No matter how careful you are or how long you leave it there will always be something amongst your homemade compost that has either not fully decomposed yet or that slipped in amongst the ingredients and shouldn't be there. So when your compost is ready it is best to do a little bit of sorting to remove these bits and pieces before you use it. This sorting can be a quick pick over or a serious sieving and grading depending upon how thorough you want to be and what you want to use your compost for. If you miss something when sorting it is also not a problem, it will degrade over time or turn up when you are digging or planting.
Any of the biodegradable ingredients that have not fully composted yet just need a little longer in the compost heap. It is the browns that usually surface. Larger pieces of woody stems, compacted pieces of paper and clothing are regulars for me. They get pulled out, broken down into smaller bits if necessary, (particularly compacted paper otherwise it’ll surface again next time I promise), and put back in with the next batch of compost ingredients.
Any non biodegradables, yes there will be a few items on the avoid list, need to be removed and disposed of. Regulars for me include the bits of plastic windows from envelopes and cardboard packaging, crisp packets and the foil tops from our milk bottles, the vegetable peeler that mysteriously disappeared and an anonymous thing that was the coating on a piece of packaging that the bugs can’t eat, they will work their way through anything they can. These elements will not have done any harm to your compost, as they are not biodegradable, in the short time they are in the compost heap.
If you are looking for different grades of compost for specific jobs, or really don’t want to dig in any of those odds and ends that slip through, then you will need to get busy with a sieve. There are many types of sieve commercially available, including;
- hand held varieties, which involve plenty of effort on your part,
- semi automated shakers which are still manual but involve a little less effort
- fully mechanised varieties that will do the job for you.
The sieving system best suited to you will depend upon the volume of material you have to sort and the energy you have available. A garden fork does for me most of the time, I can’t be bothered to sieve. My seedlings don’t get any special treatment and don’t appear to suffer for it.
If you have any questions please ask me.