Last summer a friend heaped scorn on my garlic plants. Although I vow to remember the good and forget the rest, his garlic-scented derision lingers a bit. Like many people, he cuts garlic scapes right away. This is a common practice. Hard neck garlic varieties hoist up a flower stalk generally referred to as a “garlic scape” and it’s believed the plant will form larger garlic bulbs when the scape is cut.
I do cut scapes to use in cooking but I have four rows of garlic and not enough use for all those scapes. I also assume the plants know what they’re doing. So I let many of those scapes continue growing. They curl into aesthically pleasing twists while developing a head called a bulbils. It’s made up of feisty little kernel shapes. These too can be harvested and used. They puff up as they roast in olive oil or bake in a sauce, producing a delightfully fresh garlic flavor. I find I use them more eagerly than the green scapes. Still I have some bulbils left on the plants, hardening in the summer heat. That’s okay.
They can be left on the plant and used as garlic seeds. I normally plant garlic in October. I tend to use the cloves that I’ve damaged while digging them up to replant for the next year’s crop. But what if the garlic crop has been ruined by rot brought on by heavy rains? (Remember rain?) Leaving at least a few garlic plants to mature into bulbils heads can save the home gardener the costs of replacing organic garlic, although the first year’s crop will not be as productive. I also like to have enough stalk left on garlic plants to guide me where to dig. The stalk, once a scape, is also useful to tie garlic up to dry a bit before storing.
To each his or her own garlic-scented opinions. I’m a scape harvester and bulbils harvester but mostly a slacker gardener. I’m glad I can trust nature to provide me with decent excuses for letting plants do their thing.