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Gardening: Championing chives

July 29, 2012

The introduction of chives to Europe is often, quite erroneously, attributed to that amazing traveller Marco Polo which is factually correct. The gentleman was primary responsible for the arrival of chives in the western world in that he reported their existence and long term medicinal and culinary uses that he had personally witnessed in China.

Regular garden chives, botanically known as Allium schoenoprasum, have been known, used and cultivated in China since as far back as 3,000BC but did not arrive here in Pakistan until during the relatively recent past and they have, over the last 20 years or so, become very popular indeed.

Increasingly cultivated by gardeners throughout the length and breadth of the country, chives are perfectly at home everywhere as long as correct growing conditions are provided. They are equally at home being cultivated either directly in the ground or in pots of any kind both indoors and out.

Chive seed is now readily available and is one of the easiest herb seeds to germinate. In fact, one has to be extra careful not to sow the seed too closely as at least 80 per cent of it, if cared for properly, is liable to pop up within seven to 14 days of sowing.

Chives love rich, moisture retentive soil and enjoy plenty of sunshine except, it must be stressed, during the summer heat when they would much prefer a spot in partial shade. The ideal soil mix, whether you are growing them directly in the ground or in pots/containers, is 50 per cent sweet soil and 50 per cent old, well rotted, organic manure/homemade organic compost/purchased, indigenously produced, organic compost. If you do not have easy access to the specified manure then make up the required 50 per cent out of the compost but do not substitute only manure if compost is not available. If you cannot get the compost then use 75 per cent sweet soil and only 25 per cent manure.

Using too much manure can actually damage plants of all kinds and can adversely impact the precious soil structure too, so please take care. While manure, preferably organic of course, is a gardener’s friend it can also be a gardener’s enemy if used too liberally: The latter is even more detrimental if the manure is not fully rotted down as it heats up during the natural process of breaking down and not only burns tender plant roots and leaves but also kills important beneficial insects and the invisible microbes necessary for good soil health. Old, fully rotted down manure is a chocolate brown substance with a crumbly texture and no visible straw or other plant material. Manure that is not ready for garden use contains a high percentage of straw and general lumps and bumps such as perennial weed residue and seeds which could be highly problematic in the future. Therefore gardeners, please chose your manure with care.

Chive seedlings look very similar to grass so do not weed them unless and until you can identify exactly which is which. Let the seedlings get fully established, this means at least three to four inches tall, before you transplant them from the seed tray/pot or seedbeds.

Under no circumstances should you attempt to transplant the seedlings one at a time. This should be done in small bunches of six–12 plants at a time and when digging them up from the seed tray/pots/seedbed, leave as much soil attached to the roots as possible. These clumps of seedlings should then be planted out six to nine inches part in prepared soil or one clump per 10-inch clay pot.

After transplanting, water them well. Transplanting is best done in the evening so that the tender seedlings have all night long to drink up the water and at least to partially recover from the shock of having their roots disturbed before the sun comes up to challenge them.

Established clumps of chives should be dug up, either during late autumn or in very early spring, every three years or so, divided up and replanted in newly prepared soil mix. Unless you do this, the quality and quantity of chives to be harvested will decline dramatically.

Chives, as mentioned earlier, can be cultivated indoors on a window sill that receives lots of natural light. If the window sill is too narrow to keep plant pots then grow them in things like yoghurt cartons, cut down water bottles, etc. all of which are perfectly suitable as long as drainage holes are made in the base.

As long as watered regularly and kept clear of weeds, chives are trouble free and surprisingly hardy and the attractive pink flowers, as well as the narrow, onion-like leaves, are an excellent addition to salads, omelettes and other dishes.

Please continue sending your gardening queries to Remember to include your location. Answers to selected questions will appear shortly in a future issue of the magazine. The writer will not respond directly by e-mail. E-mails with attachments will not be opened. Please note: The writer’s garden is not open to the public.