Garlic, essential for the serious cook and key in keeping away vampires (sorry True Blood fans). Did you know that you can grow your own garlic? It makes sense, right? It has to come from somewhere but when is the last time you saw a garlic plant at the garden center? Growing garlic isn’t difficult — plant the “seed”, cover with soil and wait — it’s the harvesting that can throw you off.Before we get to the end let’s start at the beginning. You have two choices when planting garlic. You can plant cloves — the larger the clove the larger the final garlic bulb. Or, you can take a slightly longer path and plant the cloves from the bulbils — the “flower” of the garlic scape. If you plant the bulbils you’ll need to wait two years before producing a decent sized garlic head.
Why would anyone plant the bulbils if it takes two years? I planted the bulbils cloves because my mother secured some for me from one of her sisters. If your mother and aunts aren’t supplying your garlic growing needs you still might want to consider bulbils for a lot of soil disease resistance, acclimation to local soil conditions and other technical agricultural reasons that you can read more about here at Boundary Garlic Farm, one of the best online resources I’ve found.
Now that you’ve chosen your “seed” of choice you should plant garlic in the fall. Of course I didn’t know this and planted my bulbils in the spring in a pot. I also didn’t know that it would take two years for bulbils (sometimes being a farm girl gives you more confidence than technical knowledge). Last year I was excited to see green shoots sprout up. I kept waiting to see some type of flower or sign that they were ready for harvest. Finally I just dug one up. I didn’t see anything that resembled a head of garlic — just a larger version of the bulbils. I sort of just gave up and just chalked this up to an agrarian experiment gone bad.
What a surprise this spring to see my garlic shoots back. I transplanted the garlic from the pot to my herb bed and waited. This year I got more than just shoots – the shoots grew taller and started to curl — I had scapes!
Now here is where you garlic growers need to make some decisions – do you cut and eat the scapes or do you let them develop into bulbils?
Reasons to cut the scapes:
- First, you can eat them sautéed or make them into pesto.
- Second, larger garlic bulbs — cutting of the scapes allows the plant to direct its energy into growing the bulb versus developing the bulbils.
Reasons to let the scapes develop:
- If you’d like to grow more garlic and have a couple of years the bulbils produces more cloves than a head of garlic and you don’t have to sacrifice any of your precious garlic cloves to seed.
- The second reason to leave the scapes, you’re like me, a garlic growing novice and didn’t know to cut them off. Next year I think I’ll let a few scapes develop into bulbils and then cut the rest. Seems like a reasonable compromise.
So, if you decide to let the scapes develop here is what you’ll see. A bit of dill got in this shot.
Once the garlic scapes start to die off it’s time to harvest both the bulbils and the garlic. It seems like it happened overnight; one day green, the next day not-green.
Now it’s just a matter of letting both the bulbils and the garlic heads dry for a few weeks.
I can’t wait for the garlic to dry so I can open up the heads and try out my home-grown garlic. I guess that gives me two weeks to figure out which of the many garlic-centric recipes I’ll want to make. What are your favorite garlic recipes?