You can do WHAT with a milk carton?

I’m a sucker for a contest, especially when prizes are involved. When I saw a promotion for the Carton 2 Garden contest back in February, I knew we had to enter. The challenge is to reuse as many milk and juice cartons from our school as possible and transform them into something new that is garden-related. My students decided, after many conversations, to go with something functional, namely a cold frame. A cold frame is a structure used to extend your growing season; either by setting veggies and flowers out earlier than possible in the garden, giving them time to acclimate or keeping crops going longer into the colder months when frost threatens.

Our first step was to collect, wash, dry and count as many cartons as possible. The Green Chimneys School Student Council helped to coordinate this effort and in a two-week period we collected approximately 1,500 cartons!

Our next step was to think about the construction of our cold frame. What would be the most effective way of building with cartons? We also needed to keep in mind that this project is also about sustainability. The students considered what other supplies we would use and how they measured up in terms of repurposing materials.

We decided to go with filling our cartons with garden compost (of which we have lots),  crush the corners of the cartons and slide one into another creating “walls.” But how would we make the walls stand?

Many classes helped us to fill and stack cartons for our walls, but Ms. Darcy’s high school class took the lead on the construction and finer points of how things would be engineered.

We removed a glass panel from an old storm door I salvaged from my town dump to use as a cover along with some old heavy duty plastic sheets I had on hand. We are using these as a covering at night to protect our seedlings from frost.

Lastly, we had a bunch of cartons that were a different size than the majority of milk and juice cartons. We decided to use up some old magazines, decoupage the containers and plant seedlings (from saved seed) in them. They came out quite nice!

Entering this contest gave my students many more opportunities than merely competing for a prize.

  • We strengthened our sense of community by participating in a campus wide carton collection effort. Our Student Council was empowered to coordinate this endeavor.
  • My younger classes had the opportunity to engage in teamwork, washing, transporting and stacking the cartons, as well as turn-taking with the different roles involved in our process.
  • Middle school classes helped to keep track of how many cartons we were collecting on a daily basis. They used this data to make predictions about how many containers we would collect on future days, as well as to analyze trends and come up with theories to support the reason for quantities collected.
  • High School students worked together to discover the best engineering of the cartons to create a sustainable, viable structure for our tender seedlings.
  • Groups of students from various classes and ages worked together outside of their regular class time to meet our deadline with a high quality entry.
  • Self-esteem and new relationships were built.

Thank you Carton 2 Garden contest for being the catalyst to meet so many benchmarks. Students are already thinking about our entry for next year!



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