I use a good deal of peat to mix up soil for my plants and garden. Unfortunately, the best way for the hobbyist to buy peat is in 2 or 3 cubic foot compressed blocks. (Photo) And quite often these blocks are difficult to break up into the fine fibers needed to make a nice soil mix. The peat comes out of the block in clods like those shown in Photo 3. Unlike dirt clods, peat clods are not easily crushed in your hand or even broken apart by pounding or beating on them. Some sort of giant cheese grater is what’s needed. And here is what I came up with.
What you’ll need:
2 - 16x16 Vent grates ($13.58 each at Home Depot - but you could get by with one)
1- 2'x5' roll of hardware cloth ($8.97 at Home Depot)
A dozen or so 4" cable ties
Step 1: The Grater
I went looking in my storage shed and came up with two 16x16 Tru Aire vent grates I had left over from another project. (Photo 1) These grates are available from Home Depot and they measure about 18" x 18" to the outer edges. To break apart the large clods into smaller clods, turn the grate upside down (so there is a little rim around the up-side to minimize spillage) over a large bucket. Place a pile of clods and peat on the grate (Photo 2) and then push the clods sideways against the grate edges with your hand (definitely wear gloves for this). The sharp edges of the grate will slice the clods up fairly well. But not quite well enough for making a nice soil mix.
Step 2: The Screener
I used the second vent I had to break down the clods even further. I wrapped 1/4" hardware cloth over the top side of the vent. The hardware cloth (Photo 1) is available at Home Depot and you will use less than half the roll to make the screener. Lay the grate on the hardware cloth and mark for cutting leaving about 1 1/2 of extra cloth along each edge. Cut the cloth with a tin snips, wire cutter, and angle grinder. The hardware cloth is then cut at each corner and wrapped tightly around the edges of the grate. It is held in place with 4" cable ties (Photos 2,3,4). Once everything is secure, clip off the ends of the cable ties.
To sift the peat, dump a pile of your grated peat onto the screen. Wearing gloves, simply push the peat around in a circular motion against the screen with you hand (Photo 5). The screen will chop the peat to a very fine consistency with little need for excessive force. The grate acts as a firm support against the pressure of your hand.
Step 3: The Results
The grated and screened peat is light, fine and ready to be mixed with whatever other components you like to add to your soil (Photos 1 and 2). I like this two step process but you could also invest in just one vent grate and either pop your screen on and off or else just try screening your peat clods directly from the bag rather than running them through the grating process first. I prefer the two step process and it make short work of grinding up your peat and getting on with putting plants in the ground.