Chives to Begin Your Herb Garden

Chives are probably the most common herb in a beginner's herb garden.They are simple to grow, useful and decorative. Chives grow best in well-drained rich soil. Mine receive fresh compost every spring. Chives can be purchased at a nursery, given to you by a friend dividing their chive clumps in spring, or can be easily started from seed indoors and in warmed soil in the garden later in the season. I have never witnessed chives dying out in a garden, but they could rot away given poor drainage and would fail to thrive in heavy clay.

Chives are in the lily family. The scientific name for chives is Allium schoenoprasum. Their genus name Allium indicates their relationship to onions. Digging a clump of chives certainly shows this as you will see many small "onions" below the soil surface. The species name schoenoprasum indicates something of their long history. They were called rush-leeks during the Middle Ages from the Greek schoinos which means rush and prason meaning leek.

The flowers of garden chives are a beautiful blue violet. They may be harvested right after they are fully open for use in salads. A word of warning here: don't let the flowers go to seed. You will have chive plants everywhere! I was ill one year after flowering occurred and as a result I had to dig out unwanted chive plants for several years. When the flowers are faded and before seed formation occurs simply cut the entire plant down to about an inch above the soil. It will revive beautifully. You can use these leaves as your first cuttings.

What do you do with the leaves you cut? Don't bother drying them. I think the results taste like straw. I wash the leaves and pat them dry. I freeze them in plastic bags. I get two to three cuttings of chives each year. Please don't cut chives at the leaf tips when harvesting. The remaining leaf tips turn brown and unsightly. Cut down to one inch above the soil. You'll be happy you did.

I don't directly cook chives as the flavor of onion tends to disappear. I like to add chives at the last second for color and for the mild taste of onion. I like them better than green onions when added at the end of a stir fry. You probably already add them to sour cream or butter. Yum!

The chives in our herb garden have never had disease but I do know that chive plants can get powdery mildew (a fungus). If this happens, dig up the plant and remove diseased leaves. Replant somewhere else in the garden. If the plants are too diseased discard them. This procedure also works for the care of many species of plants. I have grown chives in pots. On occasion they have gotten aphids. I wash off the aphids with a water spray every few days. Vigilance is key.

At the end of the growing season I let chives die back naturally. I never cut them to the ground at this time. Chives are a bulb species and like all bulbs they need replenishing to survive and grow again the next year.

Forever Young Magazine - May 2007