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Gifts That GROW

This is the first in a series of lesson plans that can be also be used as great Mother's Day gifts! We will continue to bring you gift ideas right up until the big weekend of May 9th!

From the T2T mailing list, Tracy writes: "I teach an intermediate special education class, and we have done a lot of things with plants. Some of the things we have tried to start are sweet potatoes (get organically grown ones or they will rot). Avocados (then we made guacamole!). You can sprout the tops of carrots, parsnips, beets, and turnips. We also planted seeds from lemons, oranges, and tangerines but they haven't come up yet. We have made predictions, graphs, written descriptions, illustrations, etc. and they love it!! The next thing we will be trying is flowers for mother's day and tomatoes to take home and plant in their gardens! It has been very messy, very educational, and extremely fun!"

Determine a budget first
Assume that the herb garden will reside indoors. You need to begin by choosing the appropriate containers to plant in. As T2T "Tyguy" suggests, "Try not to use more than 3 or 4 herbs and place them in decorated small milk cartons." Milk cartons are obviously the least expensive solution as they are FREE! Again though, contact your local nursery or gardening center and tell them you are a teacher looking for a donation. You will need containers to plant in, potting mix, fertilizer (such as Miracle-Gro), seeds and sphagnum moss. Even Wal-Mart has a garden center and they always seem very willing to help out the local community.

Choosing the herbs
There are a few "old standbys" that are always good bets for any herb garden. Anything you use on a day-to-day basis works well, because it means that Mom will actually have a need for the full-grown plant. Parsley and thyme are both easy to grow and widely used. Basil, rosemary, oregano, mint and other common herbs are also good choices. (Although not an herb, tomatoes are also easy to grow and can be planted outdoors once they are well established.)

Decorating for gifts
If you use milk cartons you will definitely want to do some decorating. Because you want to avoid any kind of water-based markers or paints, consider using permanent markers. If you have a little more time to spend on decorations, you could also wrap a thick ribbon around the container to cover any printing, then secure the end with a dab of hot glue. If you can get some scraps from a fabric store, those can also be cut into squares, placed under the carton and then gathered up the sides to create a sort of "basket" effect as well. Secure with hot glue and a ribbon.

Planting the seeds
Plant one herb per container according to package directions. Very small seeds need to be lightly pressed into the soil - it may not be necessary to actually put dirt over them. Seeds should be kept moist until they sprout. Cover the containers with plastic wrap until you see green, and keep the sphagnum moss handy in case you have problems with mold. The moss will absorb water from the surface and can quickly and easily eliminate any fungus.

Finishing touches
Now that Mom is receiving fresh herbs, she may need some suggestions on how to cook with them. Below is a fantastic recipe that use 3 different herbs. Use it to start a collection of your own from other faculty and friends. Have students copy the recipes onto index cards and then decorate with crayons or markers. Punch a hole in the corner of the index cards and thread a ribbon through to make a book.

Herb Cloverleafs
2 tablespoons yeast
1 1/2 cups warm water
1/3 cup buttermilk
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup melted butter
3 cups flour
1 teaspoon chopped oregano
1 1/2 teaspoons chopped basil leaves
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
1/4 teaspoon garlic

In a large bowl add yeast to water and let sit for 30 seconds. Add melted butter, spices, buttermilk, salt and sugar. Gradually stir in flour and knead for 8 minutes. If too wet add a little more flour. Grease large bowl with a little butter and add dough. Cover and let rise in a warm area until doubled (about 45 minutes). Fold dough over, punch down, and knead 1 minute.
Preheat over to 375 degrees. Make 36 small balls about 1-inch each. Fill greased muffin tins with 3 balls each. They will look like a cloverleaf. Cover and let rise 1 hour. Bake for 15 minutes or until golden brown. Makes 1 dozen.

I used to work as a Special Ed. Asst at a local high school. One project we did for Mother's Day was to paint clay pots using acrylic paint, brushes and pre-cut sponges. I had one student with Down's Syndrome who painted and stamped a beautiful scene on the side of his pot. We, then, planted marigolds in the pots for their moms. The clay pots are relatively inexpensive and a pony pak of plants can be purchased for less than $2 or so. It was a fun project!
Cindy Nielsen, Sevier County 4-H Assistant, Richfield, UT