PS 135Q, The Bellaire School
Decomposition is an integral part of gardening. The fungi, bacteria, worms, and other creatures that break down dead plant material are a vital link in the nutrient cycle that adds to soil fertility and keeps plants thriving. But all plant-based materials are fair game for these decomposers, as the students in the Medea Creek Middle School Garden Club learned as they looked for a project to enter in our 2017 Carton to Garden contest, sponsored by Evergreen Packaging. They heard that the roofs on the worm composting bins at nearby Brookside Elementary School, which had been built by high school wood shop students several years ago, were falling apart as the wood they were made from weathered and rotted.
The middle school students decided to devise a way to restore these educational tools by repairing the worm composting bins using recycled cartons. Their ingenuity, engineering skills, and hard work were rewarded when they received a winning award in our Carton to Garden contest this year.
The students began by researching the physical properties of the cartons—their biodegradability, life expectancy, and ability to repel water. Says teacher Katie Cohen, who served as team leader for the project, “The Club members discovered that the cartons could last up to five years.” They researched grade/pitch for more effective water run-off and hit on a simple plan to make the roofs slope by placing the back legs of the bins on 3-inch blocks. They also added new plywood sub-panels for strength to prevent warping, and painted them with white roofing sealant to stop water penetration. These panels served as the base for “carton shingles” cut from cartons collected from the school lunchroom—288 in all!
“The shingles were attached to the sub-panels with roofing nails and overlapped, just like regular shingles, and staggered over joints for greater water protection,” notes Ms. Cohen. “Everyone played a part in the hammering, and there were blisters and sore thumbs! The students opted to use the cartons printed side up for added color (which they arranged in color lines), and they discovered that many of the cartons also had jokes printed on them, which was considered added (entertainment) value for anyone looking at the worm bins in the future!”
To get the project finished on time, club members not only volunteered their school-day lunch time, but also came to school during spring break to finish things up, adding a student-designed water collection system and applying an eco-friendly waterproof sealant. “Their commitment to completing the project was just as impressive as their thought processes, and their selflessness and determination to do it right for the benefit of others was nothing short of inspiring!” says Ms. Cohen.
“Vermicomposting recycles waste and turns it into compost", she continues. “It is possibly one of the most sustainable garden practices as it minimizes waste for the landfill, while providing a nutrient rich organic source of fertilizer for our school garden. This enables us to produce a bigger harvest, which is then used in our school kitchens for nutritious snacks and lunches and which benefits our students. By remodeling our vermicomposters we have further highlighted our commitment to health and wellness for our students, while teaching the benefits of eating organic, locally grown produce.”