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Garden in the City: Ch-Ch-Ch-Chive Talkin', So Misunderstood

By Patty Wetli | June 10, 2014 2:08pm | Updated on June 11, 2014 8:30am
 I've given chives a season pass based on looks alone, but now I want more from the relationship.
I've given chives a season pass based on looks alone, but now I want more from the relationship.
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DNAinfo/Patty Wetli

LINCOLN SQUARE — It should come as no surprise that chives are easy to grow.

They are, after all, a member of the edible onion genus that Chicago was named after. (The Native American word "Checagou" has been translated as either onion or garlic. We'll let the supporters of the various interpretations duke it out in the comments section.)

Technically known as Allium schoenoprasum, chives are considered an essential herb in France, but truth be told, I only have them in my vegetable garden because they're perennials, meaning they crop back up every year with zero effort on my part. They're also quite pretty.

With their stems tipped in purple puffs, chives are a welcome pop of color in a sea of green. It's like they're dressed for a night on the town while everyone else stays home in their yoga pants. 

Patty Wetli shares how to mix cheddar and chives in a delicious pancake:

In past years, I've given chives a season pass based on looks alone, despite the fact that I've yet to find a use for them in the kitchen, short of seasoning the garbage.

I suspect I'm not the only one stymied by chives: I look around Global Garden and I see clumps of the flowering herb in dozens of plots. That I can identify them so easily by their blooms suggests no one else has been snipping them for cooking either — apparently, despite its name, Global is bereft of French chefs.

Why did I plant them in the first place? I don't know. Ask the people who have a stupid amount of parsley or rosemary or mint in their plots. You think, as a first-time gardener, that it makes sense to grow everything you can. Until you realize there aren't enough mojitos in the world to justify mint.

This year, I've vowed to make better use of my plot, only growing things I actually eat. So I've come to a crossroads with chives: If they're going to stay, they have to make it worth my while.

In the plus column, chives supposedly repel pests. That could very well be true — who knows what might be attacking my seedlings if the chives weren't there to stave off foes. But my pillbug/sowbug/curl grub infestation suggests whatever powers chives possess, they're mightily limited — like having Aquaman come to the rescue instead of Superman.

 Cheddar chive pancakes are an excellent use of the prolific herb. The flowers also make a lovely garnish.
Cheddar chive pancakes are an excellent use of the prolific herb. The flowers also make a lovely garnish.
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DNAinfo/Patty Wetli

Another website told me chives are useful for cutting up and adding to the food of newly hatched turkeys, a benefit I'll store away in the event I ever interview for a job at Butterball.

Cons include a reputation for spreading like weeds. "They'll take over your garden," I've heard people say. But that hasn't been my experience at all — the only thing they've taken over is the same tidy square foot year after year.

Are they a "super food" like kale? Not especially. Chives are super low in calories, cholesterol, fat, sodium and sugar, which is great if you're looking to approximate the experience of eating air and there's no celery handy. What they do bring to the table is a decent amount of Vitamin K, a good thing to have around if you want your blood to clot.

We'll call nutritional value a draw.

Things were not looking good for chives until I made a last-minute discovery. I googled "cheddar chive pancakes" and lo, such a thing exists.

All I needed was a quarter cup of cheddar and some diced chive stems — impress all your foodies friends by calling them "scapes" — and boom, I had a delightfully savory breakfast for dinner, just like a newly hatched turkey.

Tomato tip from the experts: According to Peterson Garden Project's "We Can Grow It" blog, you'll want to nip those tomato flowers in the bud until your plants are at least 2 feet tall. I know this seems counter-intuitive but right now you want the plants to be directing their energy toward growing taller and stronger, not toward fruit.

Pest control update: For those wondering about our pillbug situation, I am cautiously optimistic that our application of Sluggo Plus is working. My bean plants in particular look infinitely healthier and there's less evidence of the pests in our bed. So, fingers crossed.

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