By: Bonnie L. Grant, Certified Urban Agriculturist
Garlic is an easy to grow plant that is used for its bulb and its greens. They are edible when young and add a delicate garlic flavor to salads, soups and sauces. You can use them just as you would use chives. Most gardeners wouldn’t encourage growing garlic scapes but when they appear, remove them and use them for early spring flavor.
Garlic scapes are curly tendrils of greenery that come up from hard necked garlic plants. They terminate in something that looks like a bud. If you let the scape grow, it will flower with a wiry white-tipped cluster of tiny blooms. Each bloom will swell at the tip and produce seeds that bloat and turn brown.
The protuberances become bulbils or tiny bulbs, which may be planted and will become garlic in three to four years. They can be removed without damaging the plant and eaten when young.
There’s nothing you need to do to grow garlic scapes other than to plant garlic. Their formation is a natural part of the garlic growth cycle and part of the plant’s reproductive process. Provide good care to the garlic and watch in spring for the curly slender stems. Cutting scapes of garlic is an early season activity in March or April. If you allow the scapes to develop, they become woody and lose their flavor.
Cutting scapes of garlic off the plant is an individual decision. Many gardeners believe that the removal of the scapes will increase the bulb production because the plant can put its energy into the underground growth.
You can also leave them and allow them to mature so you can harvest the bulbils for future harvests. Consider the size of cloves you like to have when you ask yourself, “Should I cut garlic scapes?” If you’re trying to grow monstrous garlic, you will likely want to remove the scapes.
The only tools necessary for cutting scapes of garlic are scissors and a container. Cut the scape at the base of the plant. You can eat the slim green leaves and the bud-like structure. You can also just pinch or bend off the stems. They should snap off easily. Rinse them and put them in a glass of water or in a zip top bag in the refrigerator where they will keep for several days.
Once you’ve tried these little delicacies, you will never wonder, what is a garlic scape? The fresh, delicate garlic flavor will be imprinted on your culinary memory with recipes to follow.
Use garlic scapes in soups, stews and sauces. Slice them into salads or sauté them as a quick addition to pasta. Use them to flavor foods like fish or go crazy and make them into a flavorful pesto. These flavorful shoots are too good to waste.
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Garlic scapes are thin, vibrant green stalks that grow from the garlic bulb. They are long, curvy, and kind of look like a cross between chives and scallions. The stalk of the garlic scape also often includes a bulge on the end that is actually a bud, and if the scape was left on the bulb, the bud would flower. In the past, garlic scapes were simply discarded by farmers in order to allow the garlic plant to channel all of its energy into the bulb. But in recent years, the scapes have become a culinary force in their own right, being sold by the bunch at farmers' markets during a short period between spring and summer when they are in season.
July 2018 update: This is one of my most popular posts. I’ve written much else about garlic too. Just put “garlic” in the search box and you can read much more.
Our garlic scapes are just starting to appear! Garlic scapes are the firm, round flower stems that grow from hard-neck garlic, starting (on lour farm) to appear 3 weeks before bulb harvest, as the bulbs size up. If these are removed, the garlic bulbs will be bigger and also easier to braid, if you want braids from hardneck garlic. Contrary to ideas mentioned by some sources, leaving scapes in does not increase the storage life. Most people who remove scapes cut them where they emerge from the leaves. We prefer to pull ours, to get the most out. Scapes also make a visually attractive early-season crop.
Day-length as well as accumulated growing degree days determines when scapes appear as well as when bulbs are ready to harvest. Hot weather above 91°F (33°C) ends bulb growth and drying down starts. It’s irreversible. It is important to get plenty of good rapid growth before hot weather arrives. Garlic can double in size in its last month of growth, and removing the scapes (the hard central stem) of hardneck garlic can increase the bulb size 25%.
This is a good time to be paying more attention to your garlic crop, and what better way than walking through pulling scapes?
While harvesting scapes, monitor the plants for signs of maturity. Garlic is ready to harvest when the sixth leaf down is starting to brown on 50 percent of the crop. See Ron Engeland’s excellent book Growing Great Garlic for more on this. For some years I was confused about which was the “sixth leaf,” and I confess that I was counting up instead of down. The point is to have five green leaves still on the plant, to provide the protection of five intact skins over the bulb. Each leaf corresponds to one wrapper on the cloves or bulb as the leaf dies, the skin rots away. Keeping five intact skins on the garlic is a challenge in our humid climate, and because we are not shipping our garlic anywhere, it seems less crucial. So I also use a second method of deciding when to harvest: I pull three or four plants and cut the bulbs across horizontally and look at the center of the bulb. When air space becomes visible between the round stem and the cloves, it’s time for the garlic harvest. Usually that’s June 7–June 14 for our main crop of hardneck garlic, but it has been as early as May 30, and as late as June 18. Harvesting too early means smaller bulbs (harvesting way too early means an undifferentiated bulb and lots of wrappers that then shrivel up). Harvesting too late means that the bulbs may “shatter” or have an exploded look, and not store as well.
