A basic bin made better
About 15 years ago, my town, through its recycling program, made available 50-gallon plastic compost bins (the type with a hole in the top and a door near the bottom) for about $12. The bottom of the bin featured a perforated screen to allow excess moisture to drain out. I decided to try one, with some modifications.
Commercially sold bins often have little ability to aerate the compost. To increase the aeration of my town-issued bin, I used a saber saw to cut staggered slits down the sides. I then built a wooden platform for the bin about 2 feet off the ground—high enough to get my wheelbarrow underneath. Raising the bin and leaving spaces between the boards of the platform allowed for even more airflow. Compost material broke down faster and more completely. I could rake it through the door at the bottom and onto my screen-covered wheelbarrow without having to use a shovel. But the chore of sifting remained.
Most compost needs sifting before being added to the garden, unless you don’t mind distributing whole eggshells, avocado seeds, and watermelon peels among your plants. For a long time, I sifted my compost by placing a framed screen over my wheelbarrow, shoveling compost onto the screen, and shaking the screen with my hands or moving the compost with a hoe. After a few hours, my sore back would force me to stop. There had to be a better way, so I went back to the drawing board.
For the next version, I mounted a framed screen set at a 30-degree angle beneath the platform. I could then rake the compost out of the bin onto the screen. The angle allowed material to roll downward, with smaller particles falling through to the wheelbarrow and larger pieces accumulating at the lower end of the screen. I used this sifting method for three years until a repair to my garage required that my compost bin and platform be moved. I took this opportunity to redesign my setup to make it even more efficient.