sandbox to planter box

Things are happening in the backyard.

And all because of this guy:

Two weeks ago Lucy brought home pumpkin seeds from school and we planted them in a small cup.   And they started growing.
And fast!
Who knew they were like weeds??  We had Little Shop of Horrors on our front porch so we transferred them to a small planter box.  And……a few days later they’d taken over that new home as well.

What to do with the pumpkin plants?
Seemed silly to start a garden on behalf of a random plant.  But I’ve really wanted a garden for years.   There’s just nothing like ripe cherry tomatoes from the vine.  Oh yum.

So I called my mom for her expert advice (she and my brother are avid gardeners).  And like many of you probably already know about, she tipped me off to Square Foot Gardening.

Now we just needed a raised bed planter box.
Should we build one?  Where to put it?  The sandbox location was making it difficult. So we decided to give our little sandbox a second life.  The kids had enjoyed it for over a year and weren’t loving it like they used to.   Maybe they’d enjoy taking care of a garden instead?

So we did just that!  (well, Casey did.  I was busy sewing book projects inside).
It just seemed perfect to make good use of this awesome wooden box, with little benches and personality.

Casey poured the special soil right over the sand (we tried to get rid of the sand by posting “Free Sand” on craigslist.  But no takers).  We’re hoping the sand helps water drain.   He marked off grids for various veggies and herbs with string (btw….we’re complete newbies to this and have little clue what we’re doing.  But we’re having fun experimenting.  I’m sure many of you have years of experience and tips.  So please leave any links to great websites in the comments for us!)

Lucy wrote all the plant names on colorful markers (which she loved….and even journaled about the next day).

Then we planted our plants and seeds (probably too close together. We’re learning)

And the waiting game began.

The kids checked in on the plants the next day after church, gave them more water, watched, waited.

I said it would probably take a week for their seeds to sprout, to keep expectations low.
Then late last night when the kids were in bed we noticed small buds making their way up.
In the morning the whole family came out to check it out.
Almost like Christmas.
  Rows of new little plants!
I know, our excitement is a bit silly.  But wow.  It works!  Seeds grow.   And our little pumpkin plant has a new home.
Yes, Mother Nature is impressive.
So, bye bye little sandbox.
Hello gardening.

If we only get one tomato out of it, I’ll call it a success.
  1. oh you are going to be up to your ears in tomatoes! we have a tiny concrete back yard in Brooklyn that gets about .5 hrs of sun per day… and even we managed to grow about 20 little tomatoes last summer! i can’t wait to see your harvest 😀

  2. very cool dana! gardening is so fun!

  3. 3) RaeLyn

    Hooray! This is so great! I must say also, I am so impressed with Lucy’s spelling in her journals.

  4. I just built a raised garden to get rid of some dirt. I tried to give it away to my neighbors, but not takers. Can’t wait to see your harvest!

  5. LOL it is so adorable! I love the idea. we tilled and planted a HUGE garden last year…. and got in over our heads. The weeds went rampant. But this sandbox is perfect size! Good luck!

  6. 6) bdaiss

    Yea for gardens! (And home grown tomatoes.) Watch out for those zucchini! Or maybe I should tell your neighbors to watch out. I see a week of zucchini recipes on the blog in a few months. : ) In no time at all I’m going to predict you’ll want to move your herbs into pots. You’ve planted so many big vine plants (watermelon, squash, zucchini, pumpkin) that the will likely start to shade out your herbs. Be careful they don’t strangle your tomato and pepper plants either. Literally – they’ll send out shoots that will wind up your maters/peppers and kill them. I’ve had some luck using a cut up cardboard box to help “direct” where they go.

    Can’t wait to see your harvest!

  7. 7) AmyL

    make sure zucchini and tomato plants aren’t next to each other. someone told me this a while back and i’m not sure why but one doesn’t like the other.

    • Really? I did not know that and we have our squash plants right next to the tomatoes this year!!

      • It’s because they compete for space. Zucchini (and all squash plants) like to stretch out and take over. We planted our squash next to our tomatoes last year and the squash plants were aggressive, and as a result our tomato plants did not thrive well.

        • 10) Jen

          Maybe that’s why my Mom had problems with her Zucchinis and Maters, last year…. I’ll have to pass the info one.

