Condo Blues: Why and How to Sift Compost

Sunday, March 28, 2021

Why and How to Sift Compost

I recently upgraded our single tumbling compost bin to this exact double tumbling compost bin hoping to correct some mistakes we made when we started our first compost pile. (Disclosure: I am including affiliate links for your convenience.)

The mistakes we made weren’t horrible and we did create usable compost that turned our practically all clay tan colored garden beds to earthworm rich dark black soil. But the compost coming out of the bin has always been soggy. It was also full of plastic bits we thought would compost but didn’t break down.

How did this happen? Well for one, since we don’t have access to grass clippings or leaves we used shredded paper and cardboard for brown matter (and any sawdust I made in the garage) and we simply didn’t add enough. The fix for wet or smelly compost is to always have more dry brown matter in your compost pile than green matter (vegetable and fruit peels, coffee grounds, etc.) As for the plastic bits, we’d just empty the entire contents of our home office paper shredder into the compost bin and all of those window envelopes I shredded thinking they would break down because they are made from cellulose where actually some sort of plastic.

There was finished compost  in the bottom of the single compost bin but because it stopped turning and we couldn’t mix it very well with one of those compost turner things that look like this. Our compost was a big wet clump full of unwanted bits that I could easily save by sifting the almost finished compost and chucking a ton of this exact wood chip pet bedding into one side of the new compost bin and let it break down. Adding more shredded paper and cardboard boxes would also do the trick but I didn’t have enough of either in the quantity I needed at the time.

how to fix wet smelly compost

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Sifting the compost will break up the clumps that are common in tumbling compost bins under normal conditions. Sifting compost will also allow you to easily remove any uncomposted green or brown matter from your finished compost and pop it back into your working pile. And most importantly for us, sifting compost will allow us to find and remove all of the little plastic bits we accidently shredded along with paper junk mail envelopes and dumped into our pile.  It won’t hurt anything to keep them in the compost but they look ugly mixed in with the soil in my garden pots and get in the way.

Now that we covered the why, here’s the how.


How to Sift Compost the Easy Way!


You will need:



Compost sifter screen

Bucket or wheelbarrow


Gardening glove like these are a good idea unless you like dirty hands


Step by Step How to Do It Tutorial:


1. After gloving up, load the compost screen with a shovel or two of compost. I have a small backyard compost bin so I use a garden trowel similar to this one (the angled handle makes it easier to get compost out of my round bin) and this exact compost sifter screen that fits perfectly on a five gallon bucket. If you have a large amount of compost you want to sift, they make big compost sifter screens like these that fit over a wheelbarrow.


2.  Move the compost/screen back and forth like you are panning for gold, which you kind of are, since they nickname compost Black Gold or Gardener’s Gold. Do it however you want. Shake the screen. Rake a shovel, trowel, or your hands over the compost to break up clumps and let it gently float into the vessel of your choice all nice and fluffy. Fluffy compost is aerated compost. And aerated compost is what you want to use in your soil.


how to use a compost sieve
Panning for Gardener's Gold!

3. Discard any matter that will not sift through the compost sieve. If it is uncomposted eggshells, veg, etc. that you want in your compost put that back into your working compost  pile. It if is annoying plastic bits and such you didn’t think about when chucking them into your compost pile, dump them in the trash and vow to never do it again. OK that last bit was all about my issue. Don’t be me. 

why you should sift compost
Years of packing tape and other stuff I blindly dumped into our bin.

4. Now that you have a bucket/wheelbarrow full of nice fluffy, dark, compost go feed it to some hungry plants!


how to fix wet compost
The sifted compost is still a little wet and I can't tell which side of the bin is causing it to smell. The fix is to mix in a equal or more amount of brown matter (I'm using wood shavings,) turn it frequently, and let nature do its magic.

Looking for more compost tool ideas? Check out the following options – and more! – Below!

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My Book Boost said...

I'll have to do something similar to my compost soon. Thanks for the post!

Melynda@Scratch Made Food! said...

Hello, this is one of my personal favorites for last week’s Encouraging Hearts and Home. I hope you stop by and say hello, this post has also been pinned to the Encouraging Hearts and Home board! Thank you for being a part of Encouraging Hearts and Home, we appreciate all that you share. Have a great week ahead!

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