You need a soil sifter for your garden dirt – here’s how to make one for $5

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Years ago, when I was beginning to bend a corner of my parents’ lawn to my agricultural will, I found that I needed something to remove all the rocks, sticks and dirt clods that I kept encountering. Even the compost that I made needed sifting to remove the branches that I mistakenly tossed in. One evening, I got it in my mind to build a big sifter frame. I was not anywhere as handy then as I am now, and I still managed it all -for about $5. Here’s how to build this incredible tool for your yard.

The concept is to make a big wooden frame¬†with a durable mesh screen that could hold up to a few pounds of dirt hitting it. The solution was to buy an 8-foot length of wood and cut it down. I used what looks a lot like lathe board in retrospect, but it has held up after all these years. I suggest using a 1″x1″ pole or, if you feel inclined, going up to 2″x2″.

I cut it into four two-foot lengths. The two-foot square was really useful because you can sift a LOT of things in it at once. It also fits conveniently over a wheelbarrow, which turned out to be critical. You see, after you sift that dirt, you’ll want to put it somewhere! It’s much easier to sift over a tarp or a wheelbarrow, so make yours wide enough to fit over your trundle if you have one.

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The corners are ugly. I’m not going to run from that fact. I made the decision that I lacked the skill and the will to tenon or dovetail these. I bought the angle brackets here and screwed them in. They have held wonderfully for seven summers now. You can be as fancy as you’d like, but trust me on the brackets; you’ll want them no matter what.

As for the screen, the green plastic you see here is a chicken wire fence section, a remnant from the fencing I’d purchased for my garden’s protection. It is rustproof and strong. You can use whatever screen you’d like, but don’t fool around with a tight weave; keep the holes about 1″ wide so the dirt can pass through. To attach it. use a staple gun and be generous with those staples or the screen will just pull away from the frame. Strength in numbers, here.

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This is about an hour’s worth of project work if you count in time that it takes to go to the store. After you’ve got it done, there’s plenty to do! Here are some ways I’ve used mine:

  • sifting clods of grass out of garden plots that I have just tilled up
  • filtering out decomposed black compost from rotting leaves in the corners of our yard to get that lovely, filthy black paydirt for the garden beds
  • cleaning out rocks from topsoil
  • busting up big chunks of clay by rubbing them across the screen like I’m grating a big piece of cheese
  • laying garlic across it, supported on two chairs, to dry out and cure for storage
  • separating out the half-decomposed compost matter from the stuff ready for the garden

Once you build it, you’ll be using it to grade and sift your soil on a multitude of projects. It stores flat and sits out of the way. I wish it were a more complex project, but I also love simple tools. When you build one, be sure to tell me how you use it!