  8. That journal entry is adorable. I love fruit and veggie gardens. Such a great lesson for kids about nature and where food comes from! Wish we had more room for one, but our sandbox is new and so exciting for the kiddos right now!

  9. Great idea for reusing sandbox! Your veges will be very happy there 🙂 I’m heading to my garden right now I have many tomato plants growing all over my garden, they came form compost and I can’t just ignore them, so today I’m replanting them in better places, I hope somebody will adopt the as well. It’s about 40 very happy and healthy plants !! Gardening is such a giving and sharing relationship 🙂

  10. 15) sabrina

    oh you & the kids are going to have so much fun! I’m surprised that a pumpkin takes only 1 sq foot. The become huge plants! Can’t wait to see updates on your little garden!

  11. I think zucchini and tomato is ok…..but don’t put vine veggies next to each other! (like pumpkin and zucchini) – also, nasturtium flowers are great to plant next to your veggies! And marigolds!

  12. 18) Caroline

    Too bad we don’t live near you, we need sand (for luminary bags at our wedding)! Good luck with the garden.

  13. 19) Saunja

    Awesome! How exciting.

  14. Congrats on the new garden… what a great use for the sandbox! It is so exciting to watch everything grow.

  15. 21) Felicia

    I am such a garden junkie! Each year it gets bigger and better! I used the Square Foot Gardening method for planting this year and it made such a difference in how much I could plant, and how much space I had wasted in previous years! My 3 year old loves the garden, so I know your little ones will love it too! Enjoy!

  16. Lovely, just lovely. We too are venturing out on our first year of gardening so these tips were nice to read through. What fun for your entire family to enjoy the process of growth!

    A side question, those cute orange Adirondack chairs… where did you pick those up at? We’ve got a big ole front porch just begging for something just like those!

    • 23) Dana

      Home Depot!
      I know, I’ve been wanting some for a while too. orange was the best color they had there, but Ace Hardware had some cute yellow and teal ones. So I might have to buy two more. I love them! (about $17/each)

      • Our Target also carries them: teal and orange too, I think. They were about $22 a pop! Super cute. I’m hoping to pick up two myself for this summer!

  17. Your excitement is not silly! I’ve been gardening for years, and I still feel this way every single time a seedling comes up! My kids love gardening too, especially my older one. You guys are really going to love this.

  18. YEY for your little garden! What a great idea.

    I am sure you will get lots and lots of tomatoes. We’ve planted some last year in a rather shady spot and had over 20 fruits from several plants. One thing I’ve learned about tomato plants is to get rid of suckers – new branches that grow between the stem and main branches, right there in the v-shaped space. Suckers usually do not produce any fruit but suck up a lot of energy. So if you see any – pinch them when they are still young.

    Another fun thing to do is to research companion planting: certain plants grow better together, while some need to be planted apart. Here is a link to one of myriads of articles on the subject:
    And if you feel that your garden gets a bit overcrowded you can put some of you seedlings in pots and containers.

    Can’t wait to read more about your gardening experience this year! I am sure the little ones will have a lot of fun watching things grow.

  19. 27) Cathy

    We followed the directions for building a trellis from the Square Foot book (which we got from the library) and have had great success growing our pumpkins up the trellis. I like that they don’t sit on the ground and get mushy. Have a great time growing things. I have really enjoyed it and am up to 6 boxes (3-4x4s and 3 1x4s).

  20. 28) Jennifer3

    How fun! We reused our kids’ “sand boat” as a raised garden bed, too. I thought it was funny that you mentioned pumpkins. My boys pick what they want to grow in their garden, and all they wanted this year was pumpkins. So that is all that is growing in their garden boat (except for two mystery plants coming up).

  21. 29) Melanie

    Looks like so much fun! Starter gardens are the best! I love to garden too and am currently growing over 20 different kinds of heirloom tomatoes! Just a tip, don’t over water the tomatoes – they thrive in heat, and really only need to be watered 2 times a week, 3 tops. I usually water Wed/Sat. The lack of water makes them focus on growing flowers and when they do get water, they suck it up much faster and helps them become riper faster! Enjoy your yummy veggies!

