Cut off the garlic scapes? What are bulbils?

Conventional wisdom says that when the hardneck garlic you are growing sends up scapes, you should cut them off so that the plant doesn’t spend any energy growing a part that you won’t use. If you cut off the scapes, they say, you’ll surely get bigger garlic bulbs.  That could be so, but I was curious this year to see what, exactly, will grow if you leave the scape on the plant.

This garlic “flower” (the bulbil) has been on the plant for about 3 weeks after I would have normally cut off the scapes.  It has grown plump, and I found myself curious about what lies inside.

I tore open the covering to reveal about two dozen tiny garlic cloves.  Freaking BABY GARLIC!  Each one is basically a “seed clove” that will propagate the parent garlic variety.  Garlic Seeds? Yes please.

I have read that planting these very tiny cloves, will result in an undersized garlic bulb growing the next year.  If you turn around and replant for 2 or 3 years in a row, the resulting crops will get bigger and bigger each year until you are producing garlic the size of the original parent plants.

One reason to plant from bulbils instead of (or in addition to) cloves, is that it is a very fast way to ramp up your production of any given variety.  Whereas planting the 10 cloves from the main garlic bulb will increase your planting stock at a decent rate, planting all the cloves and all the bulbils will increase your stock twice as fast or faster.  In 4 year’s time, you could turn 1 pound of seed garlic into a crop that covers an entire acre.

Another very important reason to plant the bulbil’s mini-cloves is that if your crop’s roots become infected with a soil-borne disease in any given year, it is very likely that the bulbils, living 2-3 feet up above the ground, will NOT share the infection.

Needless to say, I am going to be growing an experimental container of these for next year. I tore the ones in these photos off the parent plant too soon, but there are still a dozen or more in the garden that I’ll cure with the rest of the garlic harvest.

So WHY does the the garlic grow bulbils?  If left unharvested in the yard or field, the top of the garlic plant would brown, wither, and fall over.  The bulbil would find itself touching the ground in a location about 3 feet from where the parent clove grew.  The winter snow would press it down and in the spring it would root itself right there.  In this way a hardneck garlic patch will expand itself and keep reseeding, potentially forever.

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13 responses to this post.

  1. I really like you’re blog, you are doing a wonderful job, gardens great too.

    Reply

    • Thank you! I enjoy your blog as well, and I have followed it! It looks like you have significantly more space to grow things than I do.

      Reply

      • Thank you too! I have just a little over 6 1/2 acres, we live on one and pasture the rest. The kitchen garden is on the one acre, and the corn patch is in the pasture in an area I fenced off from the animals. That’s why it isn’t growing things as well as I’d like. Rain caught us at the end of the winter so I couldn’t get any organic material in the ground before planting. So I tried without it. Doing ok, will do better next season. :) Have a great weekend.

        Reply

  2. Beautiful photographs! The first picture looks like a flock of strange exotic birds.

    Reply

  3. If I didn’t love pickled scapes so much, I would definitely try this. (I still may with a few) Thanks! I love it when I learn something!

    Reply

  4. wow, I had no idea. I have a few garlic in my garden now, but my tomatoes are beating them down. Isn’t it fun to find something totally new in the garden?

    Reply

    • Mine are purple stripe hardneck garlic of a variety called “Chamisal Wild.” I’m going to do a post on the history of the variety as I have recently learned more than I knew before.

      Reply

  5. Nice blog! Where area are you located? I like the photos in this post on garlic scapes..

    Reply

  6. […] Many of these garlic bulbs are in the 2 1/2 inch range. A few are 3 inches across. The ones that I left the scapes on are only 1 to 1 1/2 inches in size.  That does seem to matter. […]

    Reply

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