If you’ve been composting for any length of time you will have discovered that most of the time your compost pile has parts of it ripen faster than others.
You may have a wide array of composted materials, since some of use throw most anything in the pile, and larger items like tree branches or even the main stalks of vegetable plants like broccoli or okra will break down much more slowly than shredded leaves or chipped wood.
If you have composter that you don’t work regularly by turning with an compost aerator or a pitchfork, the material at the edges of the pile won’t break down as quickly either.
In any case, you will find at times that you have a lot of good compost that is too uneven in size to be used for things like top dressing a bed or a seed starting medium for fine seeds like carrots or radishes. But you can recover that compost with a compost sifter.
This same need arised when you are trying to find a finer soil for the garden as well. A soil sieve will help separate out the large clumps, gravel and stones. You will sort out large root systems from weed clumps as well using this approach.
You can easily build your own compost sifter with some hardware cloth assembled into a holding frame. A convenient size is a 24 inch square frame. You can quickly build one using lap joints for the ends, and nail the hardware cloth to the bottom of the frame. Simply put the compost in the frame, and shake it over a bucket or a bin, and out comes the sifted compost or soil.
There are also compost sifters that are on a much larger scale, so you can sift a whole bin at one time. Often these are mechanically assisted, with either a motor or some type of crank system to do the shaking of the screen, but this is typically outside the scope of the average home gardener’s needs.
Try one out, either building one or buying a compost sifter or soil sieve. The spring garden will be that much more productive with the finest soil or finished compost.