Playground becomes garden


With everyone at home this spring, I’m sure there are plenty of new gardens going in. This one started with a stray comment to my daughter. She didn’t want to help in the yard (even to make some $$) and I told her that if things ever get tough, she may need to help grow food to eat. I figured she would just tell me to work harder (like her mom would :slight_smile: ), but she responded “OK- can we start now?”

So we took a walk around the yard to look at the beds that I had already made and figure out what to plant. When we got to the old playground, she was excited and told me we should do something with all this space. It probably helps that she has long out-grown it and even her younger sister is a bit old for it.

A couple years ago I planted grape vines around the structure, but didn’t do much else, other than attempting to grow tomatoes through the woodchips last year. Most didn’t grow very well, so I figured we would need more drastic changes before it could be productive.

We started out by her removing the debris, like cardboard (used as mulch for the tomatoes) and heavy items which had held them in place. Meanwhile, I took most of the boards off the play-structure, to ensure it didn’t unnecessarily shade the garden (her idea). The basic frame was left in place for the grapes, which I tied up.

We then spend an afternoon where we both raked up as many weeds and woodchips as we could get. The weeds (like crab-grass) were thrown on the lawn for the mower to deal with, while the woodchips were put on nearby plants as mulch.

Once all (most of) the surface debris was removed, we used an electric roto-tiller to mix the soil. Anytime I was able to go very deep, there were a lot of rocks. The small ones were mostly tossed to the side, but some were too big for it to move and had to be done by hand. There were 2 which were just the right size to move, yet not make it through the tiller. In one case, I had to take it apart to get the rock out. This pic is when it is upside down, with the rock trapped between the tines and the top-shield.

Eventually, we got it all tilled, though there are parts where we went deeper than others. Maybe in future years, we can get it more fully cleared of rocks.

The next day, we came back to plant some seeds. That day, we planted:

  • Carrot (Purple Haze and Rainbow mix)
  • Spinach
  • Radish (Sparkler & Cherry Belle)
  • Bush beans
  • Basil
  • Some red-leafed Chinese veggie

Still to come:

  • Lots of potatoes
  • Onions
  • Artichoke
  • Tomatoes
  • Pole beans
  • Turnips

This is the first time I’ve grown many of these (potatoes, tomatoes, and beans are the normal items). The new additions are at my daughter’s prompting, after some online research.

Some of the seeds (from Home Depot, like the tiller):

Rather than getting rid of them, we used the old planks from the playground structure to both delineate the planting areas, and provide a place we can walk on (again, her idea).

This week, the Purple Passion asparagus arrived from Nourse farms. They were so large that we weren’t able to fit them in the area we had set out. After all, you can’t really space them 6-8" apart if the roots are over a foot wide. Now, I need to figure out what to do with 8 more asparagus roots.

Here she is holding the asparagus bouquet:

My daughter helped a lot during this process, but I think that sustained effort is pretty difficult for teenagers. Here’s a pic of her working, while I dug out some big rocks that we found when making the asparagus trenches.


Nice work, and good to see the youngsters get involved. Your soil looks nice and dark.

Probably not a bad idea to supplement your food supply this year. We’re going to grow more beans, corn and potatoes this year than usual.

Rocks in the tiller are a pain, but my four tine gas tiller just bounces over them. It’s a beast to handle, I got it out a couple weeks ago, and I was sore for days after that.

My wife picked up some seed potatoes today, and I got a few pounds last week, so whenever it dries out enough for me to plow and till, we’ll get those in the ground. What varieties of taters are you trying? I remember you trying some interesting varieties in the past.


The playground has been there for 15+ years (from before we bought the house), so there are many year’s worth of woodchips in the soil. We tried to get the top layers of intact ones, but there are still some leftovers. Hopefully their further decomposition doesn’t rob too much nitrogen from the plants.

The other reason it looks dark is that it has just been tilled. It gets much lighter colored once the top layer dries out.

I just got this tiller myself and it is my first one. All the other garden beds I’ve dug by hand in the past, but I figured that this one was big enough where a tiller could help. Even tilling for 3-4 hours left me pretty tired. I can’t imagine someone doing it all day long. I had more than 18,000 steps that day…

We already planted some leftovers from last year (mostly smaller ones). I placed two orders this spring, as most places are sold out of many varieties. I think a lot of people are planting more than normal this year. If not for food security, just because they have more time at home. I haven’t received either order yet, but based on what I’ve seen online from the companies, I think I may get both in the next 1-2 weeks.

Maine Potato Lady:
Satina- 10lbs
Red Gold- 10lbs
Papa Cacho- 3lbs

Magic Molly- 2lb
Adirondack Blue- 2lb
Vivaldi- 10lb
AmaRosa- 10lb
Keuka Gold- 4lb

It’s good that I have more areas than just the playground, as that’s a lot of potatoes.


