Fresh chives are a welcome addition to just about any dish! Cutting up a small bunch of chive leaves with a scissors over a salad, pot of soup, or omelet adds a pleasant, savory, mild onion flavor. Chives can be found growing wild in many places, and are very easy . . . perhaps too easy . . . to grow in your garden!
Chives have been a part of the human diet for nearly 5,000 years. They are native to Asia, and were probably first used by the Chinese, and later the ancient Greeks. The first European settlers in North America brought chives from their herb gardens in the old world to grow in their new homes. In North America chives quickly spread, until they are now common in Alaska, the Yukon, and the west coast, as well as New Mexico and Arizona.
Chive, allium schoenoprasum, is a member of the lily family. It grows best in well-drained soil. It likes, but does not necessarily need full sun.
Chives can be grown from seeds or “starts” from your favorite gardening center, but perhaps the best way to begin growing your own chives is to get some from a friend. Most gardens will have chives growing somewhere. Look for long, narrow, hollow leaves and, in season, their purple-pink, onion-shaped buds that bloom into a small petaled blossom that resembles a purple clover. The key identifier is its onion smell. In most of these gardens you’ll see dense, tall patches of chives. It grows so fast, and proliferates so well that few cooks use enough to deplete their supply. Because they grow so densely, chive patches should be divided about every three years. Most gardeners will be more than happy to have you help them by taking some of their plants off their hands!
The whole chive plant is edible. When harvesting the leaves, take a scissors and cut the tender stalks two inches above the soil. These will continue to grow throughout the season. Avoid the woodier stalks that are forming bulbs. They are edible, but they’re less pleasant to eat than the tender shoots. Chives are prolific enough that you can be selective in your harvesting.
Because of this handy method of harvesting, you’ll want to avoid grass or other weeds growing in among your chive plants. For this reason, consider growing your chives in their own pot. If you want them in your garden, weeds can be limited by protecting them with a plastic ring. Cut the top and bottom off of a plastic jug, or cut the bottom out of a planter or small bucket, and sink it into your soil at least four inches. Plant your chives in this ring. The ring prevents the roots of other plants, particularly weeds, from growing in among your chives. Water your newly planted chives thoroughly until the plants are established or, if planting seeds, until seedlings sprout. Water thereafter as needed.
If planting bulbs, plant clumps of six or less bulbs five to eight inches apart. Do not mulch your chives, as that might inhibit air circulation and increase the likelihood of diseases. Even though they grow prolifically, chives compete poorly with other plants, so in addition to the precautions mentioned above, weed diligently!
When your chive patch is ready to divide, dig up plants in the early spring, work the clumps apart gently with your fingers into four to six bulb clumps. Replant, or give them away!
Before long, you’ll have enough chives that you’ll begin experimenting, adding the leaves, blossoms, and bulbs to just about anything you cook.
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