Buying Garlic Seed or Buying Seed Garlic?
Updated: Dec 25, 2022
Seed Garlic is considered to be the garlic cloves that are separated from the harvested garlic bulbs, which are then planted in the fall. (Seed Garlic is often left to grow for a couple more weeks than garlic that will be sold as food so they grow a bit larger). Planting garlic cloves is the common, usual method for growing garlic. Each garlic clove grows produces a garlic plant above ground and a whole new bulb underground, which is harvested in mid-summer. Normally, growers remove the scapes (the flower stems) in early summer, to allow bulbs to grow larger.
Garlic growers typically save the largest, fattest cloves for planting as they have a greater potential of producing larger, fatter bulbs and cloves the following year. If possible, plant the larger cloves and use the smaller cloves for your culinary creations. Although you can plant garlic sold at the farmer’s market or supermarket, it’s best to use garlic that has been specifically chosen as seed garlic. Buy Garlic Seed Here.
Garlic Seeds, the small, rice-sized seeds that grow at the top of the hardneck garlic scape, are considered to be tiny Bulbils. The scape looks like a large pigtail. Eventually, in late summer, this scape points towards the sky. These reproductive "flowers" may not have any cross-pollination. In simple terms, the bulbils are clones of the mother plant that can be planted to produce a replica of the parent plant. Are you already growing hardneck garlic? If you leave the scape intact, the plant divides its energy between scape and bulb growth. You'll end up with both a garlic bulb (with multiple cloves) and an umbel at the tip of the scape, that contains the garlic seeds. Keep in mind, the garlic bulb in the ground ends up smaller (as compared to a bulb size where the scape was removed from the plant).
Seed Garlic (Garlic Cloves)
While most recipes don't specifically state what type or variety of garlic to use, once you know the basic varieties, you can begin to experiment with the unique flavors and nuances of each type. We've tasted many garlic varieties, softneck and hardneck, raw and cooked, and found a wide range of flavors.
At GroEat Farm (Bozeman, Montana), we grow and sell hardneck garlic.
Hardneck garlic (Allium sativum ophioscorodon) is named for the long flowering stem in the center of the garlic bulb. Hardneck garlic tends to have more flavor than their soft-necked cousins. They're characterized by hard woody central stalks and a long flower stalk (scape) that loops and curls. They tend to have three to fifteen+ cloves in each bulb. Hardneck garlic is often considered to be spicy or hot. Unlike Softneck garlic, the stem of the hardneck garlic is rigid and stiff. Hardneck varieties develop a long flowering stem, called a scape, which eventually develops tiny bulbils at its top end. Underground, around this central flowering stem, is a single row of cloves wrapped together in a papery sheath to form the “head” or bulb of garlic . Hardneck garlic tends to grow best in areas with very cold winters, since they require a longer time of vernalization (a period of time kept in cold winter conditions - to be dormant so they can flower in the spring).
Hardneck garlic is categorized into Hardneck Subtypes. There are three main subtypes of hardneck garlic, including Porcelain, Purple Stripe, Marbled Purple Stripe, Glazed Purple Stripe and Rocambole. In addition to the Hardneck Group, there are two other groups including Weakly Bolting Hardneck and Softneck. The garlic family tree is evolving as mapping the genes of the varieties and subvarieties continues. Previously there were thought to be five major groupings referred to as varieties. Currently, there are considered to be ten varieties, eight ophios and two softnecks. The ophios (Allium sativum ophioscorodon) include five true hardneck varieties (Porcelain, Rocambole, Purple Stripe, Marbled Purple Stripe and Glazed Purple Stripe) and three weakly bolting hardnecks that often produce softnecks (Creole, Asiatic and Turban).
Purple Stripe (Hardneck)
Purple Stripe Garlic is a sub-group of Hardneck Garlic. There are about 17 varieties in this sub-group. Some think it's one of the oldest types of garlic, because it's the group of garlic that produces flowers that are fertile. The garlic in this group is visually attractive because of the purple streaks and purple/maroon splashes on the outer skins attached to the cloves and the purple colors on the bulb wrappers. In addition to their vibrance and beautiful appearance, Purple Stripe garlic are very flavorful, usually winning "best baked garlic" taste tests conducted by cooks and chefs at BBC Gardeners' World Magazine, Cooks Country, and Martha Stewart. Purple Stripe garlic plants are easy to recognize in the garden, as their leaves grow at wider angles to the stem as compared to other subtypes.
The subvarieties of Purple Stripe, Glazed Purple Stripe, and Marbled Purple Stripe have colors beautiful colors including 'Eggplant Purple" and "Byzantium" speckled with Amaranth, Orchid, Plum, Rose, Gold and Silver hues. The Marbled Group - a subvariety of Purple Stripe are more similar to Purple Stripes. The wrappers that cover the bulb tend to be marked with smears or spots of color. These strains have about 5 or 6 cloves per bulb.
Rocambole garlics are known for their "true garlic flavor." Many people consider them their favorite garlic because of their complex, rich taste. In appearance, they are not as white as other hardnecks; Some even look as if they need to be washed, due to a brownish-purple hue. What they lack in beauty, they make up for in taste. Keep in mind that some rocamboles have sharp, vivid colors. Rocambole garlics tend to have thinner bulb wrappers than other hardnecks and lots of purple striping and markings. In late spring, these low growing plants have a deep green/blue tint. The garlic scape (stalk) that forms in the spring, completes a double loop. (They're the only garlics that do a double loop). Even Though the Rocambole strains have amazing flavor, the disadvantage of Rocambole strains is a shorter storage life than other varieties. Rocamboles are grown successfully in the cooler, northern hemisphere and do not do well in the warmest of climates.
