To start growing chives, you can plant seeds indoors on a sunny windowsill or in a herb garden with full sun exposure and humid conditions. But first, you need to learn how to plant chives and get their flower buds blooming, before your start harvesting chive leaves.
What are Chives
Chive plants are a perennial crop whose scientific name is Allium schoenoprasum. They are a particular species of flowering plants in the Amaryllidaceae family that produces edible leaves and flowers. Their close plant relatives include common onions, Chinese onions, scallions, shallots, leeks, and garlic.
The best thing about chives is their wonderful taste will add a mild onion flavor or mild garlic flavor to any of your favorite recipes. Even their purple flowers and those of other colors can be harvested and eaten too.
Before your start planting chive seedlings you must know that there a three different varieties of chive plants.
Also known as onion chives or common onion chives, their seeds are the easiest to find in your local nursery. Common chives typically grow in clumps of small, thin bulbs. They will produce thin leaves of blue-green color that range in height from 10-15 inches. Depending on the variety, they will also produce purple flowers, or white, red, or pink flowers all of which are edible.
Common chives also have a mild oniony flavor and are often used as garnishes on omelets, chili, and many French cuisine recipes.
Also known as garlic chives, Oriental garlic, Asian chives, Chinese Leek, or allium tuberosum, Chinese chives can be a delicious addition to your herb garden. Think of them as the garlicky cousin of onion chives that grow from a similar clumping bulb.
Chinese chives will grow grey-green stalks of roughly 12 inches that contain white flowers with brown stripes. Their flowers often smell like violet and have a mild flavor when eaten. All plant parts will smell of garlic when crushed or cut, while the flower’s taste can be enhanced if you grow your plant like leeks.
When cooking Chinese Chives, you will find them to have a very distinctive chive aroma. Typical recipe categories that add this savory garlic flavor include soups, stews, and stir fry, while it can also be used as a softer garlicky garnish on mashed or baked potatoes.
Another member of this chive family is Siberian garlic chives or Allium nutans . Based on their blue-green foliage, they are also known as blue flowering garlic chives or just blue chives. This lesser-known variety is native to Central and Northeastern Asian counties like Mongolia, Kazakstan, Russia, and China.
Siberian chives can grow up to 24 inches, which is almost twice the size of their oniony and garlic cousins. They tend to flower from July through August and their nodding leaves offer a mild combination of onion and garlic flavors.
In recipes, they are typically chopped and added to dishes like omelets and risottos where a delicate oniony garlic flavor is required. While not all that tasty, their numerous star-shaped flowerers of pale blue/mauve color can easily add visual appeal to salads.
When planting chives indoors make sure you place them on a sunny windowsill where they can get lots of light. While they can tolerate light shade, they do need the sun to grow along with well-drained soil.
After planting the seeds you will see how fast the chives grow. In about four weeks they enter the germination stage. Afterward, it takes around two more months for the first leaves to show and then mature. At this time, there are around four leaves at about 10 inches in height.
So, after two and a half months you are ready for the first harvest. The next step is replanting the chives. And further on, in about thirty days they will sprout, allowing you to cut the leaves away so you can consume them as food.
After one year of planting the seeds, you can start harvesting the chives each month. Not only this will bring you fresh tasty healthy food regularly but thus you will support the plant’s healthy growing rhythm. Once every two years, you will also need to take away the clumps.
If you begin harvesting chives at the wrong time you might experience limited regrowth and decreased perennial volume. Before cutting your chive plant, be sure to follow these guideline on when to harvest.
- Wait at least 60 days when seeding chives and that it has grown at least 6 inches high to seeds, wait sixty days, but ensure that it has grown at least six inches high. Harvesting of indoor chives can happen all year round.
- Don’t even think about harvesting until tiny green spikes appear on your chive plant, which typically happens in outdoor plants after the spring frost.
- Wait for these spike leaves to be at least 3-4 inches long before you start harvesting
- To ensure proper regrowth next year, be sure to harvest every single part of it, and do this before the first fall frost appears on outdoor plants.
- Don’t start harvesting monthly until your chive plants are at least two years old. This will then help them stay healthy and keep growing year after year.
When planting indoors or in warmer places or growth where winter weather is not an issue, you can continue to harvest chives all year-round.
A key ingredient for successfully harvesting chives is the right time to take each appropriate step. Chives are perennial plants so you can regrow them each year. However, your next year’s crop will depend on the right actions at the right time. Otherwise, you risk not having the right herb production to cover your next year’s planting.
Harvesting chives involves cutting the young leaves when they are juicy and full of flavor. Remember to cut them only early in the morning, when the temperature is on the chilly side. This will protect the mother plant from getting stressed and will enable it to keep growing further leaves. However you can still harvest the leaves at a later age with no issues, just maintain the same harvesting early morning moment.
Cutting the leaves must be done with knives or shears. You should take extra care and sterilize them before actually cutting the plant. This serves to protect the chives from being infected with bacteria or fungi.
Also, you should always work with a sharpened blade for a clean cut, which is the most favorable for herb regeneration. As for the tools themselves, expert gardeners recommend the use of kitchen knives and scissors, yet go for high-quality stainless steel.
Are snips a good tool for such delicate plants? Well, experts even recommend using herb or garden snips when you have a big chive harvest. Thus you can cut whole leaf groups at once. Especially since you have to cut the leaves from the very base of the chive, so you need a sharp, precise tool that exerts a lot of strength and cuts the entire group in one move.
Just make sure that you hold the whole bunch before cutting. If they are too many and you can’t contain them with your free hand, you can tie them up with a string or rubber band as close as possible to the sprouting base. Then just cut with the snip underneath the string.
If you harvest the chive leaves just for cooking once, you better cut a small quantity, exactly the necessary for that dish. For such a small quantity you could simply pluck several fresh leaves by hand.
The young ones are very easy to break. You could pluck a couple of them with your bare forefinger and thumb. However, you still need to be careful about the right amount of pressure. Chives are quite fragile and you might pluck away the herbs or just smash the leaves in half, which renders them useless.
Also, apply the right move. Don’t pluck from above cause you risk loosening the herb inside the soil, or unearthing it completely. The appropriate move is to come tenderly from one side, grip the leaves firmly and pull quickly after having broken their base through a small twist.
Chives might appear to grow fast, yet they need care and appropriate measures to ensure a healthy and regular harvest.
Besides cutting the leaves that you can eat you also need to remove the flower stems which in time get woody, as well as the old dried leaves. This action, if constantly done, will encourage a richer production of fresh leaves.
Also, at the end of a harvest cycle, you have to cut everything growing above the ground with long blade shears. This will stimulate a new growth cycle, either next year or even during the same season.