People have long been fascinated by herbs and spices, and a very good book about them has been published recently.
"The Complete Book of Herbs & Spices," by Sarah Garland (Viking Press, 288 printed pages, 8 1/2 by 11 1/2 inches, beautifully illustrated, $25).
Sarah Garland's "Wild Flowers of Britain" was published in 1978. She has also written five books for children and illustrated 15 more. She lives in the Cotswolds, England, where she tends a large herb garden and three children.
If you are interested in wholesome flavors, natural cosmetics, fragrant potpourris and safe herbal remedies, this book contains all the advice and information that you will need. Nearly 300 plants are fully described, with instructions for growing them outdoors or indoors. In addition there are more than 200 recipes from her own collection. This book is illustrated throughout with outstanding botanical watercolors, color photographs and step-by-step diagrams.
Many herbs will grow well in pots on sunny windowsills, in window boxes, hanging baskets and in tubs or barrels in a sunroom or on a balcony, she says. There should even be enough space on one large south-facing windowsill to grow a selection of the basic flavoring herbs or a row of scented herbs that can be used for making tisanes (tea prepared with one or more herbs).
In a sunroom or balcony, four tubs planted with mixed annuals and perennials and a good proportion of evergreen herbs for winter picking can provide most of the fresh herbs needed by a small household. They are also decorative and sweetly scented.
The first necessity is light. Few herbs suitable for indoor growing will thrive in the shade. Most need sunlight for at least half the day, so set them in a south-facing window if possible, or one facing east or west. It is possible to grow herbs in a shady room under special fluorescent tubes, about 6 inches above the top of the plant.
Temperature is important. It is useless to try to grow herbs directly above a radiator or stove or in an airless kitchen that is often steamy and full of fumes.
Ideally there should be warmth during the day, lower temperatures at night and some humidity. In a centrally heated home humidity may be lacking, so keep a bowl filled with water above the radiator or near the herbs. A direct draft may harm the plants though fresh air is necessary.
There are some advantages in using an unglazed clay pot, the most important being that excess water will evaporate through the clay walls so the roots are not likely to become waterlogged. Drowning by over-watering is the most common fate of indoor herbs.
Another advantage is that the moisture content of the soil can be discovered by tapping a clay container sharply; it will give a ringing sound if the soil is too dry and a dull thud if too wet.
Whether of plastic or clay, the container should have an adequate drainage hole and stand in a saucer or tray. A layer of gravel in the tray will ensure that the pot never sits in stagnant water.
Wooden boxes or barrels make good containers if you have the space. Boxes should be at least 10 inches deep. Saw barrels in half and use them as tubs, or cut several holes about 2 inches across in their sides and grow an herb from each hole.
To make the best use of all available space and light, plant a hanging basket with herbs, the upright species in the center and trailing mints and thymes, nasturitiums or ground ivy around the edge.
Be careful not to overwater, especially during the winter when plants are resting and should not be stimulated into unseasonal growth. It is best to water in the morning so that excess moisture can evaporate during the day, and to use only tepid water.
The use of tissue culture has virtually revolutionized the production of such plants as chrysanthemums, orchids, ferns and carnations. Many of the house plants sold today were propagated with tissue culture. Very small pieces of plants are used, such as embryos, seeds, stems, leaves, shoot tips, root tips, wound tissue, single cells and pollen grains.
In the future, tissue culture probably will be of greatest value in propagating perennial plants that are difficult or slow to propagate, such as roses, apple and peach trees, according to a research report by Dr. Robert M. Skivin and Dr. Mel. C. Chu, University of Illinois horticulturists.
It is badly needed for roses. Producing rose bushes is becoming too costly for many commerical growers, mainly because of the large amount of skilled labor needed for budding, which consists of grafting a bud from a desired variety onto a hardy rootstock.
They began a study to develop methods for tissue culture propagation of greenhouse roses. Initial experiments were conducted with shoot tips from the Forever Yours variety.
Within five weeks about 25 percent of the shoot tips on the shoot proliferation medium developed multiple shoots. These tips were separated and placed on fresh medium where they have continued to proliferate through three or more generations. Much better results, up to 80 percent on some media, have been attained in later experiments.
Successful tissue culture progagation of roses not only would eliminate the cost of budding, the scientists say, but would offer several other advantages as well.
Virus-free forms of popular varieties could be stored in culture tubes until needed, reducing the cost of maintaining large numbers of varieties in soil. And rose plants could be produced the year around regardless of weather conditions.
Fertilization of bearing apple and peach trees, particularly those growing in lawns, is almost as important as spraying them during spring and summer to protect the fruit from insects and diseases. One of the best times to apply the fertilizer is very late fall. Non-bearing trees should be fertized only if the soil is poor and the trees are not making good growth.
Moderate vigor is best for good fruit production. Too much as well as too little new growth is detrimental.
A good, safe, general rule for fruit trees in the home garden is four pounds of 10-6-4 fertilizer per 100 square feet, spread evenly on the soil surface from near the trunk to slightly beyond the spread of the branches.
Work the fertilizer into the mulch, if there is one, water it in if there is sod, and if there is neither mulch nor sod, work it gently into the soil because deep cultivation may cause injury to the roots.
Applying the fertilizer too early in the fall can result in severe winter injury on some apple varieties. If applied after complete dormancy, fall fertilization is completely safe and effective. Early spring also is a satisfactory time to apply the fertilizer.
Research at the University of Maine has shown that fruits from trees adequately fertilized with nitrogen were definitely better flavored than those from low nitrogen trees.