Spring -- the time when the thoughts of classroom gardeners turn to starting an abundance of seedlings for gardens, gifts, and sales. Why not turn your need for growing containers into a springboard for challenging students' imaginations and reinforcing lessons on waste reduction and recycling?
Ray Smalley, an educator in Cleveland, OH, suggests challenging students to create recycled newsprint pots which, he says, are remarkably strong, allow roots to penetrate, and can be planted directly in gardens or larger containers. Although Ray's method is described below, consider providing small student groups with the following (and other) recycled materials, and challenging them to come up with a method for creating a specific-diameter planting pot. Let us know what emerges; your classroom inventors may well improve on this design!
- recycled newspapers (cut into 3"-3, 1/2" strips from top to bottom)
- cans (8 oz. Tomato juice, sauce, etc. with bottoms still intact; vary sizes for different-diameter pots)
- nontoxic glue
Place a can on its side and role a three-inch strip of newsprint around the can, placing a small amount of glue to seal the seams. Push the can about an inch out of the role. Then, either fold the bottom like an envelope, adding an extra dab of blue to seal it, or cut five or six slits from the paper edge to the bottom of the can and fold the strips toward the bottom, placing a spot of glue on the last two strips as they are folded into the center. Carefully remove the can and allow the glue to dry before filling with soil mix. Since these paper pots may "wick" water and dry out as do peat pots, consider keeping them in small trays that act as water reservoirs.
In addition to using the pots for starting seedlings for gardens, sales, and experiments, imagine the questions and investigations that might spring from the containers themselves. How will root and/or plant growth vary in a paper pot vs. plastic or other materials? How quickly will the paper decompose when planted outdoors? How else might we use paper and other recycled materials for gardening? Encourage students to generate their won questions and to set up investigations to test their assumptions.