Harvesting and storing chives

maxkaplan5(6)April 7, 2013

Hi all,

I just started my first garden a few days ago. I am growing chives, parsley, and thyme in my windowsill.

Anyways, I have questions about harvesting my chives. They are about 8 inches tall, and drooping over the sides of the pot quite a bit. I've heard that I should trim them down to be about 1.5-2 inches; is that correct? How long will they take to grow back? How do you store your chives once you harvest them, and how long are they edible? I am worried that I won't eat all of the chives before they go bad, so can I just harvest like a third of the plant? It seems like a waste to grow a plant for weeks or months (even though I've only had it less than a week) and then try to consume all the hard work in 2 or 3 days.

When I harvest the chives do I have to use sterile scissors, or does that sort of thing matter? Should I mist the plant with water after I cut it? I know I have a lot of questions, but I am COMPLETELY new to gardening, and no one in my family ever gardened either so I'm pretty much in uncharted territory haha.

Thanks for the help!

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balloonflower(5b Denver CO, HZ 5-6, Sunset 2b)

Yes, you are correct in the 1-2" rule. As far as I am aware, it is better to cut the whole chive, rather than to harvest just a couple inches of tip. You can easily harvest in thirds or quarters, just carefully so you don't accidentally uproot the remainder of the clump. I have 6 clumps, that I keep at various stages. How long they take to grow back depends on heat, water, and light, but chives do grow rather fast. The new sprouts outside in my garden did about 4" this week, but potted chives can be a bit slower. The flavor intensifies a bit as they age, but you can chop them when they reach the height you mentioned. If you notice flavor diminishing, quit harvesting for a bit and let them recharge.

I prefer my chives fresh. They would probably store for a few days in the fridge. For the fresher taste, the freezer is probably a better bet. You can try dry freezing them whole in a ziploc, or snip them finely and suspend them in water in ice cube trays. If you choose to dry chives, you need to snip them into small pieces prior to drying, or you'll get straw that doesn't cut after it's dry. For either frozen or dried, the important thing is to wash them (although I don't always do this for my indoor ones), then let them completely dry. Any water will either delay drying or frostbite them. Then, I use a scissors to snip them into little pieces. I have had really good luck drying chives in a very fine mesh bag laid flat on a wire shelf. But warning---they will smell strongly for a day or so. And you need to make sure the dry chives won't fall through the mesh, since they shrink as they dry, and if you have relatively immature fine chives, they get very small (think lingerie bag--very fine mesh). You can also set them on a layer of paper toweling or newsprint on a shallow cookie sheet or pie plate and let them dry that way. Make sure they are completely dry before storing airtight in a dark place.

I've honestly never worried too much about sterile scissors, I just use my clean kitchen shears. On another note--chives in pots tend to be heavy feeders and need to be fertilized monthly, especially if you harvest continually. Use a low numbered liquid fert, or half strength of a stronger fert, or compost tea, or whatever you prefer. If you let them flower, chive blossom vinegar is amazing!

    Bookmark   April 7, 2013 at 10:23PM
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Awesome, is there anything I have to do to make them flower?

    Bookmark   April 8, 2013 at 12:14AM
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balloonflower(5b Denver CO, HZ 5-6, Sunset 2b)

For flowering, you do have to let them fully mature, and the bloom is usually late spring, though sometimes they'll do a second smaller bloom in fall. A couple options--let them go now, or harvest all now, freezing or drying enough to get you through a while, then let them grow until they flower. You'll start to see the little bud tips form. I pulled my box inside in late February, have harvested twice, and am starting to see little purple buds now, since I woke them a bit early.

The pretty pinky purple flowers can also be eaten fresh, especially sprinkled into salads. For vinegar, I generally use a good quality white wine vinegar, or you can use rice or any other vin too. You heat it to just below boiling (when it starts steaming is good enough). You don't want to boil it, but the heat helps release the flavor oils in the herb. Then pour it over a jar of blossoms, and let it sit for 2-3 weeks. Don't use a jar with a metal lid--the vinegar can react to it. If all you have is metal, then put a layer of saran between. Shake every 3-4 days (or for me, whenever I happen to open that cupboard and remember that it's there). Check the flavor after a couple weeks, to see if it's as strong as you'd like. Then, strain the spent blossoms out. If you have fridge space, that's the best place to store it, but if not, then cool dry cupboard like you'd store vinegar. Makes great salad vinaigrettes.

    Bookmark   April 8, 2013 at 12:39AM
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fatamorgana2121(Zone 5/6)

Flowering? Probably growing it outside.

If you do wish to dry chives - and I agree fresh is best, something like a food dehydrator is necessary unless you live some place hot and dry. They dry too slowly and poorly otherwise.


    Bookmark   April 8, 2013 at 8:19AM
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balloonflower(5b Denver CO, HZ 5-6, Sunset 2b)


You may be correct. My potted chives have always flowered for me, but then I do move them in and out, and sometimes during the winter they have stayed outside, buried in straw due to space. It is possible that they need the outdoor exposure or cold dormancy period to flower. Anyone know?

And the dehydrator is a nice mention. I haven't had any problems thus far with my mesh bag method, but we have a very dry climate. I do usually use my basement, which runs around 60 in the winter, so it wasn't hot, but it was dry. And they dried in 2 days. Thank you for mentioning something I didn't think of.

    Bookmark   April 8, 2013 at 12:16PM
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Yes, cut them fresh ... cut just what you need when you need them. Cut a few chives, all the way at the base near the soil. Do not just cut the tips off of many different chives.

Bit worried that yours are drooping, mine have always grown extremely upright, even when they get quite long.

I have two clumps that are 4 or 5 years old, they are container grown (outdoors) and flower every summer. You don't have to do anything to them, they should just make flowers on their own. :)

    Bookmark   April 20, 2013 at 10:19PM
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Chives also make a good herb butter. See the link for a basic recipe, but the proportions are really not critical. You can freeze the butter in a log and slice some off as needed. This is another great use for the blossoms - they make it look pretty!

Here is a link that might be useful: Herb Butter from theKitchn

    Bookmark   April 21, 2013 at 10:49AM
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