  22. I love your sandbox transformation! We love having a little garden, and I’m always amazed that the seeds grow 😉 Food, does in fact, grow in the dirt, not in the grocery store! (I remember being similarly amazed when our first chickens started laying eggs…lol… 😉 I *LOVE* the Square Foot Gardening technique. **LOVE**. We have our garden in pots this year because we are moving in mid-July and I want to be able to take it with us 😉

    Good luck and have so much fun!! 😀

  23. Aw this looks like fun! I gave up my garden this summer… too many other things on my list to do. But now I’m wishing I hadn’t. There’s always next year. Maybe I’ll build some planter boxes!

  24. 32) lynn

    it seems counterintuitive-but put a cage or trellis around that pumpkin to get it to grow vertically-otherwise by the end of the season-that pumpkin will spread out over the whole entire bed! good luck!

  25. What a great idea! We LOVE square foot gardening! Love the journals too. Did you read the book and/or look at the website? I think pumpkins are one of the plants that you can train to climb. We have one of the shortest growing seasons so we don’t get many pumpkins. Our snap peas were over 8 feet tall last year!

  26. My mom is a gardener and always had a fantastic garden. When I was really young, each of the kids got their own small plot to grow whatever we wanted since my parents had an enormous garden. Last year I tried my hand at square foot gardening. I failed miserably. I didn’t get my mom’s green thumb. Hopefully this year will be better. The kids and I had a spare afternoon and planted it on a whim with leftover seeds from last year. It seems to be doing better than it has in the past. The thing that killed everything last year seemed to be a fungus from overwatering. I got mushrooms and then I noticed my beautiful pumpkins and zucchini suddenly died. This year I have only been watering twice a week or so and it seems to be doing better. Good luck!

  27. 35) carriem

    Gardening with little children is the best! We have spent so much time in front of our planter boxers, just watching the insect life.

  28. What a great idea for the sandbox. It’s so good for kids to see where food comes from. Enjoy!

  29. Love the transformation! We actually expanded our garden this year and it was the first time building raised beds. We are so thrilled with our tiny plants, too!

  30. Fun!!!! Especially great for the kids to watch how we get our food. Pumpkin plants will wander all over the garden so if you can, train it’s creepers to wander out onto the lawn around the sandbox or up something that will save your other plants 🙂 I’m in New Zealand and I’m about to try growing garlic for the first time – fun!!!!

  31. 39) April

    wow! I love this! Great idea.

  32. your excitement at the sprouting plants is not silly. I get so excited every time I see seedlings pushing through the soil. It is just a thrill 🙂 We just bought a house and so my garden has grown exponentially this year. I’m so excited to have a big garden though I”m a little afraid of being buried alive in the produce haha 🙂

  33. When I was little, my parents did just the opposite – took their raised garden bed and turned it into a sandbox. Seems a natural transition! Good luck with your garden!

  34. 43) Melinda

    I received a copy of Food Grown Right, in Your Backyard: A Beginner’s guide to Growing Crops at Home by Colin McCrate and Brad Halm. It is an easy read and has complete instructions for creating enough food to sustain your family.

    You might want a plan for the sprawl of the pumpkin plant into your yard… They are very fun for kids to watch grow!

  35. When your weather starts to cool down, you should look into peas. They do well in cooler weather and tend to grow up instead of out (especially if you cage them) so they don’t take too much room. Eating peas off the vine is so much fun–for kids and adults!

    I agree with you about the tomatoes. Tomatoes from the store aren’t even the same thing.

  36. 45) frank

    i like how organic and creative this idea is. have you had problems with your plants so far? ive experienced something similar, i had to lay new sod but there was gravel/sand and i was told that as long as you lay a layer of soil before you plant it, it should be fine

  37. 46) Rebecca

    Your pumpkin will explode all over that garden. You will need to train it to grow out the other way. Like squash, the blossoms are really yummy. Good luck!

