I mentioned a plastic bottle greenhouse in this blog post…. http://ayearinacampervanwithtwoteenagerssnowwhiteandalab.wordpress.com/2014/10/31/moving-abroad-ways-to-help-with-integration/. This is what one looks like close up if you are interested in alternative architecture, and also how to make one if you get really carried away with the idea, as I hope you might.
The idea behind the plastic bottle greenhouse was originally to teach children about the value of reusing and recycling. An environmental organisation called REAP in Keith, Scotland (http://www.reapscotland.org.uk ) involved local primary schools who built these greenhouses in their playground gardens.
When you actually see a pencil made out of a vending machine cup, it’s a lot more real than reading about it in a book. 25 two-litre plastic bottles can make an adult size fleece jacket. I’ve read different figures, but some recycling sites say that plastic bottles take up to 50% of the volume in a dump. And there they stay for between 500 and 700 YEARS.
We decided when we moved to France that we would build a plastic bottle greenhouse. It turned out to be a brilliant way to meet people and also a way to become involved at our childrens’ new school.
Greenhouse number 1
We started in our garden first. With the help of lots of neighbours and friends, we gathered together 1500 bottles, the amount needed to make a greenhouse 8ft x 6ft. We have a lot of bamboo growing in the garden already. That’s the second “ingredient”. The third is some wood and nails to make a frame, hinges for the door, and some big C-shaped staples to attach the canes to the frame. If you want the structure to last, you also need some way of supporting it in the ground, either a hole with compacted gravel, or some concrete (not so environmentally friendly).
Although you need an adult to help, there’s a lot that can be done by little ones. Or in our case although we needed little ones to help, there was a lot that could be done by adults under child supervision.
Cut the base off the bottles and remove the labels. It’s easier to do this by soaking the bottles in a big bucket of water. This will also removed any sticky drinks residue from the bottle, which can go mouldy over time.
Thread the bottles onto the bamboo, making sure they don’t slide off the other end! The final bottle is turned upside down so that a “top” of a bottle is pointing to each end of the cane, as in the picture above. These lengths are fixed onto a frame, vertically, to make a wall. The greenhouse is insulated by the air within the “bottle column”.
Once you have built a frame the size you want a wall to be, lay it flat on the ground, to attach the bottle columns. The greenhouse roof is made in the same way as the sides. A door, again made the same way, is next.
We composted round the sides of the greenhouse and made a path up the middle. We grew mainly tomatoes, and some cucumber and peppers.
Greenhouse number 2
When the primary school teacher was over visiting one day, she noticed the greenhouse, and decided that it would be a great idea to build one in the school garden. They planned to grow herbs and edible plants as a science project and then sell them at the summer school fete to boost school funds.
So, one cold February day, some mums, dads and kids got together in the playground after the bottle collection was complete. The local shop also helped with collecting for us.
When the greenhouse was made, we got together another afternoon and planted seeds and arranged them on tables inside the greenhouse. The kids learnt about coriander and fennel and other herbs as they tended to the growing plants over the coming weeks. Then they sold them in the June at the Summer Fete.
The end of a plastic bottle greenhouse’s life
Our plastic green house, some years later is now past its best. So over the winter, bit by bit, we are taking the plastic bottles to the recycling bins down in the village. The bamboo can be recycled in the garden as support canes. And the frame we are keeping up, to make a new greenhouse.