Photo: Oxmoor House
SEASON: Spring and summer
CHOOSING: Look for healthy green leaves with no signs of yellow or brown.
STORING: Use chives fresh from the garden or market, storing any extra in a produce bag in the vegetable bin of your refrigerator. Thinly slice the narrow leaves for maximum flavor impact. When cooking, toss them in at the end, as heat destroys their flavor. Fresh chives should remain usable for about a week. For longer storage, cut them into short sections using kitchen shears, and place in a heavy-duty zip-top plastic bag in the freezer.
GROWING: Chives are small, perennial onions that remain green and usable all season. They go dormant after a hard freeze but return each season as the weather warms, growing about 12 inches tall with tubular, grass-like leaves. Single, wispy seedlings will grow into clumps in a couple of years, so space them out to avoid overcrowding. Chives make an excellent border for a garden bed, or they can be grown in a 4- to 6-inch pot if only a few are needed. Start with either seeds or transplants, and select a site with full sun and rich soil.
Just after the leaves appear, edible lavender-pink flowers emerge like puff balls. Enjoy them in the garden, or use them in the kitchen for herbal vinaigrettes or mixed in fresh with salad greens. Remove the browned flower stalks after they fade.
When cutting chives, select a few leaves on the edge of a clump. Snip them off near the soil, even if you do not need the entire leaf. This encourages new growth and prevents the accumulation of little brown-edged stumps. Add compost around your chives each spring, or give them a boost with a timed-release fertilizer.