  38. 47) Laura

    So much fun!! You should start a compost pile (it’s somewhere on the internet…) and that gets rid of kitchen garbage and stuff…
    Although beware- one year my family and I planted random tomato plants, and we had sooo many- and then they went bad so we threw them in the compost and got even MORE tomatoes-
    now we have a TON of salsa =]

  39. Oh you’re going to have so much fun!

    We’ve kept a garden for 5 years now and it’s one of my favorite things about summer. One thing that I’ve learned is that there is more than one way to grow a tomato. Even when I don’t follow all the spacing rules, the thinning specifications, etc. etc. Stuff still grows. It’s a much more forgiving process than you would think. And I have had zuchinni and tomatoes growing next to each other before with no problems. I had never heard the advice before.

    I have to warn you…that pumpkin plant will probably take over your yard. We grew pumpkins for a couple years and each time the pumpkins took over the whole plot and spilled out onto our yard and driveway (it’s in our front yard). When you called it a weed you aptly did so! 🙂

  40. 49) Ruth M.

    Love garden box. 🙂 Sand mixed with soil is great for growing potatoes and drainage. Our neighbor a few years back gave us some out of their sandbox and my husband tried it with spuds. And they worked a treat! The potatoes were so easy to get to and they didn’t need much washing after harvest. We grew tomatoes next to them and they thrived as well. Look forward to more pictures of the growing vege garden.

  41. I love your garden!! How adorable! And it looks so fancy with your string and your colored sticks. We have five raised beds in our backyard…I wonder if my husband would let me paint them like yours!

  42. Your pumpkin plant definitely needs a lot of room, it will take over for sure. But that’s the fun of gardening. You will learn what works and what doesn’t. This is our second year gardening, and we learned not to plant our tomatoes and squash next to each other because the squash takes over quickly. The squash vines are aggressive and love to stretch out. We had so many pumpkins last year, we were able to give some to friends. It’s so much fun to see everything grow! Have fun!!

  43. We didn’t prune our pumpkin plants last year either… we just let them have their way! But I just looked it up and found this. I thought I would share:

    “For those of us who have a limited amount of space for our pumpkin vines, it is important to understand how to prune them. It is actually pretty easy to do.

    Grab yourself a pair of sharp pruners and a good pair of gloves (leather if you’ve got them – pumpkin vines have sharp thorns all over them!).

    You will notice that your pumpkin vine has a long central vine and many secondary vines have likely grown off of it. Try to let your main vine grow as long as you possibly can. Feel free to cut off secondary vines if necessary.

    All you need to do is cut the vine in the desired location. In order to help prevent moisture loss from the vine, bury the pruned end of the vine in the soil and keep it moist. Roots will grow from this portion of your pumpkin vine and improve its overall support system.”

  44. How fun! Way to welcome the change and not hoard finished projects in their original state forever like I do. 🙂 Your garden is so charming. Almost as charming as Lucy’s garden stakes and journal page.

  45. 56) Claudia

    Hooray for watching things grow!! Planted sunflowers with my kinders, giddy joy when the sprouts popped up to reach for the sun!
    We planted watermelon and cantaloupe last year, hoping for the best. Surprise! Up they came and took over! We grew watermelons in MN!!
    See, gardens are magic!!! Enjoy!!!
    If you have a little zucchini, like small pickle size, gently slip into liter bottle and it will grow in there! Big fun to see it grow in the bottle!!

  46. Looks great! My two guys love helping momma garden. Our sunflowers have come up on their own the second year in a row now, and this year they seem to be everywhere in our yard (makes mowing a little challenging!) My 4 year old especially likes to water. Looks like you have some eager helpers! Have fun!!

  47. 58) Laura

    Hey Dana! It’s our first year of square foot gardening too, and our pumpkin is overwhelming everything else! It has grown over the four squares we gave it and is now covering my carrots, peppers, and going out of the box, it’s insane! So watch out for that! I used this website as a guideline for my square foot garden, but next year I may have to leave more space, it’s just so hard not to want to fill up all the squares when everything is so tiny. So glad we have a house now so that we can have gardens!

    • 59) Celeste

      I like this site too. It really helps me get an idea of how close to plant everything. We’re like you though, if we get anything – we’re happy.

  48. 60) amy

    pumpkin vines grow BIG… like really really B.I.G… we have a huge garden on our property and the pumpkin vine has completely taken over a space of about 15metres x 15metres… just thought you should know!

