Most people are familiar with the green, onion-like seasoning tidbits that we call chives. Often chopped into little roundlings and used to top baked potatoes alongside sour cream, the leaves of the chive plant lend a delicate hint of onion flavour to the foods we enjoy. But did you know that the bulbs and flowers of the chive plant are also edible? And best of all, it is easy to grow chives indoors so that the fresh herb is available year-round for cooking. If you want to grow chives indoors for leaves, onions, and flowers, you can have a robust set of chive clumps by using this guide.
How do I start to grow chives indoors?
Though it’s common to take a mini-thicket of existing chives and transplant a bundle into a pot for indoor growing, I find it more rewarding to start chives from seed. Even the inexpensive 10-cent seed packets found at grocery and drug stores will sprout a healthy crop. This is one of the hardiest herbs, so it can grow indoors with minimal care after germination. Chives prefer moist soil, especially early on – but as with any plant, be careful not to overwater them. The chive seedlings can be started with some basic potting soil in egg crates and then transplanted to larger containers once they’ve sprouted a few inches. You can also grow the chives in a larger pot from the start, but if you do this, I’d recommend something oriented lengthwise (almost like a window box) instead of a round pot.
Why, you ask? Well, if you want to grow chives indoors for leaves, onions, AND flowers, you’ll want to distinguish the chive plants harvested for leaves from the chive plants harvested for onions and flowers. This is because the presence of flowers slows down the growth of leaves, so it’s best to have a division of indoor garden labor. A couple months after germination, when the purple flowers begin to appear, designate a few chive clumps for which you will keep the flowers to use as garnishing (and then harvest the bulbs to use as “onions”). On all the other chive clumps, be sure to trim off the flower heads as soon as they appear. That way, you’ll see the most vigorous growth of new leaves and thus more conventional chives to snip and chop for seasoning. I would recommend a one-third / two-thirds division in favour of the non-flower clumps, but that’s just my personal preference.
How do I harvest chives for leaves?
On the chive clumps that you’re using for leaves (the ones from which you’re removing flower heads), wait until the chives have grown about 3 or 4 inches above the soil. Then select a leaf and trim it down to about 1.5 inches using scissors or a sharp knife blade. Repeat this until you have enough chives for whatever dish you’re cooking. It’s best to use chives when they’re fresh, so I suggest trimming one leaf at a time, chopping it, and then assessing whether you have enough. Dried chives just don’t retain the smooth onion-hinted flavour of fresh chives. Since you’re growing chives indoors, you shouldn’t need to harvest them in bulk; just let the happy plant occupy your windowsill ready for immediate service anytime.
How do I harvest chives for flowers and onions?
The purple (or sometimes pinkish) flowers of the chive plant can be used as a garnish. Once they appear and erupt fully, simply snip them off and tear them up a little with your hand to separate the blossoms. I have seen chive flowers sprinkled on salads or on top of potato soup as a garnish alongside regular chive leaves. Chive flowers can also be used as a colorful adornment for butter-chive potato pancakes. Yum! And as if the chive plant were not practical enough, the bulbs can be pulled up and used like onions for their subtle flavour. Simply chop the bulbs of your chives and use them as you would small green onions.
A final note for growing chives indoors:
Remember that chives come back year and year, even though leaf growth slows significantly during winter months. It’s a hardy plant that you can’t easily kill unless you neglect it utterly, so leaves that have died off tend to reappear as early as February.