Kiss My Grass, Part 4: Let The Children Play

If you'd like to catch up in this series, please read the following posts.
Kiss My Grass, Part 1: The Beginning
Kiss My Grass, Part 2: Speak To The Trees
Kiss My Grass, Part 3: The Trees Have Eyes

When we gutted our newly purchased back yard in the spring/summer of 2013, we also tore down and got rid of a broken, tetanus-giving, rickety old swing set. (I think that's a sufficient amount of adjectives.) Our back yard is mostly sloped, although a mostly gradual slope, and the swing set was positioned at the top of said slope, so it leaned as well. If one were to swing or use the slide, the direction of travel would be downhill. Nothing about this swing set gave us any sense of safety for our children.

blog, Minnesota, back yard, swing set, slide, sandbox, play area, children, kids, sump pump, grass, sod, rubber mulch
The kids, numbering only two at the time, weren't happy about us removing the swing set, but they also didn't know we were planning on putting a new one in at some point. We knew the replacement swing set would get a lot of use, and if we took care of it, the swing set could potentially entertain grandkids. Wishful thinking, perhaps, but possible. I have a feeling that repairs to the swing set will be needed before grandkids come, and I've also dreamed up some modifications to take it to the next level. American Ninja Warrior, anyone? NOT JOKING. Seriously, not joking. (This is the best picture I have of the old swing set. Click on the picture to make it larger.)

In the autumn of that year, 2013, we purchased a 95% wooden swing set for half-off the original price and hid it in the garage until Christmas, which was easy because it was in three, thin-but-long boxes full of pieces. We were excited to give the kids this present, but we knew that it was a bit of a bummer that they wouldn't get to enjoy it until warm weather returned. Also, we had to put it together. One thing that the kids liked about the old swing set was the boat wheel and spyglass—pirate regalia! We decided to purchase those two items and then add them to the swing set once we built it. It was the boat wheel, the spyglass, and a photo of the swing set that the kids opened on Christmas Eve with slightly confused faces. Needless to say, but I will say it anyway, they were excited once they found out what their present meant.

We wanted to create a section in the yard dedicated to the kids. Plus, we wanted to do something for them that showed our appreciation for all of the busy-ness and chaos they went through at such a young age in 2013: buying a house and then moving two different houses into one, making improvements to the new house, all on top of planning and preparing for our backyard wedding. (And, we made a couple of road trips during that time! We're HARDCORE.) If 2013 was crazy for my wife and me, just imagine how much fun it was for the kids. We also wanted to draw the kids to the back yard and not the front yard as much as possible. They had grown accustomed to not being in the back yard most of the time they were outside, in part because of the work being done. Also, bike riding and the like is more difficult to do in grass. The point being, they were naturally drawn to the front yard.

My wife and I talked about Project: Play Area over the winter. We decided to place the swing set in an already (mostly) flat area of our back yard because that made sense and required less work in the making of a flat area. Also, the area we chose had adequate shade for all but the middle of the day; we knew we were going to keep these trees. The other trees helping to create this shade were from the neighbors on two sides of that back corner of the yard. We could have constructed the swing set and have been done with it. Instead, we put as much thought into the finished project as we could. Did we go overboard? That's subjective. We have our reasons and I don't regret any of it.

blog, Minnesota, back yard, swing set, slide, sandbox, play area, children, kids, sump pump, grass, sod, rubber mulch
So, what did we do the following spring?

Our first step was to modify where our sump pump hose drained. Where the hose ended was in a horrible place to begin with, popping up in what seemed like a random part of the yard. It was an understandable place for water to exit when one takes into consideration that there was a barren garden in that area when we moved in. Considering there was no longer a garden there and we were putting in a play area, it became a not-so-desirable place for the hose to drain. I extended the plastic tubing roughly twenty feet to the back corner of our lot and dug a trench for it to continue to that point. I reused as much of the sod as I could and used Scott's PatchMaster to fill in the rest. It wasn't difficult, but it WAS one more job to add to the bigger project.

