Author: Sara May

4 Easy Steps to a Safe and Healthy Sandbox

Sandboxes and Sandbox Covers

With spring just around the corner, the kids will soon be anxious to get outside and engage in some seriously fun backyard play time.  Have you had a chance yet to spruce up the sandbox?  Before the kids are allowed to start digging and shoveling, make sure the sandbox is ready for another season of active play.  The following four easy steps will help you ensure that the sandbox is clean, safe, and inviting for your kids.

1. Replace the sand.

Over time, the sand in outdoor sandboxes gets dirty and should be completely replaced periodically. Generally speaking, replacing sand every year or two should be adequate, but more frequent changes might be needed depending on how often children play in the box and whether a sandbox cover is used consistently. Play sand, rather than building sand, is the best choice for children’s play areas because it is cleaner and free of materials, like clay, that are likely to stain clothing and skin.

2. Inspect sand toys.

Shovels, rakes, and other toys intended for sand play are not always the most durable of tools. Consequently, they don’t often last for more than a season or two. When sand toys or other tools used in the sandbox break, they can have sharp edges or pointy parts that can cause injuries. Before allowing kids to play in the sandbox this spring, check the condition of their sand toys. Toss out any broken or worn out tools, and replace them with tools made from more durable materials.

3. Check sand on a regular basis.

Don’t assume that the sandbox will stay in good condition over the course of the spring and summer. Sharp sticks, rocks, and other debris find their way into play sand quite easily. What’s more, sand toys may not be able to survive an entire season of active play. Checking the sand on a weekly basis allows you to discover and remove any potentially harmful debris and broken toys. You may also need to replenish play sand during these weekly check-ups, especially if kids have spent any time shoveling it out of the box.

4. Use a sandbox cover.

Sandbox covers are not used as extensively or as frequently as they should be, but they are one of the easiest and most important ways to maintain a safe and healthy sandbox. When used properly, sandbox covers prevent excess debris, like leaves, sticks, and rocks, from getting into the sand and creating a potential danger to children. Sandbox covers also protect sand from blowing away in strong breezes, and they keep insects from burrowing and nesting in the sand. Most importantly, sandbox covers prevent play sand from being contaminated by animals who would like to use the sandbox as their toilet.

The only way to use sandbox covers successfully, of course, is to use them regularly when children are not playing in the box. Use sandbox covers that are made to fit your sandbox. Tarps and other makeshift covers can be easily dislodged or removed by animals or strong winds, making them unreliable and ineffective.

Overall, maintaining the backyard sandbox is a simple task that requires little time and few supplies. Keeping all play areas safe and healthy for your kids will give you peace of mind, and will provide your kids and their imaginations with hours of good, clean, simple fun.

Composting Guidelines: Not Everything Can Go in the Compost Bin

Compost Bin

Composting food and yard wastes is easy, especially when using a purchased compost bin. Building a compost structure on your own is certainly an option, but compost bins on the market come in a variety of shapes and sizes, and often make the process of composting much simpler. No matter how you choose to compost your organic wastes, the advantages of composting are undeniable. Composting helps the environment by reducing greenhouse gases and other air pollutants that would be generated as a result of simply throwing organic wastes into the local landfill or incinerator. Composting also saves money by providing you with free fertilizer for your garden. Finally, compost puts nutrients back into the soil, making your garden soil richer and plants healthier.

What Goes In?

Once you have selected your compost bin, it’s time to begin filling it with organic matter. But can you put any kind of organic matter into a compost bin? Unfortunately, no. The general recommendation is to fill your compost bin with a mixture of 50 percent “browns,” and 50 percent “greens.”

The Browns

The “browns” add carbon to the compost bin mix and include some of the following items:

  • Dried leaves
  • Straw
  • Chopped cornstalks — Shred or chop into very small pieces first
  • Shredded paper
  • Shredded cardboard
  • Paper towels

The Greens

“Greens” add nitrogen to the compost bin mix and include some of the following items:

  • Grass clippings
  • Garden trimmings
  • Most kitchen wastes (see list below for exceptions)
  • Fresh hay
  • Poop from non-meat eating animals — Your pet bunny or bird, for example

What Can Go In After Some Preparation?

Some organic matter shouldn’t go into a compost pile as is.  Here are some examples of items that need to be prepared properly before they can become part of your compost heap:

  • Diseased plants
  • Grass clippings with chemicals
  • Hedge trimmings
  • Nut shells
  • Peat moss
  • Pine Cones
  • Pine needles
  • Sawdust
  • Sod
  • Soil
  • Weeds
  • Wood ashes
  • Wood chips

For information about how to prepare these types of organic matter for composting, visit the website of your local agricultural extension office.

Don’t Even Think About Tossing This Stuff In

Some organic matter should never find its way into compost bins. Here are the main offenders:

  • Bones
  • Cat litter
  • Charcoal and briquettes
  • Cooked food waste
  • Dairy products — (butter, cheese, mayonnaise, salad dressing, milk, yogurt, sour cream)
  • Dishwater
  • Fatty, oily, greasy foods
  • Fish scraps
  • Meat
  • Glossy, colored paper
  • Peanut butter
  • Pet poop
  • Human poop
  • Sludge (biosolids)

Maintaining your compost pile depends on the type of compost bin you have chosen.  With some compost bins, you need to mix the pile periodically, but some compost bins require no mixing. Refer to the compost bin manufacturer’s instructions for details.

