Chives are easy to grow, versatile herbs that can be good polytunnel plants, not only for their flavour but also for their pest-repelling characteristics. As alliums, in the onion family, chives have a strong scent that can put off or distract a number of common pests. If they go to flower, chives can also attract beneficial insects to help pollinate other polytunnel crops. Chives have a range of uses as a culinary herb and can also look very attractive when in flower.
Chives can either be grown from seed or taken by division from an existing clump. Either method is relatively easy and straightforward. Chive seeds can be grown inside or outside – simply place the seeds beneath a thin layer of growing medium and water them in well. If sowing directly into the soil in your polytunnel or elsewhere, make sure the area is well-weeded before sowing as the tiny chives can easily be mistaken for blades of grass and can also easily be uprooted by mistake when weeding. Pulling away a small section of an established clump and propagating by division is best done in either early spring or mid autumn, when the weather is not too warm.
Chives will prefer a location in full sun but can cope with some shade. They will do best in a moist and fairly water-retentive soil and will not enjoy being alternately flooded and subjected to drought, so it is important to make sure that you keep up a consistent watering regime.
Chives are a cut-and-come-again crop so if you pick chives as and when needed, the clumps will continually regrow. If you grow several clumps of chives then, in theory, you can enjoy a constant supply of fresh chives whenever you have need of them.
Chives can be a wonderful companion plant for a wide range of other crops and since they take up so little space, are perfect for popping into gaps here and there in your polytunnel planting.
Simply harvest chives by snipping them off as and when they are needed. You can then use your chives as a garnish, in a salad, or in a wide range of different recipes. Chive flowers are also edible and can be pulled apart and used as a garnish or to add delicate onion flavour to soups, sauces and other meals. The best time to gather chives, if you can, is in the morning, as this is when they will be at their peak freshness.