  49. 61) Alison

    My little one’s (5 and 2) are loving their garden this year too. We are doing a lot of strawberries, and blueberries, and they love playing outside and picking them as they go. The kids and I have really loved the book “How Groundhog’s Garden Grew”, as we have been in planting and growing season, you might check it out. I think Lucy and Owen would both love it too! Best of luck!

  50. We are redoing our backyard to do an in ground sandbox and I was trying to figure out what to do with the kids’ current sandbox. Now I know what to do!

    Good luck with your garden

  51. I’m going to live through your pumpkin patch. I kinda just wanna come over some days Dana. But this will do.

  52. So cute! I love Lucy’s little diary entry of the day ^_^ So clever to reuse something & breath new life into it! We’ve just started a tiny tiny garden for Vin to play in and he recently saw something with Jack and the Beanstalk in it? Anyway he kept telling me he could hear the plants grow and he wanted to go outside and climb them…


  53. Your little garden is adorable! It is so amazing to see the kids excitement, my daughter regularly checks for strawberries in our little garden 🙂

    For tomatoes, invest in organic insecticide soap because caterpillars will be on them! We had little tiny black ones decimating leaf after leaf until I started spraying. They transferred to the peppers when the tomatoes were made icky 😉

  54. I love how much color you have around your house, yard and clothing. Sometimes I look around my house and wonder if I have too much color going on…is that even possible? I think not!

  55. 67) Amanda in Woodstock

    Thats such a great idea for the sandbox, and so colorful! But be warned… tomatoes need more than one square foot, especially if you purchased an indeterminate variety. Oh, and watch out for birds eating your tomatoes… a few years ago they started wreaking havoc on mine! And as a few others have mentioned, and as you have already experienced, pumpkin (all squash, zuchinni, etc) grow like mad! My peppers are a little too close to my squash, so I’ve cut some of the leaves off the squash plants, but they have plenty so don’t be afraid to trim them a little. Good luck! Gardening with kids is so fun!

  56. Bravo on your first garden!
    In my experience, nature is very forgiving, and you will get some veggies this summer.
    Part of the fun of gardening is the experimentation, and seeing what works. Seeds are cheap, and if it doesn’t work this year, OH well. There is always next year.
    It is thrilling to see a plant sprouting, and watching it grow.
    I’ll keep my fingers crossed so that raccoons or other critters don’t get to them first.

  57. We have also planted a few plants this year ( ..again..) on little missy’s prodding…its a start…one day I hope to have a great little kitchen garden, overflowing with veggies..but baby steps.
    I think its a fun project for the whole family..maybe thats what we should expect from it..instead of veggies..loads of fun.

  58. I love it! When I was little my favorite thing to do was help my grams with her garden. Of course, come harvest time, I think I ate more than I actually collected. 😉 What a great use for a sandbox that is no longer being used as much as it once was.

  59. For me, as a german girl it looks a little bit… crazy, but so cooooool. Crazy why, i grow up with tomato and carrot plants in school, picking up cherries from the trees and things like this and its so cute to see your son at this very schick plant box, looking for the way of life. the idea is great! and so easy… i like it.
    Liebe Grüsse aus Berlin, Germany

  60. 72) Sarah

    You should definitely guide those pumpkin plants to grow outside of the sandbox. Pumpkin plants are large and take over a great deal of space.

  61. 73) Coleen

    The first time I grew pumpkins I was told to pinch off some of the flowers once you have a few growing if you want bigger pumpkins. Otherwise you may end up with only little ones – which are cute too!

  62. 74) Lori

    Good for you guys! You will not regret it, and your kids will eat more veggies than you can imagine!

  63. 75) Sarah K.

    We love our garden! We just started getting ripe strawberries and raspberries this week – yay! My mom’s advice, which I try to follow is to grow veggies/fruits that either 1) are hard to find in your local store, 2) taste best fresh from the garden (think: tomato), 3) are expensive in your local store (greens, tomatoes, berries, snap peas, etc), 4) are fun for kids to grow (radish, pumpkin, potato, carrot). We’ve loved our garden over the years, but it is more fun with kids…when they don’t pick all the unripe blueberries that is. 😉

  64. 76) Sara

    Man you put our garden box to shame with your painted cute one. How exciting! Mark is obsessed with gardening and now our girls are too (must be a Suman thing?)