Rather than have the inevitable dirt spots under the swings and so forth, we created an area filled with rubber mulch and then bordered that area with thick, rubber edging. No need to mow in and around the swing set. The kids can use the play area after it rains, because it will drain and won't be muddy. Rubber mulch is more forgiving to falls. It looks nice. All of these reasons went into the decision to purchase 4,000 pounds of rubber mulch. However, before we installed the rubber border and filled the area in with rubber mulch or constructed the swing set, we prepared the ground.

blog, Minnesota, back yard, swing set, slide, sandbox, play area, children, kids, sump pump, grass, sod, rubber mulch
The three trees in our yard adjacent to the eventual play area did a really good job of keeping the ground directly below them shaded. This was not good for the grass as there was not enough sun and there was too much moisture. We solved this in part in 2016 by trimming those trees and letting more light in. In late 2017, our neighbor to the south removed two trees, so that should help starting in 2018. Unfortunately, he planted three trees in their place. It will be quite a while before they create a lot of shade, and I suspect there will be a new neighbor living there by that time. Unless, and I don't doubt the possibility, that crotchety old man starts setting records for longevity.

In the spring of 2014, about a year after we had sod laid, the grass had become thin and mostly dead underneath the three trees adjacent to the play area. It would seem to not make sense to put more grass there, but that's what we did with the grass from the play area, and it has worked out. I have spread lime over the area about once a year to help counteract the fact that it's in the vicinity of that southern neighbor’s pine trees. It's not close enough to be a lost cause, and it's worth it to help keep it from becoming a muddy, decaying, smelly swamp. In addition, being mindful to not water the grass unless it clearly needs it and giving it food helps to keep the grass on the healthy side of living. Brawndo—it's got what plants crave.

blog, Minnesota, back yard, swing set, slide, sandbox, play area, children, kids, sump pump, grass, sod, rubber mulch
After we dug the grass out and transplanted it, we leveled off the area and got to work on constructing the swing set. We had directions for it, and we did follow those directions, but there were a lot of parts and none of them came with any assembly whatsoever. It ended up taking us a few days to get it assembled, and even then, we weren't able to finish the job until we were ready to actually place it into the play area. My wife worked on a few parts in the garage to hopefully make the final assembly more speedy. The day that we completed the swing set portion of the project, I mixed cement and poured it into the ground so that it hardened around the metal stakes connected to the swing set.

It's hard to remember timelines now, years later, but mere days after all of the previously stated work was completed, we received the truck shipment of rubber mulch and borders. Since we were a residential delivery, the truck had a lift gate, thankfully, but it didn't make it any easier to push the heavy pallets, numbering two, into the slightly not-sloped-to-our-advantage driveway. Like I stated earlier—4,000 pounds of rubber.

blog, Minnesota, back yard, swing set, slide, sandbox, play area, children, kids, sump pump, grass, sod, rubber mulch
I moved every bag of rubber mulch (and the borders) to the back yard by wheelbarrow, three bags at a time. My wife would rip open a bag and dump it, and then my two kids would help her spread the mulch out. It felt like it took a lot longer to get that part of the job done, but it actually only took a few hours. I do remember it being late in the day when we finished and all of us being very hungry. If I remember correctly, that evening was capped with a delivery or a fast food run. My wife and I weren't going to make dinner—hell no.

You might be saying to yourself, “What play area is complete without a sandbox?” My answer to that question is, “No, it would not be complete.” If I had to do it ALL over again, there's a good chance I'd do what another family I know did. They have a dedicated play area with an impressive swing set, and the area is bordered off from the yard by using wooden boards. Where I filled this area in with rubber mulch, they filled it in with sand. It makes for a large sandbox that checks off all the same boxes on my list of reasons for filling in a play area. Except one, and I'll get to that very shortly.

My original idea was to build a sandbox myself and keep it as simple as possible. My wife convinced me to buy one so that I could focus my time on other projects. I did end up making a lid for the sandbox. The exception I previously mentioned is that my wife wanted a lid to prevent nature from getting into the sandbox and mucking it up and to prevent cats from turning it into a litter box. I didn't disagree with her assessment, so I built a simple lid out of plywood and 2x2s. I don't regret the decision to buy a sandbox (or make a lid). I did buy a cheap one, and it started falling apart in 2017, and now, I'm back to thinking about building a new one. However, what that all entails has changed since 2014…


To be continued?

blog, Minnesota, back yard, swing set, slide, sandbox, play area, children, kids, sump pump, grass, sod, rubber mulch
This is a picture taken right after we were done.
I had not stained the sandbox to match the swing set yet,
and I had not made the sandbox cover.

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