Buying Garlic Seed or Buying Seed Garlic?
Updated: Apr 19
"Once upon a time, there was a little girl named Alli who loved to garden. She loved to plant seeds and watch them grow. One day, in the spring, she decided to plant garlic. She found a big, beautiful head of garlic at the grocery market and took it home. Alli carefully broke off the individual cloves and planted them in the ground. She watered them well and waited. A few weeks later, she saw the first green shoots of garlic poking up out of the ground. She was so excited!
A neighbor came over to visit and was surprised that Alli planted garlic in the spring. Susan, the neighbor, explained to Alli that garlic is typically planted in the fall. Susan explained to Alli that growing garlic from bulbs purchased from the grocery store is not always a good idea. Instead, Susan showed Alli large garlic she grew last year, and offered to share it with her this fall - for planting. Alli was so excited. Susan also showed Alli tiny little garlic seeds. Susan told Alli that these tiny seeds grow at the top of the hardneck garlic plant, at the tip of the garlic scape. She said that these tiny seeds are called Bulbils and are stored in the plant's Umble. Susan indicated that these tiny seeds can be planted as well, but it takes longer to harvest a large garlic bulb.
That spring, Alli watered the garlic every day and watched it grow. It grew bigger and bigger, and soon it had beautiful green leaves. Alli was so proud of her garlic!
One of her teachers at school told Alli about Green Garlic, and she decided to try Green Garlic for the first time.
One day, in June, Alli went out to her garden to harvest some green garlic. She was excited to use it in a new recipe she had found. Alli dug up only two green garlic plants with a garden fork. She was careful not to bruise the small, golf-ball-size bulbs that had formed in the soil. Alli brought the green garlic plants inside and washed them thoroughly. Then, she chopped them up and added them to one of her favorite recipes. The recipe called for sautéing the green garlic in olive oil. Alli did as instructed, and the green garlic released a delicious, garlicky aroma. Alli added some key ingredients to the pan, including onions, carrots, and mushrooms. She cooked the vegetables until they were tender. Then, Alli added some chicken broth and simmered the soup for about 30 minutes. After 30 minutes, the soup was ready. Alli ladled it into bowls and served it to her family. Everyone loved the soup. They said it was the best soup they had ever had. Alli was proud of herself for making such a delicious soup. She was also glad that she had harvested the green garlic from her garden. The green garlic added a wonderful flavor to the soup. It was the perfect way to enjoy the fresh spring produce.
When the garlic was ready to harvest, Alli carefully dug it up out of the ground. She cleaned it and cured it in a well-ventilated place, away from direct sunlight. Then she stored it in a cool, dry place. In the coming months, Alli was so excited to use her garlic to make all sorts of delicious dishes. She will roast it, mash it and even make garlic bread. Her family and friends will love her garlic! Unfortunately, her garlic was much smaller than her neighbor, Susan. Susan explained that if Alli plants garlic in the fall, her garlic will be much larger.
One day, a few weeks before Halloween, Susan, Alili's neighbor, gave Alli 10 large, hardneck garlic bulbs and told her that if she planted all of the cloves, she will likely have over 60 garlic plants next year! "Why will there be over 60 garlic plants next year if you are giving me 10 bulbs?" Alli asked. Susan replied "Well, that is because there are typically about 6 individual cloves inside each bulb. 10 x 6 = 60. You will need to separate the cloves from the bulb before you plant the individual bulbs, pointy side up, at a depth of about 3 inches deep."
A few days later, another one of Alli's neighbors came over to her house. This was Marie, and she was 14 years old. She saw Alli's garlic and asked her how she had grown it. Alli told her about how she had planted the cloves in the spring, but recently learned it was best to plant garlic cloves in the fall, instead. Her neighbor was so impressed! Alli's neighbor asked her if she would teach her how to grow garlic. Alli was happy to help! Alli gave her neighbor a single head of garlic and showed her how to separate the cloves into bulbs and plant them. Alli told Marie that if she plants all of the cloves, she will likely have 6 garlic plants next year. Alli's neighbor was so happy to have her own garlic! She planted it right away and started watering it. She couldn't wait until spring to see it grow!
That next spring, Alli's neighbor, Marie, came over to her house again. She showed Alli the first green shoots of garlic poking up out of the ground. Alli was so happy for her! Alli's neighbor, Marie watered the garlic every day and watched it grow. She added a little shot of nitrogen after the green shoots emerged, and she added sulfur in the form of sulfate. The plants grew bigger and bigger, and soon they had big, beautiful green leaves.
That fall, when the garlic was ready to harvest, Alli's neighbor Marie carefully dug them out of the ground. She cleaned it and cured all six bulbs in a cool, dry place. Then she stored them in a cool, dry place. Alli's neighbor was so happy to have her own homegrown garlic! She used it to make all sorts of delicious dishes. She made garlic noodles, roasted garlic, garlic potatoes and garlic bread. Her family and friends loved her garlic! Alli and her neighbor were so happy that they had learned how to grow garlic. They loved sharing their garlic with their families and friends."
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 its 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 garlic 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 garlic stores 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, result in fewer plants per pound of seed stock.
One of our favorite Porcelain garlic is Music. Music is a fantastic plant producing very large bulbs. When baked or cooked, Music results in a complex, sweet garlic flavor. 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 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, and 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, plum bob-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.
There are many places to get seed garlic. Here are a few options:
Local garden centers and nurseries
Online seed companies
Seed swaps and farmers' markets
Heirloom garlic growers
When choosing seed garlic, it is important to select healthy cloves that are free of blemishes. You should also choose garlic that is suited to your climate and growing conditions.
Here are a few tips for choosing seed garlic:
Look for cloves that are plump and firm.
Avoid cloves that are bruised or have soft spots.
Choose garlic that is suited to your climate and growing conditions.
If you are unsure of what type of garlic to choose, ask your local garden center or nursery for advice.
Once you have chosen your seed garlic, you can plant it in the fall or spring. If you plant in the fall, the garlic will be ready to harvest in the summer. If you plant in the spring, the garlic will be ready to harvest in the fall.
Here are a few tips for planting seed garlic:
Plant the cloves in well-drained soil.
Space the cloves 6-8 inches apart.
Cover the cloves with 2-3 inches of soil.
Water the cloves well.
After you have planted your seed garlic, you will need to water it regularly. You should also fertilize the garlic every few weeks with a balanced fertilizer.
Here are a few tips for caring for seed garlic:
Water the garlic regularly.
Fertilize the garlic every few weeks with a balanced fertilizer.
Weed the garlic regularly.
Mulch around the garlic to help retain moisture.
After a few months, your garlic will be ready to harvest. To harvest the garlic, loosen the soil around the bulbs and pull them up. Cure the garlic in a cool, dry place for a few weeks before storing it.
Here are a few tips for harvesting seed garlic:
Loosen the soil around the bulbs.
Pull the bulbs up.
Cure the garlic in a cool, dry place for a few weeks.
Store the garlic in a cool, dry place.
With a little care, you can easily grow your own seed garlic at home.
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.
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