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I built a sandbox when my oldest child was three-and-a-half years old. He’s now 16, and no one has played in the sandbox for at least five years. While it’s close to the playset, it gets plenty of sunlight and will make a terrific planting bed for tomatoes.

When I was young, my dad managed our family’s home kitchen garden. It consisted of four rhubarb plants in the back corner of the yard, a small stand of chives near the outside stairway to the basement, and a bed of strawberries along the driveway. Everything else my parents gardened was ornamental: perennial tulips, peonies, roses, and lilacs, and annual marigolds, pansies, and whatever struck my mother’s fancy.

Then my brothers and I outgrew the sandbox and we discovered my dad’s passion for tomatoes. He carted garbage cans full of horse manure to the sandbox, mixed the manure with the sand, and planted tomatoes. High on horse manure, the plants grew tall, tomatoes grew large, and I staged many rebellions against the disgusting fruits my father harvested. (I genuinely despised tomatoes.)

My Kids’ Sandbox

Fourteen years after leaving home, I settled in central Pennsylvania. Being on the road nearly constantly, I knew I wouldn’t have time to tend a garden, but regardless, I bought a flat of tomato plants and set them in the existing garden bed. I’ve grown tomatoes every season since. In those years, I doubled the size of the garden, and squeezed many vegetables in around the obligatory tomato plants.

I also built a sandbox. For years, my kids made towers and tunnels in the sand, but eventually they abandoned it for other pursuits. Soon, weeds grew and the box itself rotted and collapsed. Now it sits next to the play set, gradually evolving into a climax community forest.

Sandbox Tomatoes

It’s my turn to repurpose a sandbox, echoing my dad’s project of some 40 years ago. I had hoped to do this last weekend, but the weather didn’t cooperate. So, at my first opportunity, I’ll take on the job. Here’s what I’m planning to do:

These tomato plant babies started about three weeks ago from seeds in my basement. They’ll soon be residents of the sandbox.

  • Remove the rotted box and the kids’ debris from the sandbox. There are toys lying on the sand, and probably several buried in it. I’ll extricate whatever I can find.
  • Pull (or excavate) the weeds, trees, and other plants that have moved into the sandbox.
  • Cover the sand with about six inches of horse manure. My daughter takes riding lessons and the stable owners are amenable to me carting away garbage cans full of manure.
  • Turn the manure over into the sand. I’ll try to mix the sand and manure well, but the most I’m willing to work is to jam a shovel deep through the manure into the sand, leverage out a shovel-full, and turn the shovel over so manure ends up under sand.
  • Rake the planting bed smooth.
  • Plant tomatoes
  • Set stakes to which I can tie plants as they grow.

Repurpose Your Sandbox

If you have an old sandbox that you want to incorporate into your home kitchen garden, there are a few things you should keep in mind:

  • A molded plastic sandbox will become a mud-pit in times of heavy rain. Tomatoes don’t want to live in mud. So, drill holes through the bottom if your sandbox doesn’t have drainage holes.
  • Tomatoes grow deep roots, so top up the sand in the box, but leave room to add lots of humus. Combined sand and humus should be **at least** 12 inches deep—or as close to it as your sandbox allows.
  • If your sandbox has rotted away as mine has, consider building a new retaining wall around the sand when you remove the rotted wood. Working the sand and added humus with a shovel and rake will encourage it to spread if there’s no barrier to hold it in place.
  • You don’t have to grow tomatoes. A repurposed sandbox is fine for any vegetables.
  • Monitor moisture in your converted sandbox. Chances are the sandy planting mixture will drain more quickly than other garden beds, and you may need to water it more frequently.

 

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2 Responses to Home Kitchen Tomato Garden

  • Ben says:

    Great post!
    I can see why your dad’s tomatoes grew tall and large, the free draining soil along with it being soft and uncompacted would allow for easy growth.

    It’s interesting that you also use horse manure. Most people don’t realise that they can get heaps of it for free from people who own horses, as they think that the horse owner uses it on their own garden. The funny thing is that horse people are into horses, not gardening, and can’t seem to get rid of the stuff.

    Also a lot of the gardening community don’t like horse manure as they think that it contains many weed seeds. Some batches do, but if you mulch over the top of the manure there is no weed problem!

    I know that when I have kids they will have a sand box, now you’ve given me an idea on how to use it when they grow up!

  • admin says:

    Thanks for your comments, and you make an important point that I’ll take up in a future post: horse manure is usually seedy. When you use it as mulch and pull weeds when they’re reasonably young, they come out very easily, so the weed seeds aren’t a big deal. If you turn the manure into the soil, then mulching on top is good practice. Later in life, my mom took on the kitchen garden, and she mulched with black plastic; seeds in the manure never had a chance.

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