Your teenager is wonderful. She is a future generation gardener.

You need to buy one or two more refrigerators and freezers to store those veggies once everything is producing.


Sounds like your daughter has some pretty good ideas!


Awesome project! Thanks for sharing all those pictures. :slight_smile:


It does seem like a lot. Do you cut them up or plant them whole? We cut ours up on thirds or quarters, wherever there’s an eye.

It looks like a cultivator to me, when we started doing our gardens we had a gas powered Troy Bilt one, it lasted a couple years before we had to return it for repairs, there was something wrong with the carb. We never got it back (Lowe’s), so they gave me a credit, and I ended up getting a four tine Husqvarna. We’ve had it four years, it laughs at rocks and has been pretty reliable. It really digs in, but it’s just hard to handle sometimes. Maybe it was because the soil was a bit damp, so it had to be manhandled more, it did a number on my neck and upper back. If I had unlimited funds, I’d get a PTO driven tiller to pull behind my tractor…


We have a BCS (known as a “hand tractor”). Cuts through the soil smooth as butter. Rocks, what are rocks? :slight_smile: Not too hard to handle either. One of my sons has been tilling areas up for me using it since he was 9 when we bought it… of course he’s a farm boy, so there’s that (he started out using a rear (4) tine tiller when he was 8 the year before). All that said, I don’t really prefer to till. We have been slowly moving all of our growing areas to no till.


We’re already there. Back when we were flipping houses (rather than just buying multi-families to rent), we would replace old, but working fridges with new stainless steel ones. The old ones would go into the garage, so we’ve currently got 2 extra fridges and 1 freezer. In past years, I almost entirely filled a fridge with scionwood. This year I cut back a lot and only filled one drawer.

I’m sure she will agree :slight_smile: She took a look at the initial post before I made it and was quick to point out “that was my idea!” in several sections, which I then noted.

I cut the really big ones (Magic Molly can be huge) in half, but I don’t try to subdivide them too much. From what I’ve seen in the past, the smaller potatoes are often less productive, so I’ve erred on the side of using too much seed potato.

I think it is supposed to be able to go about 8" down. And if you are patient, it will work it’s way even further down by throwing the dirt to the sides. But, I wasn’t that patient over the entire area, so there will be spots where it is only well mixed for 4-6". I used it on some of the existing garden beds and it made pretty quick work of them, as I’ve turned them by shovel (at least 1’ down in most beds) in past years. One negative is that some of the beds are fairly narrow and I hate to see it toss so much soil over the sides. Especially if the area it tosses it into is rocks which are meant to suppress weeds, as the soil will give the weeds a place to start. So I may stick with using it on the bigger areas in the future.

But this tiller is definitely faster than just using a shovel. When I was growing up, I had a great uncle whose garden covered a majority of his 1 acre yard. I don’t know how he had the energy to do all of it with just a shovel and some manure from a horse farm down the road.

Wow- that is a nice one. It’s a bit pricey, but if I had a huge garden- like an acre, I’d be thinking of something like that. The one I got was only $150, about 3.9% of the price quoted in the link.

You may not have rocks like our yard. Some of them are hard to lift. In the past, I’ve had some that I needed leverage from a 6’ iron bar to lift. I got them out of the hole by inching them up a bit with the bar and pushing small rocks into the space under them, then repeating until the boulder is on the surface and I can roll it.

At my wife’s request, I’m growing more Chinese leeks. To do that, I expanded into the lawn, next to the current area. But, along where I wanted to put the edge of the bed, I ran into a rock so large that it didn’t budge when put my weight on the 6’ bar. I’m guessing it goes a long way down. So, I chipped away the top part of the half of it that was in my way and left the rest. A jackhammer would probably be more effective…I thought that tilling was hard work, but making big stones into small stones is even tougher.

I still need to put some edging around it, but this is what it looked like right after. The leeks from the existing bed are already growing well on the right.

I asked my daughter is she could have done this at 9 and she didn’t think so. I agree, as it is tough enough for me now. I’m not the most muscular guy (I weight 5-10lbs more than her) and I had to keep focused to ensure it didn’t get away from me.


You could start a quarry! lol You are right, we don’t have that many rocks and very few of them are big enough that we have to pry them up. We did have to pry up 2 or 3 in the area that we are putting up our greenhouse in.

In all fairness, the son of mine that was 8 when he started tilling wants to be a farmer. He could. not. wait. to get his hands on that BCS when we bought it that next year. I didn’t think that he was going to be able to handle it, but he looked so ready to try that I just couldn’t say no. He handled it like a grown man (of course we don’t live on a rock like you do, lol). Plus, we live on a farm in a farming community and in our area, it’s not really all that uncommon for youngsters to operate machinery and farm equipment. Here’s a short clip of him getting some quick beds ready for me.