  65. What a great use for your sandbox! When I lived ‘in the city’ over 25 years ago, back when Square Foot Gardening started, that’s how I did my garden! The set up takes a little planning and time but the amount of veggies YOU WILL GET ( i am optimistic for you!) from such a small space is amazing! My daughter has since picked up the same technique with her garden. I don’t garden anymore as we now live in the woods and would rather frequent local farmers’ stands then feed the animals that would surely feast on any garden I might attempt!
    Have fun!!!

  66. Love your new garden and the organization of the string, etc.
    The kids look like they are really into it and hey they may even want to eat some veggies:)
    Have fun & keep a list of questions for next time you are at the garden center.

  67. 79) Loren

    Cute garden. I love SFG too. If your tomatoes are indeterminate (which means they will continue to grow and produce as long as it’s hot enough, as opposed to one big harvest all at one time), you’ll want either more heavy duty cages, or to put stakes up through them. The ones you have aren’t very sturdy, and when the plants get growing, they will likely be overcome! (-:

  68. What a great idea! I love Square Foot Gardening. I bet you’ll be surprised by how much you harvest!

  69. 81) Julie

    Pumpkins will take over! We grew them last summer. So much fun. To get pumpkins you need bees. There are male flowers and female flowers. To get a pumpkin, the female flower needs to be cross pollinated with the male. If you don’t have bees, you can pluck a male flower and brush it onto the female flower. The female flowers have a pumpkin bud at the base of the flower. The male flowers don’t. The female flowers only bloom for one day. If you don’t have bees that day, you wont have pumpkins – just disappointed kiddies. Wish someone had told me. Have fun!

  70. 83) Jenny D.

    I agree with Julie, the pumpkin is going to keep growing like crazy! We accidentally grew pumpkins last year because of some errant seed from our compost. We let it grow to see what would happen and it totally took over, but it was so fun to watch the pumpkins grow and they just so happened to be ready for pumpkin carving in October. Good luck!

  71. um… what happened to lucy? she looks so old and tall! is she going to 1st grade next year? her writing is superb.

  72. 87) Jennifer

    About 7 years ago, I inherited a sandbox similar to the one you made. It lived its life, and then it was time to move on. I also turned mine into a planter, but I cut it down and built a multi-level planter to add some interest to an ugly retaining wall. Here’s a link to the photo if you’d like to see: I think it turned out pretty great (though it’s not nearly as colorful as yours). I’ll be planting fall bulbs in a couple weeks and can’t wait for my spring flowers (which will, hopefully, take care of that lack-of-color problem). 🙂

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  74. 89) Jen

    Hi Dana,
    I am just now getting into Gardening and am in starting my hand in ( “serious” lol) gardening in a local Community Garden. I LOVE this post and your excitement ( I do not think it was silly at all)…I’m curious to see if you continued gardening and seeing pictures or reading any tips you have learned in the past year =)

    Thanks for sharing,

  75. 90) Sanna

    Hi Dana!
    Just found your post when I was googling about turning a sandbox into a veggie garden, a little project I have in mind since I want some tomatoes! Nice to see the result! I’ve read somewhere that planting basil around your tomatoes will help to keep bugs away. And also as an organic pesticide that I read about from a lady who’s been using it for 21 years in her veggie garden (I’m not keen on putting chemicals on things I’m gonna eat – whats the point? then i might as well keep on buying GM veggies from the supermarket): Cut half a dozen garlic cloves in half together with half a dozen little chills, add to a wine bottle, add water and cap it for a couple of days. Then you pour it into a spray bottle, mix 50/50 with fresh water, and spray your plants to keep insects like grasshoppers away. Then you just add more water to the wine bottle, cap it again and reuse it. Change garlic & chili when needed. So clever, cheap and organic!

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  78. 94) teresa

    Hi Dana! I love your little garden! We are in the process of doing the same thing! I have a question…did your sandbox have a bottom in it? Ours has a tarp under the sand to keep weeks out, and it would be easier to leave it there, but I’m not sure if the plant roots will have enough room? Any advice?

  79. 95) Ashley Jones

    Wow, incredible blog layout! How long have you been blogging for? you make blogging look easy. The overall look of your website is fantastic, let alone the content.

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