Mobile compost sifter: It’s for movers and shakers


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Community Gardens Dispatch No. 46: Las Flores, Thousand Oaks, Part 2


At Las Flores community garden, you don’t have to fetch compost. It comes to you.

Darrell Heximer came up with a design for a mobile compost sifter that sits over a wheelbarrow. Eagle Scouts built it, incorporating some improvements from their scout leader. The two prototypes are sturdy and easy to use. A screened tray is suspended on the steel frame using short sections of chain; the tray swings back and forth, allowing gravity to do most of the sifting.

“People tell me I should patent it,” says Heximer, an artist and 23-year-employee at Santa Monica City College. He got the idea while driving home to Westlake along the ocean and seeing a beach vendor hauling a handmade cart with balloon tires over the sand.

He and a friend, engineer Colin Grenridge, have a new design with four wheels, a canvas skirt around the frame with pockets for tools, interchangeable screens and hose attachments.

“It has morphed into a mobile compost sifter, potting bench, vegetable washer,’ Heximer said. ‘There are compost sifters but nothing like this. This is the Cadillac version.”

Elsewhere at Las Flores, gardeners have deployed other helpful devices. Unlike some community gardens, Las Flores allows irrigation timers. Mike Caulley, a contractor, has two: one for an overhead mister and one for the drip irrigation line, both positioned on a frame above his seedlings and container plants. He uses filters traditionally used for indoor devices to prevent the water line from clogging. Above it all: a solar-powered light trained on the American flag.

Following Caulley’s blueprints, Las Flores is about to construct a 20-by-34-foot pergola in the center of the garden, also equipped with a mister. The contractor has built strip malls and four-story buildings so this is nothing new. The garden is a means to recycle what otherwise would go into landfills, he said. “In the construction business it’s easier to throw it away than take it back,” he said.


During the winter, when he had thousands of bags of sand used as rain barriers at construction sites, he brought them to Las Flores as an amendment for the predominantly clay soil.

The soil isn’t the only problem. The pH of the water that comes out of the spigots is moderately alkaline, which is tough on some edibles, tomatoes in particular. “We have a resident chemist,” Caulley said. “He suggested sulfur.”

The sulfur should be in powder, not granules, and must be thoroughly dug into the soil. Blood meal also helps.

Gardener Kim Klatt had another solution: reverse osmosis. He works for Equipure in Santa Barbara, a specialist in high purity water systems, and a client growing hydroponic Japanese cucumbers mentioned that his harvest had jumped five-fold. Klatt, now in his second year at Las Flores, figured it might work in his plot. He put in a 50-gallon tank with a sediment filter to take out dirt and dissolved solids, a carbon filter for the chlorine and chemicals, and finally a reverse osmosis filter membrane.

“It’s almost pure water,” he said, with one-fifth fewer dissolved solids and salts. His corn ripened bigger and faster than other gardeners here, and the flavor in all of his vegetables improved compared with last year, he said. His system is overkill, he admitted, adding that a 100-gallon-a-day system from Costco would probably achieve similar results.

Next week: Growing a PB & J sandwich

-- Jeff Spurrier

Our dispatches from community gardens appear here every Wednesday. For an easy way to follow future installments join our dedicated Facebook gardening page.


Caulley’s plot in late summer.

Caulley watches his misters in action.

Iris growing among the zucchini.


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