Jane McLeod: The versatile chive
October 25, 2010
Steamboat Springs — One of the most popular and widespread culinary flavorings comes from the onion, or allium, family.
Within this larger family of onions, garlic, leeks and shallots, is found the delicate chive (allium schoenoprasum) herb. Chives are nicknamed "the little brothers of the onion" and that, essentially, is what they are.
Chives grow 12 to 18 inches in height, in bright-green clumps of very tiny bulbs. They have small, spiky, cylindrical leaves that — rather than being flat — are hollow, tapered tubes ending in a sharp point. In summer, round blossoms that are reminiscent of clover blossoms and made of many six-pointed flowers, but look like one single bloom, burst out of their buds. The blossoms become a riot of pink-purple pompoms dotting the mound of green.
The leaves actually grow best and provide better flavor if the plants are not allowed to flower — but that's not worth missing their bright show. Instead, after flowering, trim away the entire flower stalk, which is thicker and stronger than the leaves.
The flowers at their peak are wonderful when broken up and sprinkled into a salad, when you want a stronger onion flavor than the leaves provide.
Chives do their very best in good, rich soil in full sun. But, truthfully, they will grow anywhere and under almost any conditions. Chives are very hardy perennials that die back completely in the winter but are among the first to send out new growth in early spring. Often, when the snowdrift they are under finally melts, you will find they already are up and out of the ground by a couple of inches. Keep them well-weeded, enrich the soil with good compost and keep them continually watered, as they do not like to dry out.
Either grow several clumps of chives, keeping them at different growth stages, or cut a clump back to about 2 inches in small sections — rather than just trimming the whole top — to have an ongoing succession of lovely, fresh chive stalks throughout summer. Chives can be grown from seeds, but germination is slow, and the quickest way to propagate is to divide and transplant the roots of established plants. That can be done either in midsummer after they have