This is also a good time to remove the mulch to help the bulbs dry down, and to prevent fungal diseases.
In our rotation, the spring broccoli is usually next door to the garlic, and we move the old garlic mulch to the broccoli to top up the mulch there. It helps us stay on track with getting the broccoli weeded too.
The value of mulching garlic and how-to
Understanding garlic stages of growth
It is important to establish garlic in good time so that roots and vegetative growth are as big as possible before the plant turns its attention to making bulbs. The start of garlic bulb formation (and the end of leaf growth) is triggered by day length exceeding
13 hours (April 10 here at 38°N). Air temperatures above 68°F (20°C) and soil temperatures over 60°F (15.5°C) are secondary triggers.
We all have 12 hours of daylight on the spring equinox. After that, the farther north you go, the longer the day length is. Northern latitudes reach 13 hours of daylight before southern ones, but garlic does not start bulbing there at 13 hours because temperatures are not yet high enough. For example, in Michigan, bulbing begins in mid-May. In warmer areas, temperatures cause harvest dates to be earlier than in cooler areas at the same latitude. We have no control over when garlic starts to make bulbs, only over how large and healthy the leaves are when bulbing starts, and how large the final bulbs can be. Small plants here on April 11 will only make small bulbs! Watering should stop two weeks before harvest to help the plants dry down.
Last Updated: March 29, 2019 References
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The green, twisting stalks that sprout from the tops of young garlic plants are known as scapes. Though they’re often discarded when the garlic is harvested, scapes are actually edible, and can be used similarly to scallions or chives. If you grow your own garlic, snip the stalks as close to the base of the plant as you can, being careful not to damage the clove in the process. You can then chop or slice them to a size that’s suitable for the dish you’re preparing.
Apart from hydroponics being exciting and fun, there are several other advantages.
Yes, store-bought garlic bulbs act as a fertile source to grow garlic from. They can be stored and then later be used to give a fresh endless supply of garlic scapes.
After harvesting the garlic greens, you can maintain the garlic plant which will eventually build healthy garlic bulbs that can be harvested and used.
Soaking garlic before planting can help to stimulate growth of the roots. Advanced soaking of the garlic clove can promote faster germination of shoot sprouts. Using water to loosen a dry garlic clove can help the sprout emerge from the clove.
When growing garlic in soil indoors or outdoors, soaking can facilitate the growing process and make life easier.
The idea of consuming garlic water and raw garlic is said to yield many health benefits. Taking any raw form of garlic is said to detoxify the body and remove harmful substances.
It is also said that constant garlic consumption can reduce chances of diabetes, lowers blood pressure, reduces heart disease chances, certain cancers, and even inhibits depression to some extent.
The wonderful side bonus of planting garlic are these magical looking garlic scapes which are delicious! These garlic scapes are the prelude of what is to come with a subtle garlic flavor.
They are one the most perfect first spring garden feasts along with fresh spinach and lettuces ! Such a wonderful way to enjoy your garden bounty while at the same time encouraging a healthy main crop.
Garlic Scapes are a delicate addition to any sauteed dish. After harvesting your scapes, wash and slice. Saute in avocado oil or butter to add a hint of garlic flavor.
Scapes are less pungent than the garlic from a clove. They can also be added to any type of dish. Plus, they are perfect when lightly steamed and added to a fresh garden salad or steamed and eaten like asparagus.
Scapes are super easy to freeze! Simply pick, rinse, chop and freeze…..make sure to spread the chopped scapes evenly on a baking sheet or cookie sheet so you can freeze them individually.
After spreading them evenly on your cookie sheet, just pop them in the freezer for 3 to 4 hours. Remove from freezer and quickly put in freezer bags, plastic freezer containers or glass jars and label.
Place immediately back into the freezer. By freezing the scapes individually, they are super easy to take out just what you need at the time without having to thaw an entire batch.
Grab a tablespoon or a handful for any recipe calling for garlic. Perfect for soups, stews, stir fry, casseroles, dips, etc…….very convenient and handy.
As mentioned above, the actual garlic bulbs will be ready to pull up about 1 to 2 months after the scapes have curled. Your garlic will be ready to harvest when most of the leaves have started to fade and turn yellow and brown.
Garlic is ready to harvest in mid June to late July depending on your growing zone. When the leaves have started to fade, dig your garlic bulbs being careful not to injure or bruise them.
Important Tip: do not leave the garlic bulbs in the ground for too long as they will begin to spread out and separate and possibly try to start growing each clove.
The entire plant needs to air dry with good circulation to harden the outer skin for storage. Lay out flat in the shade or in a shed or garage for 2 weeks to dry.
Tie approximately 12 plants together with twine and hang from the rafters or ceiling in a dry dark place or root cellar to encourage good air circulation for better storage.
You can also make a garlic braid if you are so inclined to do. Take a look here to find out how to braid garlic for easy storage in your kitchen!