ABOUT THE PLANT
Description: Chives are the smallest species of the onion family, growing in clusters up from the bulbs. The blue-green leaves are hollow and tubular in form, resembling thick grasses and growing 10-15 inches tall. Lavender, ball-shaped blooms sit atop long stems. Chives taste similar to leeks.
Origin: Europe and Asia
Usage: All parts of the chive plant are edible, though it's primarily grown for the leaves. Due to their mild onion flavor, the leaves are used as garnish and flavoring in salads, dips, and soups. Heat destroys their delicate flavor, so add chives to cooked dishes at the last minute. Fresh chopped chives are popularly added to baked potatoes along with sour cream. Blend chopped chives with soft cheeses and serve with crackers or vegetables.
Interesting facts: Chives were mentioned in 80 AD by Marcus Valerius Martialis in his "Epigrams": He who bears chives on his breathe is safe from being kissed to death.
HOW TO GROW
General requirements: Chives are considered a cool-season crop, which means they grow best in the spring and fall. Chives prefer full sun, fertile soil, and being kept moist. Since they are relatively shallow-rooted, water frequently so the ground does not fully dry out. Apply liquid fish fertilizer every few weeks. They can still do very well in partial shade and less favorable soils.
In the garden: Scatter seeds thinly about 2 inches apart and cover with 1/2 inch of soil. Once seedlings emerge, thin them to 4 to 6 inches apart in all directions. In following years, divide established clumps of six or more bulbs in spring or autumn.
In containers: Chives are ideal for containers because of their shallow roots and plant size. The containers must have good drainage and be placed in a sunny location. Fill a container with potting mix, then sprinkle 10-15 seeds per container and cover with ½ inch more potting mix. Water consistently to keep the soil from drying out. It is also good to spray the greens with water in dry climates. Provide fertilizer several times during the growing season using a liquid fish emulsion.
Transplanting: For a head start in colder regions, start seeds indoors 6 to 8 weeks before the last spring frost. Sprinkle 10-15 seeds per cell filled with potting soil and cover them with ½ inch of soil. Try to keep them at a temperature of 60 to70°F and keep the soil moist. Place them in a location that will get 6-8 hours of light. When plants are 3 or 4 inches tall, and all danger of frost has passed, transplant the clumps into the garden leaving about 10 inches of space between each clump. Dig a hole twice as wide and at the same depth as the clump of roots. Then fill the hole with water, letting it settle in before planting your chives. Set the clump into the hole and fill in and around with soil and pack lightly. Water thoroughly after planting to allow the soil to settle around the roots of the plants and provide moisture for new root growth.
Leaves: Chives are cut and come again. Harvesting can begin when plants are 6 inches tall. Trim chives with scissors selecting the outer leaves first, always leaving at least 2 inches of growth remaining. The leaves grow back quickly, so the plants can be harvested several times throughout the season. In the first year, you can cut back 3-4 times. You can harvest more often in the following years or about once a month or as needed. Cut back after flowering to promote new growth. Chives are best when used fresh. Cut chives can be stored in a tightly sealed baggie in the refrigerator for up to a week.
Flowers: Simply pick off the fresh flowers by hand and use them as garnish.
Seeds: Let some of the flowers go to seed. When they have faded to a pale tan color, collect them and let them dry further, out of the direct sun, in a well-ventilated area. Rub them between your fingers when thoroughly dry, allowing the seeds to collect in a dish. Gently blow away any remaining chaff and store the seeds in a small paper envelope or glass jar in a cool, dry place.
Common name: chives
Latin name: Allium schoenoprasum
Growth habit: Upright clumping herb
Life cycle: perennial
USDA Zones: 3-10
Seeds per ounce: about 7,000