An update on the playground turned garden…

Most of the seeds planted in April didn’t germinate due to the cold temps.

Radishes were one of the things that did grow. But, they never sized up under the ground. When I finally gave up and pulled them (after some started to flower in mid-June (way more than the 22-27 days expected), the thickest one was half the width of my baby finger (almost nothing).

But, I did replant Radishes in a different bed in early June. These did somewhat better, even though I thought it might be too hot for them. The results from the first planting were almost all like the ones at the top in this pic.

The Basil and red-leafed Chinese veggie didn’t come up at all. I reseeded in mid-may and had a few tiny plants come up, by the time I gave up on those patches (which were mostly weeds). I got a large pot of basil plants and separated it into 14 different clumps.

I think that splitting it into so many sections set the plants back. The seeds have grown faster and have almost caught up. The squares are around the seeds planted in mid-May (the one on the left is the Chinese veggie).

But, the grapes have done well. I have records of almost everything, but am having trouble pinning down what type of grape is planted on this corner of the playground. But, I did several plantings of cuttings 4 years ago, so I’m not positive which it is. Regrettable, since it is doing the best of all of them. Maybe I’ll be able to tell when it is ripe.

I’ve been trying to keep the tomatoes to a single vine and training them up posts.

Among the early plantings, the potatoes are the only one that grew strongly. I guess it helps to have a big reserve of energy underground…

Vivaldi on left, Amarosa in the middle, and a mixed row of what was saved from last year on the right.

A pretty potato flower:

My daughter is still interested in the outcome, but isn’t willing to actually work on it, in terms of mulching (I like straw) or pulling weeds. She will go out, look at, and take pictures of what I’ve done with her garden :roll_eyes:

I think she’ll be more willing to harvest things when they are ripe, as she was just asking if there is anything to pick. I should see if she is willing to water it, as we may need a lot of that with long, hot July days ahead.


Wow, hardly seen any weeds. Good job, Bob.

Love the pic of you strolling through your garden, man with his serenity.


my son was about that are when my father got him using his big aries rear tine tiller. i was surprised like you were that he was handling it so well. he was so proud! fast forward 4 yrs. later. my parents were watching my kids. i go over after work to pick them up. my son was using my fathers high speed chainsaw cutting firewood from tree length. no safety gear other than he was wearing a old pair of my fathers steel toe boots! the ol’ man saw my expression and said, ''don’t worry. I’m watching him closely. ‘’ at 15 yrs. old he took his potato picking money and bought a professional stihl saw. until he went in the Marines , he got hired to cut firewood for all the older folks in town. glad to have my folks teach them like they did.


Thanks- the extra time at home from Corona has helped me keep better on top of weeds, though the yard is still anything but pristine. I’m going to have to collect more leaves this fall. They are much cheaper than buying straw to use as mulch. People put out pre-bagged leaves, all ready for me to pick up! Of course, sometimes they have things like acorns in them. In fact, you can see some of the acorn shells in the picture of the basil plant above. Hopefully they don’t germinate and leave me with a lot of oak trees in the garden :slight_smile:

Thanks- that was one of the times my daughter came out to take pictures. Normally, I’m just the cameraman, not the subject.

I think some safety glasses would also be in order, as quite a bit can get kicked up. I don’t think I’d want my kids to use the chainsaw- I’m nervous enough using it myself.


Just wanted to +1 on using leaves to plant potatoes. My neighbor always dumps his mowed/chopped leaves near my garden in the fall. I use the unused portion of the leaf pile to plant potatoes and they do very well.


Do you plant the potatoes underground and mulch with leaves, or just put the potatoes on the surface and cover with leaves? If it works well without any digging, then I definitely need to get more leaves for next year :slight_smile:

I use a hoe to dig a trench for the potatoes, then mound the soil up over it. When they start to come up, I put the leaves on top. I could probably save myself some effort by just putting the leaves on right away- I bet that the potatoes have enough energy reserves to push their way through 3-4" of leaves.


I just push the seed potatoes into the leaf pile. No digging. I’ll try to post a photo tomorrow.




@BobVance, these leaves were shredded by a lawnmower when they were swept up.


That’s really interesting and I will definitely try it. Do you notice that the potatoes grow down into the ground, or do they stay mostly in the leaves? I have an area that I’ve mulched with cardboard that I could see tossing some leaves (I found one last bag!) and seed potatoes. I could remove the cardboard, but then I would need more mulch to cover the rest of the area…

Have you tried just using normal, unprocessed leaves, or do you only use chopped leaves?