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Project by chscholz posted 11-11-2010 12:48 AM 3121 views 0 times favorited 14 comments Add to Favorites Watch

I don’t know about you, but I am not a big fan of the hot composting method. You need to get the carbon to nitrogen ratio just about right and add gallons of water. Too much trouble for something that, given enough time, can be achieve in a more efficient way.

So we started piling up leaves and other organic material in the backyard two years ago, started a new pile last year and moved the old pile. A quick inspection of the old compost pile indicates that there is enough compost already to be used in our fall and the upcoming spring planting.

The first order of business is to separate larger particles from the ready to use compost. “Nothing easier than that,” I thought, all we need is a large sieve some elbow grease and we’ll turn a pile of old leaves into a pile of first-rate compost.

A quick trip to the local Borg: no suitable sieve, no sieves in the local garden stores either!

I think there is an old saying that, if you can’t buy it, you need to make it. I had some course mesh left over from a sieve that I made to sieve pensai soil last year and there are always a few 2×4s in the garage earmarked for one of the many projects that I would like to start.

I must admit, I am not a good woodworker and I don’t like to work with power tools and I don’t believe in glue as structural material. Cutting a basic dovetailed box was not all that difficult. It certainly is not furniture grade joinery but I figure good enough for outdoors tools.

Of course, as it always happens when starting work without a plan, I forgot that dovetails do not transfer force well in lateral direction. Traditional Chinese mitered tenons would have been a much better joint. Unfortunately this is way beyond my skill level and would require much more time than I have available. After all I have to move a compost pile within the next few weeks. To stabilize the frame I added two dovetailed clamps.

In fact this contraption, ugly as it is, resulted in a surprisingly stable frame. No glue, no power tools, not too bad!

The harder problem of course is how to attach the mesh to the frame. Various designs came to mind, none of the feasible for one or the other reason. “I could just mosy over to Lumberjocks and ask the experts over there, surely some one will come up with the ingenious idea that has been illusive to my”, I thought.

That’s when SWMBO entered the garage. “Hey laowei, why don’t you just screw some slats to the bottom of the frame and clamp the mesh between the slats?”. “I only want to use hand tools, don’t want to use glue and I most certainly don’t want to use screws, nails or any such things” I thought to myself, but from the look in her eyes I knew that this was not the right answer. And she was off already getting the power drill a box of drywall screws and a pair of slats. A few minutes later she had already screwed the first slat to the frame securely holding down the mesh.

What can I say, the sieve works like a charm.

the compost is moved and we’ve got a nice pile of first-rate compost, I’ll call this mission accomplished. I’ll go back to the mental drawing board so to speak and think about how to attach a mesh to a frame without nails or screws. But chances are we’ll be using the sieve like it is for a few years before the next major re-design.

Thank you for listening.


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156 posts in 2784 days
hardiness zone 8

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14 comments so far

View jroot's profile


5121 posts in 3531 days
hardiness zone 5a

posted 11-11-2010 07:36 AM

Great project, chscholz. At my former home, I had three containers ( cold composting ) and used a seive for the final stage. Any chunks were thrown back into the 2nd stage. I always had a container of “finished” compost ready for me. I always wanted to build a bigger seive like you have, and hang it with 4 chains so that all I had to do was shake it gently, and the fine particles would come through. I should rethink this idea for my present home, as my composting is done in the woods, and there are trees from which I could hang the seive. You’ve got me thinking about it again. Thanks.

-- jroot ....... Southern Ontario .......... grow zone 5A ...................."Gardening is an exercise in optimism." ....... . . Author Unknown

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5121 posts in 3531 days
hardiness zone 5a

posted 11-11-2010 07:36 AM

I can see it now.

-- jroot ....... Southern Ontario .......... grow zone 5A ...................."Gardening is an exercise in optimism." ....... . . Author Unknown

View Weedwacker's profile


297 posts in 2827 days

posted 11-11-2010 11:53 AM

I too have two piles of compost but I’ve never been too concerned about the larger sticks, just lucky if I get the old pile moved off it’s spot before the time comes to start over again. The seive would help sort out all the bones the Bassett plants in the compost pile. He seems to think that as the pile grows it turns into some sort of bank branch for bone deposits. But I am impressed and you will have potting soil to rival anything in a bag.

-- Margaret, Eagle Creek, Oregon. A garden is never finished.

View chscholz's profile


156 posts in 2784 days
hardiness zone 8

posted 11-11-2010 11:38 PM

Yes, exactly. Three stages, I almost thought I am the only one who does that.
I am not sure if it is all that easy to suspend a sieve and then shake it. I feel it to be easier to prop the sieve up at an angel, throw the compost onto the sieve close to to top of the sieve and help the material though the sieve with a shovel.

Here in Arlington, TX, the city encourages composting (while at the same time encouraging gas drilling [hydraulic fracturing to be precise] in residential areas, funny how politics works).
They appear to focus on hot composting exclusively. The “master composter” I talked did not think too highly of “cold composting”; I’d rather water my vegetables than my compost.

