This post is a continuation of my previous post “Why it’s best to plant seed garlic in your vegetable garden.”
In my previous post, I covered the importance of choosing seed garlic when planting your garlic crop. In this post, I will be discussing the easiest way to increase your garlic supply by planting garlic bulbils.
What’s a bulbil? How do we get bulbils? Are bulbils the same as garlic cloves?
Read on as I cover the anatomy of a garlic bulb and show you this amazing trick that garlic farmers have been using to quickly increase their garlic supply, without the risk of pests or diseases.
As we prepare for garlic planting season, let’s take a closer look at the anatomy of a garlic bulb. Knowing these details will better prepare you for garlic planting season.
Garlic Bulb Anatomy
When we think of a garlic bulb, we envision a cluster of cloves, bound together by a papery sheath.
At the base of the bulb is a cluster of dried roots. At the top of the bulb you’ll find either the top of a tough central stem, or there will be no stem at all.
A tough central stem immediately identifies the garlic bulb as Hardneck garlic. The absence of a tough central stem concludes that the plant is a Softneck garlic.
Hardneck garlic is better suited to cooler winter conditions, while softneck garlic is better suited for a milder winter.
There are many advantages to planting either one. Let’s take a closer look at them.
Pros and Cons of Hardneck vs. Softneck:
|Hardneck Garlic||Softneck Garlic|
|Grows best in a colder winter||Suitable for growing in a milder winter|
|Shorter storage period||Longer storage period|
|Stronger flavour||Milder flavour|
|Very difficult to braid||Braids easily, perfect for hanging in storage|
|Easier to peel||More difficult to peel|
|Fewer cloves per bulb than softneck garlic||More cloves per bulb than hardneck garlic|
|Larger cloves||Smaller cloves|
|Longer growing period||Matures quicker than hardneck garlic|
|*Produces a garlic scape||Doesn’t produce a garlic scape|
Garlic does not reproduce from seeds (sexual reproduction) as other plants do. Similar to potatoes, garlic bulbs develop from cloves of the garlic plant, also known as vegetative reproduction. When a garlic clove is planted it will develop a new garlic bulb, which will have identical genetic makeup to the originally planted garlic clove. As a result, garlic bulbs may be selected for size, shape and quality and their genetic traits may be carried on for generations.
Unlike softneck garlic, hardneck garlic produces a garlic scape. A garlic scape is a tough central stem which emerges in mid-spring, up the middle of the developing garlic bulb. As it emerges, it produces several curls before straightening out and producing a false-flower filled with tiny garlic cloves, known as bulbils. These bulbils are clones of the garlic bulb and are free from viruses or diseases.
Traditionally, the benefit of removing the garlic scape is to redirect growth energy into producing a larger garlic bulb. For anyone growing garlic, this step is always recommended. In addition, the garlic scape is a delicacy which has many uses in cooking. (For more information on using garlic scapes, check out my post – “Garlic Scape Pesto in 3 Easy Steps“)
However, if you would like to increase your garlic supply quickly, leave the garlic scape on the plant, thereby allowing the false-flower at the top of the scape to develop and produce garlic bulbils. At the end of the season, harvest the flower-filled bulbils, then place them on screens, newspaper, a shelf, or anywhere else they may be left to dry. Then separate the bulbils from the chaff or stems and plant out the individual bulbils at a spacing of 2 to 3 inches, depending upon the size of the bulbil and at a depth of 2 to 3 inches.
Be sure to mark where you planted your garlic bulbils, as they will grow to the thickness of a grass blade the following year. You want to ensure not to accidentally “weed” them out of the planting bed, when they begin to grow.
Harvest your first year bulbils after the foliage begins to turn yellow. Leave them to dry and plant them out again in the fall, during garlic planting season. It will take 2 to 3 years of patience to produce full size garlic bulbs, but in the end will be worth it! You will end up with a large quantity of clean, disease-free garlic stock.
Just be sure to select a new planting bed when initially planting your garlic bulbils, to avoid stem and bulb nematodes left over in the soil from previous stock.
Plant a fast-growing, nitrogen-fixing cover crop in your garlic bed after harvesting your first year bulbils. It will replenish the soil of its nutrients and prepare it for the next planting. Then cut it back and replant your bulbils during early fall or when garlic is typically planted. I also recommend adding composted manure or vegetable compost to the soil after planting your garlic in the fall. The added nutrients will help in producing larger garlic bulbs. (More information about nitrogen-fixing cover crops, in a future post)
Over the past 3 summers I tested the idea of growing garlic from bulbils. Prior to that, I experienced many years of stem and bulb nematode damage to my garlic and wanted to find a way to grow clean garlic stock. It took some patience and I’m happy to announce that the patience paid off. This year my garlic is in its third year and has produced beautiful large garlic bulbs. Three years ago, the bulbils were tiny. Three years later, those tiny bulbils have grown into full-sized garlic bulbs. I can definitely conclude that this process was worth the time and commitment.
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If you’re looking to increase your garlic supply easily, at little cost and free of pests, planting garlic bulbils is the best way.