In which I discover a need to build a soil sifter...

Last weekend, we had our great landscaping crew come out and mulch the front and side yard. I asked for them to till the areas that were getting mulched first, hoping that would cut down on stuff going up through the mulch a little bit more. And then, since they had the tiller out, I also got them to go out into the back yard, behind my office, and till up three beds, about 10 feet long and maybe 5 feet wide.

My plan had been to rake the tilled dirt up into a raised bed in the center of each of those strips (that was the reason for doing them as wide as we did). Unfortunately, we quickly discovered that under what looked like just a nice patch of grass, there was a pretty thick layer of river rock, resting on top of landscape fabric. A former owner of this house loved landscape fabric, and it is everywhere in the yard, so that’s not too surprising. The river rock, on the other hand, was pretty disappointing.

I considered just getting in a load of fill dirt and covering the whole mess up – but our back yard only has a single small gate for access, which would mean getting the dirt delivered to the driveway and then wheelbarrowing it back in loads. Plus, there’s an area in the front of the house where I’d really like to put in a little rock pathway, and hey, look, it turns out we’ve already got a lot of rock in a spot where we don’t really want it!

After researching this a bit, this seemed like a doable thing – I just needed to buy a soil sifter. I could get one on Amazon, but I was in a bit of a hurry, so I visited several hardware stores around town, coming up empty every time. I came across a set of plans online though, and it seemed like it wouldn’t be that hard to build one myself.

About six hours later, I had made myself a soil sifter! I mostly followed the plans as given, but after a bit of use, I ended up partially disassembling the outer frame and rebuilding it slightly differently – and then in the first major use of the v1.1 sifter, I broke the outer frame when slamming the inner part back and forth trying to move the soil, so I ended up adding some additional screws. Here’s a condensed version of my changes:

  • For the “frame guide”, don’t use 3/4 x 3/4. Use a 1x2. The smaller lumber didn’t provide enough of a “track” for the casters, and I was constantly trying to keep the inner frame from slipping off. A 1x2 joined to the 1x3 such that casters roll on the longer side works really well.
  • In addition to the screws holding the 1x2, I also added 3 metal “corner brackets” to the mix. I bought “inner” brackets, so they’re actually on the inside of the frame; if I were doing it again, I’d look for “outer” brackets. (I may still add some for additional strength).
  • I mentioned I snapped one corner of the outer frame open. After that happened, I went back ad added a second deck screw to each corner.
  • I also added handles on either side of the inner box. Not totally necessary, but they do make it easier to shake the box when it’s heavily loaded.
  • Finally, I added two cleats to the outer frame (just barely visible in that picture). They let the outer frame “lock” onto the wheelbarrow and make the whole thing a little more sturdy.

I spent most of the weekend sifting out rocks, and ended up completing a garden bed that’s about 4.5 square feet (that’s about 1.4 square meters for you sane metric types). I’m planning on gradually doing the rest of the planned garden area over the rest of the summer…