Valley View Elementary School

Valley View Elementary“What do you do when planting a garden outside at school isn’t feasible because of the rural location and limited water resources? Is it possible to grow a garden inside of our classroom? What kinds of things do we need to make it possible?” STEM Teacher Carol Madden at Valley View Elementary School in Polson, Montana shared that these were the questions they used as the jumping off point for their 2019 Carton 2 Garden project titled the Montana Winter Garden.

“We began by sending home a letter announcing our participating in the Carton2Garden Contest and within a week, we had over 40 plastic gallon milk jugs,” Carol explains. “We then sent another announcement home asking for paper board cartons instead [what is required for the contest], and over the next 2 months collected an excellent variety of cartons.”

“We began growing our vegetables the end of December and by January we had healthy seedlings of garden plants such as tomatoes, tomatillos, cucumbers, bush beans, carrots, cucumbers, melons and peppers. We even had several corn plants and two zucchini! Our garden started taking over the room, so we drew up a plan that changed the south facing wall of our classroom to a hanging structure that could support the weight of many plants and use the southern windows for light. Because of the limited light of Montana winters, we also purchased two inexpensive LED grow lights. We built a hanging frame from old barnwood we took out of a farmer’s scrap pile in our community and attached a bent, used pig panel donated by a rancher we knew to use as a rack to hang our planters from.”

At this point their Carton 2 Garden project turned into a practical, hands-on engineering challenge too. “ Students were instrumental in the design and construction process. Their ingenuity led to securing the rack to the ceiling so the weight of the plants wouldn’t cause it to collapse.” Once the design was drafted, installation began and with a little help from parents, the classroom was transformed into an indoor garden to teach students about alternative growing spaces when traditional gardens are not available. Carol shares, “We are exploring greenhouse, aquaponic and hydroponic gardening as an affordable and efficient alternative using everyday containers and a little ingenuity!”

Not wanting anything to go to waste, with the help of their art teacher, they turned the donated gallon milk jugs into decorative planters and also added other recycled and repurposed materials as decorations. Important to note, they also installed plastic sheeting on the floor and shelves to protect from water damage.

The connections to the curriculum were plentiful. Students learned about soil along with plant anatomy and development. They honed math skills as they tracked plant growth, calculated volume and weighed plants to calculate the load for the hanging rack. They also incorporate lessons about health and nutrition. “ We studied the essential nutrients found in fresh vegetables, especially easily grown indoors varieties like lettuce and micro greens. We were able to grow, harvest and eat several batches of micro greens, lettuce and spinach. Fresh vegetables always taste better to students when they have done the work to bring them to their plate.”

The Carton 2 Garden project at Valley View is a great example of how garden experiences can be incorporated into classrooms with just a few simple supplies. You don’t need to spend thousands of dollars on fancy raised beds or state of the art greenhouses, to successfully grow plants. With a little creativity, you can make a big impact even when you are challenged by limited space and less than ideal environmental conditions. Check out the Carton 2 Garden Inspiration Page for more ideas about what can be accomplished with some cartons, soil and seeds.

The deadline for the 2020 Carton 2 Garden Contest is coming up on Wednesday, April 1, 2020. This year there are 15 awards available including a grand prize of $5,000. Learn more at Carton2Garden.com.