advantages in beds and gardens. Sort of storing it in the soil to break down over a longer period rather than feast to famine.

    Bookmark   May 31, 2014 at 3:20AM
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I have not yet seen, or heard, a good reason to sift compost. Doing that takes a goodly amount of time and energy that I could put to better use on other projects.

    Bookmark   May 31, 2014 at 6:22AM
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hortster(6a, southcentral KS)

kimmsr, how about this one? I screen my compost because I use cypress mulch, slow to biodegrade and also because it moves much less when concentrated water runs over it. The larger chunks that get mixed in from leaf raking the beds are extremely slow to break down in the piles. Screening removes bits of plastic that have blown in, rocks, cypress, etc. and make it much easier to use, especially if applying to a lawn area. No missiles from the lawn mower.

I agree that the value of screened or non-screened is equivalent but some of us look at workability as a reason to screen. I use a 1/2" screen.

Ergo, just a matter of opinion.

This post was edited by hortster on Sat, May 31, 14 at 17:12

    Bookmark   May 31, 2014 at 5:11PM
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There are several good reasons a person may want to screen/sift compost. It just takes an open mind to accept that fact.


    Bookmark   May 31, 2014 at 5:49PM
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Well I'm glad that I did actually take the time to screen the compost. For my immediate needs (all the raised beds in my garden) I used the 1/4" inch screen. I had to apply the screened compost very carefully around my seedlings as to not damage them so it helped that it was screened to this degree.

With the remaining compost, I screened it with my 1/2" screen and then dumped it all into one of my empty compost bins. At the very least this extra work should accelerate the breakdown of the compost that remained. Had I not done this I have no idea how long it would have taken this wet clumpy compost to break down into something useable. How and why it got as clumpy as it did is something I have to find the answer to as well.

Interestingly enough, when I was screening the material I discovered way too many twigs/small branches for it to be considered a coincidence. I never threw branches or anything like that in my bins so I was quite surprised. There is a tree overhead of the bins so it may have come from the tree but I'm skeptical because the tops of my bins are covered with wooden hatch doors that are covered with 1/2" hardware cloth for top ventilation.

    Bookmark   May 31, 2014 at 9:40PM
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My compost is pretty much garden waste, grass clippings, and leaves. It comes out of the bin in giant, two inch thick slabs, perfect for mulch, but impossible to sift. But talk about a worm smorgasbord.

I do have a couple of spiffy sifters and use them in a so far fruitless attempt to find enormous gold nuggets. But when I do, I'll kiss my trusty burro on her time-worn muzzle, now grey from waiting all these years for the Eldorado.

/its out there. I just know it.

    Bookmark   May 31, 2014 at 10:02PM
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hortster(6a, southcentral KS)

Yo, yer burro is a part of the OM gold rush. Which she is. Again, just a matter of opinion and approach to the use. Sift-able or not, good stuff. Keep on keepin' on.

    Bookmark   May 31, 2014 at 11:17PM
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