Chives and Garlic Chives--herbs and onions in one
Allium schoenoprasum, Common Chives, grow wild in Europe and Asia. The plant is a perennial with slim, hollow, more or less rounded, fresh green leaves. The globular flowerhead is first encased in a round sheath of two bracts which are pushed to one side as the flowers open out. The tightly clustered individual flowers are rose-pink and bloom in early summer.
Ancient medicinal herb
The Chinese were already cultivating Chives more than 1,000 years ago and, even in Europe, Chives have been known for several hundred years. Herbalists from the 1600's describe this useful herb as being suitable for addition to both fish and meat, good for the treatment of bladder and stomach conditions, (although it can cause headaches), restless sleep, and "the evil eye."
Garlic Chives--similar to Common Chives
Garlic Chives are not really new. They have been cultivated for thousands of years throughout China, Mongolia, and Japan, where they are also known as Allium chinense.
The dark green, flattened, narrow leaves are about 1/2 inch wide and 10-16 inches long. Usually, young leaves are used in the kitchen. They are sold in bundles and can be eaten raw or cooked together with other food. The leaves can be chopped like regular Chives, but the flavor is more like mild garlic. Garlic Chives can be propagated in the same way as common Chives and are suitable for growing in window boxes or flower pots throughout the year.
Cultivated Common and Garlic Chives
The cultivated varieties are similar to the wild ones and are easy to grow in pots. Chives send out a number of offsets and soon grow into small clumps with many leaves. Chives will bloom during their second year after sowing and are at their most attractive during their 3rd and 4th year. They can be propagated either by seed or by division. The latter method is quick and easy.
Chive seeds are similar to onion seeds and are best sown in March-April. The seeds take a long time to germinate and should not be allowed to dry out in the meantime. Sow them at 1/2-3/4 inch below the surface of warm (around 70°F) soil. Potting soil mixed with sand is fine--just keep it evenly moist. As long as the seeds are not sown too closely in the first place, they will need no thinning out.
Forcing Chives in winter
It is actually possible to cultivate Chives in winter, although it takes a lot of effort and is not always successful.
Resting plants contain a special growth-inhibiting hormone and it is necessary to remove this before the time when it would normally be broken down by the plant itself. The hormone can be removed by sinking the plant into a bath of hot (around 100°F) water for 4 hours. Trim the plant after this treatment and place in a bright window at around 68°-70°F. Lower the temperature to about 60°F after one week and, after another week, the plant will send up fresh, new, green leaves.
Onion flies lay their eggs in the soil near the plant and
the maggots burrow into the bulbs. Use predatory beetles,
which live on the maggots.
The tips of the leaves turn yellow and the leaves wither away if the plant suffers from lack of nitrogen through the summer.
Chives can bought in small pots at almost any time of year. Check that all leaves are fresh and green without withered tips. Garlic Chives are not quite as common.
Lifespan: Many years, but often resown after 3-4 years.
Season: All year.
Difficulty quotient: A very easy plant.
Size and growth rate
A perennial bulb with a clumping growth and many crisp, round, green leaves. Chives will reach a height of 10-16 inches. Fast growing.
Flowering and fragrance
Chives will bloom for the first time during early summer in their second year. The round flowerhead of Common Chive is either lilac or rose-pink, while that of the Garlic Chive is white. All parts of the plant have a characteristic onion-like aroma when crushed.
Light and temperature
Chives thrive in both sunshine and half-shade. They can grow outside all summer and prefer a winter temperature of about 16°-20°F.
Watering and feeding
Water regularly, but allow the soil to dry somewhat between waterings. During summer, when the Chives are in growth, they should be fed 3 or 4 times with a nitrogen-based fertilizer. This is important if the plants are to retain their fresh, green, foliage.
Soil and transplanting
The soil should be on the alkaline side and rich in humus. It should be well-drained, but not dry out too quickly. A sandy potting soil mixed with compost and calcium is best for potted Chives.
Chives are increased by sowing seeds in March-April, or dividing older clumps in April-May.
Chives make an excellent border plant in the garden.
For information on Choosing, Cultivating, Preserving and Using Herbs, please read my Fresh Herbal Guide at http://freshherbalguide.blogspot.com/
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