Chives are unsung heroes of the vegetable garden. This long-lived, hardy perennial is so easy and problem-free that it's easy to ignore. But don't! When you have a chive plant in your garden, fresh onion flavor for soups, salads and baked potatoes is always close at hand.
The easiest way to get started with chives is to get a chunk from a friend or neighbor's plant. You can also just buy a potted plant at your local nursery. You can start chives by seed, but it will take a year or more before you will have plants big enough for harvesting. Once you get a clump established, it can easily be divided into smaller clumps in order to create more plants.
There's nothing fussy about chives. They grow best in rich, moist soil in full sun, but will also grow in part shade. They do not require much in the way of fertilizers; a little slow-release organic fertilizer at planting time will keep them happy for three years or more, at which time you can divide the clump. Each clump is actually many little plants, each like a tiny onion.
You can snip a few chives anytime that you wish. Leave behind about 2" of the stem when you harvest. The lavender-pink flowers are edible. Just cut off the base of the flower and sprinkle the little florets into salads or on sandwiches. The more you use your chives, the more fresh growth the plant will produce. In midsummer, the leaves can get tough if you don't keep picking them. Cut back the plant in places to stimulate growth.
A related species is garlic chives, which is a similar but larger plant than ordinary chives. The foliage of garlic chives has a stronger, more garlicy flavor. The leaves are flatter and the large white flowers are pretty enough to earn the plant a space in the flower garden.
If you divide your plant in late summer and pot up a clump to bring indoors, you can keep some chives growing on the windowsill for much of the winter. You can also pot up another clump, cut off most of the foliage, and leave the pot outside in the cold. Bring it indoors in mid-winter and your chives will begin growing right away. Use a plastic pot so it won't break when the soil freezes.
Chives will spread by seed if you don't pick the flowers, but the little grass-like plants are easy to pull and pleasant to eat.
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