View sharad's profile


1671 posts in 3117 days
hardiness zone 11

posted 11-12-2010 07:11 AM

A few years back I was making vermi compost on a small scale in containers. I felt the necessity of making a sieve to remove large particles. I had some wood and made this simple sieve which I can handle easily. The mesh was fixed by wood strips and screws. It is a good excersise for my arms and shoulders and enjoy sieving. I use this seive for removing stones and other unwanted material from soil (dirt) as well.


-- Bagwan-- “If someone feels that they had never made a mistake in their life, then it means they have never tried a new thing in their life”.-Albert Einstein

View Bon's profile


7374 posts in 3681 days
hardiness zone 5a

posted 11-12-2010 08:25 AM

Looks like you found the right solution for your composting.Nice job.

-- Bon,Hastings, 5a....Always room for one more

View Vince Kirchner's profile

Vince Kirchner

192 posts in 2690 days
hardiness zone 5b

posted 11-12-2010 11:45 AM

It looks like another winter project will be added to the list. Nice Job!

-- If you wouldn't spray it in your mouth, why would you spray it on your food?

View Radicalfarmergal's profile


4312 posts in 3163 days
hardiness zone 5b

posted 11-14-2010 12:30 PM

Very nice screens, Chris and Sharad. They look very handy. Although slower, I think cold composting works as well as hot composting unless you are adding quantities of unwanted weed seeds or clearly diseased plants into the pile. A hotter pile (above 140 degrees Fahrenheit) will kill off most pathogens and weed seeds. The way I look at composting is this, the more weed seeds (I try not to include diseased plants) I include in my pile, the more nitrogen (chicken manure) I add to ensure sufficient heating. I try to put weeds in the center of the pile where it is hottest.

-- "...I have nothing against authorities as such; I am only in favor of putting a question mark after just about everything they say." Ruth Stout

View Harold and Pam's profile

Harold and Pam

255 posts in 2975 days
hardiness zone 10b

posted 11-22-2010 11:24 PM

Very good, Chris. Composting is a great way to reuse and while giving the plants a good source of nutrients, it give you a wonderful source of accomplishment!

My wife and I compost too, plus we have a small worm farm that we get “worm tea” and eventually will get compost from. We have two plastic containers with lids in the kitchen, one for the compost bin and one for the worms. We toss our all of our veggies, fruit, egg shells, coffee and tea scraps in each. If you’ve not seen my Compost bin, please check it out –

BTW – I had to go to google to find out what SWMBO meant. Very funny.


-- Pam grows 'em - I cook 'em...... Melbourne, Fl

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Harold and Pam

255 posts in 2975 days
hardiness zone 10b

posted 11-23-2010 02:43 PM

Forgot to comment on your fine wood working. Those dove tails looked good to me. And to think you used no power equipment. Was your choice to use no power and no glue a choice for this project or is that your modus operandi?

-- Pam grows 'em - I cook 'em...... Melbourne, Fl

View daltxguy's profile


882 posts in 2998 days
hardiness zone 4a

posted 11-26-2010 05:43 AM

I’ve always just butt joined 2×4s with galvanized nails and attached wire mesh with galvanized staples. I’ve been using the same one now for 7 years – but I admire your use of dovetails…

Btw, I am technically a ‘master composter’ as I took the requisite training in Dallas and I think cold composting is just fine – it’s how nature does it, so it can’t be bad.

The only hot composting in nature that I know of is the brush turkey in Australia which piles up leaves and controls the composting to a very precise temperature as a way of incubating the eggs!

-- Disobedience is the true foundation of liberty. The obedient must be slaves. - Thoreau

View chscholz's profile


156 posts in 2784 days
hardiness zone 8

posted 11-30-2010 09:05 PM

Hi Harold and Pam,

thanks for the kind words. No deeper meaning or great philosophy here. I am like my fingers and prefer them attached to my hands. I used to have a router and occasionally used a circular saw; these things scared me to death. Not that you can’t hurt yourself badly with hand tools, but for me it is a bit more “mindful”.

Daltxguy, never heard about the Australian brush turkey, How intersting, you never stop learning! Like your compost BTW!


View danhux's profile


10 posts in 2608 days
hardiness zone 8

posted 03-10-2011 07:20 PM

great looking build,,thanks for the pictures

-- Dan Hux,,,,Raleigh, NC

View justjoel's profile


1063 posts in 3281 days
hardiness zone 7a

posted 05-17-2011 08:36 PM

I typically don’t have enough room to do cold composting, so use my barrel most of the year. This past year, however, I did a small pit in the garden in the pumpkin pen after harvest, worked just fine. I turned it several times over the fall and winter, when it wasn’t covered with snow, and just recently finished emptying it and preping the pen for gourds.

I like your screen idea – might need to make one for my barrel. And as much as I work with wood, dovetails scare me, so I’m amazed at your use of that type of joint for this project – I would have opted for something much easier (chicken that I am).

-- "We are stardust. We are golden. And we've got to get ourselves back to the garden." Joni Mitchell

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