Porcelain are more "hot" and "garlicky." Porcelains are richly flavored garlic and have a strong raw taste. When cooked, Porcelain garlic has a rich, buttery flavor. Porcelain garlics store longer than most other garlics assuming the storage temperature is cool. As compared to Rocambole, and Purple Stripe varieties, At our farm, the cloves of the Porcelains are often very large and have the appearance of elephant garlic. Most Porcelains are clothed in a white bulb wrappers with only 4 to 6 rounded, symmetrical cloves per bulb. From a grower's perspective, the fewer cloves per head, results in fewer plants per pound of seed stock.
One of our favorite Porcelain garlics is Music. Music is a fantastic plant producing very large bulbs. When baked or cooked, Music results in a complex, sweet garlic flavour. Hot when consumed raw. Music is a popular variety due to robust and strong, rich and musky taste, vigorous growth, and five to seven very large easy-to-peel cloves. Music is a long-storing garlic, storing into spring and is a Bestseller!
When purchasing garlic to grow in your garden, try different garlic varieties. Each garlic cultivar has a subtly distinct flavor. It’s fun to experiment in the kitchen and discover what flavor each variety can lend to a dish. Hardneck types are great for northern gardeners, but they only store for 3-6 months. There are hundreds of named hardneck garlic varieties, and the diversity they offer in the kitchen is unparalleled. There are so many unique flavors. If you plan to grow your own garlic, they should be planted in well-drained soil that has been amended with compost. The best pH for bulb development is between 6.0 and 7.0. Read the article on Genetic Diversity among U.S. Garlic Clones as Detected Using AFLP Methods by Gayle M. Volk, Adam D. Henk, and Christopher M. Richards. http://garlicseedfoundation.info/jashsgarlic.pdf
Garlic Seed (Hardneck Bulbils)
Bulbils are considered the small, undivided bulbs produced in the scape of hardneck garlic. The scape looks like a garlic flower; however, the reproductive parts are for show only, there is no cross-pollination. Essentially, the bulbils are clones of the mother plant that can be planted to produce a replica of this parent. One reason you may wish to grow garlic from bulbils is that many hardneck garlic varieties produce significantly more bulbils than cloves. Some scapes produce more than 30 bulbils, whereas an average bulb has only 5 to 7 cloves. The drawback is that It takes two full seasons to go from bulbil to mature garlic, but you can multiply some varieties much faster with bulbils.
When growing hardneck garlic, if you want bulbils, let the scape grow and mature. Over time, a tiny teardrop-shaped, plumbob-shaped umbel will form, which will store the "bulbils" at the top of the scape. Each bulbil is like a miniature garlic clove, and it will grow if you plant it. After one season, most bulbils grow into a small round bulb that looks like a ping pong ball. It isn't divided into cloves. These "rounds" can be peeled and eaten, but if they're planted for a second year they usually grow into a regular garlic bulb, with the usual cloves. Bulbil-grown garlic is considered to be genetically identical to its parent plant. Though bulbils aren't considered true seeds.
If you wish to grow garlic from bulbils, plan to wait at least two (2) years before you get a garlic bulb with multiple cloves. Two years might seem like a long time, though bulbil-grown garlic has an advantage. Typically, the umbel at the tip of the garlic scape and umbel likely do not carry soil-borne plant diseases, and, likely will not infect the underground bulbs. Growing garlic from bulbils can reduce the transmission of soil-based diseases. If garlic is grown year after year in soil that contains disease organisms, the diseases may build up and the yield declines. If you've observed soil-based pathogens in your soil, Bulbils might be a solution.
When planting bulbils, plan to plant them in the fall. They will produce a garlic plant, and you can harvest the "garlic rounds" (that look like a ping pong ball) in mid-summer. Because the garlic bulbils are small, they will likely produce a plant that is small, like a miniature garlic plant. When planting in the soil or raised bed gardens, shove them about 5-8 inches deep, about 3 inches apart. When planting in containers, plan to use deep containers so there is plenty of room for the roots to grow deep. To prevent the containers from drying out, and to allow the bulbils to be exposed to cold conditions, try digging a hole in the fall, and submerging the containers into the ground, outdoors before winter. When spring arrives, the tiny bulbils should sprout and begin to grow. Be sure they do not get too much water and remove any weeds that develop. A small shot of nitrogen (N) will help the plant get established. Around the last week in July, plan to "dig up" your bulbils, which should have grown into "rounds" - about the size of a 1/2-inch ping pong ball. Plant these "rounds" in soil, the fall, around Halloween. Similar to garlic cloves, they likely will grow into fully-divided garlic bulbs by next summer.
Jere Folgert is the owner of GroEat Garlic Farm in Bozeman, Montana. GroEat Farm is a small, sustainable family farm located in the beautiful Hyalite Foothills, in the shadows of the Gallatin Mountain Range. The hardneck varieties that they grow on their farm flourish, due to the combination of the cold winters, temperate summers, moist spring, and the dynamic alluvial soils, washed down from the Gallatin Range.