By purchasing or building your own compost bin that meets your specific needs, and by following a few simple guidelines, you can create your own money saving, earth friendly, plant loving compost.

Why Cedar Is the Best Choice for Garden Sheds

Cedar Garden Sheds

Outdoor storage sheds are an essential accessory for today’s homes. Whether you wish to store yard tools, gardening supplies, or pool chemicals, outdoor storage sheds (also known as garden sheds) provide additional space for your outdoor equipment, making it much easier to access and freeing up your garage for vehicles, bicycles, and the spare refrigerator.

Traditionally, though, outdoor storage sheds and garden sheds have been made of metal, vinyl, or plastic, and they are often less than attractive. As a result, sheds tend to be tucked away in some dark and hidden corner of the yard, away from direct view. Wood sheds, on the other hand, specifically cedar wood sheds, bring a natural and beautiful appearance to the backyard. Thanks to the durability and versatility that cedar wood sheds and garden sheds offer, using the shed for more than just storage is an attractive option for creative home owners.

Why cedar? Cedar is an all-weather wood that can withstand decades of harsh weather conditions, including icy winters, wet springs, and hot, sunny summers. It can be stained or painted to complement your existing home decor, and it is naturally resistant to mildew, rot, and insects, making it virtually worry-free. As an added bonus, cedar looks beautiful and smells fantastic. Because of these benefits, cedar is a natural choice for outdoor storage sheds.

Swing Set Updates That Keep Kids Interested

The backyard swing set you bought for your kids when they were small was probably filled with challenging and fun equipment just right for their age and size. Bucket swings for safety, a short ladder leading to a scoop slide, and maybe even a club house for hours of pretend play. As kids grow older, though, their ideas about what’s fun and challenging evolve. Making sure that the backyard swing set doesn’t become an unused eyesore means keeping up with your children’s changing interests and abilities. By updating the swing set periodically with equipment and accessories that meets your kids’ current needs, you can ensure that the swing set continues to appeal to your kids over the course of many years.

Alternative Swings

Swings are an affordable place to start when it comes to updating a swing set’s accessories. If you haven’t done so already, swap out the bucket swing or half-bucket swing with a traditional belt swing or two.  Don’t stop there, though. Swings come in all shapes and styles, and a little variety adds a lot of appeal to a backyard swing set.

Belt Swing  Buoy Ball Swing  Pine Wood Chair Swing


Swing sets generally come with a standard scoop slide, which is straight, smooth, and adequately thrilling for little ones. As kids get older, though, they tend to prefer a more exhilarating ride. Replacing your original slide for a spiral slide can offer that extra bit of thrill to older kids. Spiral slides are often completely enclosed tubes, too, similar to what you find on commercial or public playgrounds. The enclosed spiral brings an additional measure of excitement to the sliding experience.

Super Wave Slide  Super Tube Spiral Slide

Climbing Accessories

Climbing equipment offers growing kids a fun way to challenge their bodies’ developing abilities. While not usually appropriate for young children, climbing accessories help older kids gain confidence, strengthen muscles, and refine gross motor and motor planning skills. Monkey bars may be the most common type of climbing accessory found on standard swing sets, but they can be added to an existing swing set that doesn’t already have them. Rope ladders and rock wall climbing kits are available, too, and are exceptionally appealing to adventurous kids.

Rock Wall Climbing Kit  Rope Ladder 

Making small but meaningful changes to your backyard swing set over time will not only encourage years of continued interest by your kids, but will also reinforce the value of your initial investment in the swing set.

Welcoming Our Feathered Friends

This Bird Needs a Birdbath

As I write this, I’m taking glances out the window in front of me, which gives me a lovely view of our backyard.  What I see are the busy activities of sparrows, cardinals, blue jays, downy woodpeckers, and other birds — eating seed, bathing in a small puddle of melted snow, burying bits of suet in the bark of our ornamental pear tree.  What I don’t see is a lasting water source for the birds.

Once the puddle of melted snow evaporates, there won’t be any consistent source of water in our yard where birds can quench their thirst and clean their feathers.  We like to pride ourselves on being a bird-friendly family, so rectifying this situation is of the utmost importance, especially as spring migration is just around the bend.

Bird Bath with Solar FountainAn outdoor birdbath with a fountain feature is the ideal addition to a backyard bird pit stop.  In fact, more birds are sure to come check out the fountain since they’re attracted to running water.  My choice would be a solar birdbath fountain.  Solar birdbaths and fountains require no special wiring and cost nothing to run because they are powered by an associated solar panel that absorbs energy from the sun.  As long as the solar panel is placed in a sunny location, the birdbath fountain is sure to accomplish its task of bubbling and gurgling for the birds.

With a consistent water source in place and a continuous supply of seed and suet, we’ll be prepared to welcome more feathered friends to our backyard this spring and beyond.