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All About Upcycling

By now, many of us have heard the phrase, “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.” Read on for ways to set up our youngest gardeners with good habits to “Reuse” or “Upcycle” what they already have. No purchase required!

Sarah Heidtke, Dakota County Master Gardener

All About Upcycling

What is “upcycling?”  We can be kind to both nature and our pocketbooks by using fewer resources to make products (reduce) and reprocessing materials like metals, paper and plastic when we are done using products (recycle).  What if we use things we already have and turn them into something else useful without having to buy more materials or use energy to recycle? Upcycling is the “reuse” part of “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.” Lots of upcycling can happen right in our gardens! Here are some ways that you can upcycle with the children in your lives. You can have fun and teach them how to improve their environment.

Soil: Composting is really upcycling. We take yard and kitchen waste, let it break down naturally, and reuse all of that nutrition right in our gardens to build up healthy soil! You can even upcycle a pail from the sandbox or the big plastic tub of animal crackers to carry scraps like banana peels, egg shells and apple cores to your compost pile or bin.

Plants: Make more plants from what you have - sow a seed from your sunflower, divide perennials or propagate cuttings.

Tools: A plastic milk jug with a few holes punched in the cap makes a great right-sized watering can. (I found that the pick from a nutcracker set worked well for this.) Take some crayons, markers or paints and decorate it any way you like!

  • Another one of my favorite ways to upcycle is to use an odd plate as a saucer under plants:

  • You can also make and decorate plant labels with popsicle sticks, straws, bottle tops or bottoms.

  • Old forks and spoons are great for weeding and digging.

  • An old sled or wagon is great for carrying branches, leaves, or new plants.

Containers: Almost anything can be a container.  

  • Use a metal can as a vase for the flowers you picked; or to hold your tools.  Poke a few holes in the bottom (with adult help) for drainage and plant some flower or vegetable seeds.

  • Outgrow your rain boots? You can grow plants in them!

  • Yogurt containers are great for starting seeds.

  • You can also use a plastic bottle to make a self-watering planter:

Take a look around before you go out and buy new - you may have most or all of what you need right at home to grow and play in the garden!

Check out some of these great books from Dakota County Library for these and more upcycling ideas to do with kids:

Play & Learn Activities for Babies by Hannah Fathi

Make Plastic Fantastic, Over 25 Recycling Craft Projects by Sophia Bebb and Helen Robinson, Illustrated by Diego Valsberg and Martin Lowenstein

Let’s Get Gardening, 30 Easy Gardening Projects for Children by DK Publishing

Little Homesteader, A summer Treasury of Recipes, Crafts and Wisdom by Angela Ferraro-Fanning and Illustrated by Anneliesdraws

Photo Credit: Sarah Heidtke (1,2,3,4,5)

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