Innovative Guardian greenhouse project shows sustainability promise
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Innovative Guardian greenhouse project shows sustainability promise

by Freya Lucas

December 03, 2019

Guardian Childcare and Education Altona North recently encountered a problem. Wild Melbourne weather destroyed two of the centre’s greenhouses, limiting the capacity of the service to grow their own herbs and vegetables in the sometimes volatile Melbourne climate. 


When the time came to replace the greenhouses, the team of educators worked with the children to explore alternatives to simply buying more, investigating new materials, and viewing images of people who had made greenhouses using a variety of products usually destined for landfill or recycling. 


Based on these discussions, educational leader Lee Couch worked with the centre’s maintenance person, Warren, and the children to design a sustainable greenhouse structure made from soft drink bottles. 


The children involved the broader centre community by asking them to bring in bottles, which the children then took the labels from before cutting the bottles to size and sliding them onto poles within the pre-built frames. 


The project fits well within the daily program of the service, Ms Couch said, which has an emphasis on encouraging children to be sustainable, and to recycle as much as possible. Food scraps are sent to the worm farm, compost bin, or to the chickens. Excess water from drinking stations goes to the gardens, or to water inside plants. Rainwater is collected from the cubby house roof and stored in a rainwater tank which keeps the garden looking green. 


In addition, the garden beds are not restricted to traditional wooden boxes, with baths, bathroom sinks, large tins and pallet boxes all forming part of the landscape which grows herbs, vegetables and flowers for the service. 


Building the greenhouse

In the initial planning stages, the greenhouse was to be built with wooden dowel for the bottles to be threaded onto, but this idea was quickly rejected because of the cost. The team realised that even though the previous greenhouse had been destroyed by the wind, the poles were still intact, so those were used instead. 


“Initially our project design was quite detailed, with a pitched roof, hinged doors, etc. We soon realised that maybe this was a little extravagant, especially for a first attempt! We changed our design to be more of a box, with a flat roof and instead of a hinged door we are going to just have a plastic curtain which we can flip up. We consulted with Warren as well quite a bit and he gave us some alternatives of what we could do,” Ms Couch said. 

Families from all rooms in the centre donated their used bottles for the project, which soon attracted bottle donations from those in the broader community also. As a result, the Altona North team have only had to purchase nuts and bolts to hold the frame together. 


“The children have been instrumental in putting this together. They have worked really hard at getting all the bottles ready, cutting and threading them onto the poles. We’ve received lots of positive and encouraging comments from the families which has really been so great for the children” Ms Couch said. 


Project outcomes and next steps

The children and educators, Ms Couch said, were “really pleased” with the interest generated by the greenhouse project. “We have had so much interest and lots of inquiries about our progress from other Guardian centres, families and the general public,” she said. 

More greenhouses are on the horizon, to place in other playgrounds, and the team hopes to encourage local schools to build similar greenhouses in their environments. Peer learning may also be on the cards, with Ms Couch saying “maybe we could have our kinder children teach the older children – wouldn’t that be great!”


The next big project will be to collect bottle tops for Envision, which will be turned into filament for 3D printers, which in turn makes prosthetic hands for children. Broader sustainability initiatives will continue, with the centre using recycled materials as resources in rooms and playgrounds.


Even Christmas will have a sustainable twist, with families receiving gifts made using recycled jars and cutoffs of succulents from the centre’s “very prolific” succulent garden beds. Seed pods, small acorns, and pine cones have been collected so that the children can tie ribbon onto them and decorate them.


For more information about Guardian Childcare and Education Altona North, please see here

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