The garden was very poorly tended this year. Garlic was allowed to grow scapes that unfurled and flowered. Not a bad thing because I now know that flowers do not form seeds like with onions but instead bulbils or miniature cloves. The knowledge and research that ensued will change the way I grow garlic here after.
Lesson number one – Depending on the type of garlic, the bulbils the size of a grain of rice to a chickpea. Ted Maczka, The Fish Lake Garlic Man, showed that successive planting of bulbils produced superior garlic strains in comparison to those grown from the mother plant in the ground. They are a great back up if the cloves in the ground are infected with disease. The problem is that they are so small and a small morsel to eat.
It will take 1 to 2 years of replanting of chickpea size to reach a decent sized clove of garlic or 2 to 3 years for the grain of rice sized bulbils. But well worth it as it not only is a great back up, and thwarts soil borne diseases, but it is economic. Especially when you figure garlic sold from most seed catalogues sells in the USA for $15.99 for 3 heads. Expensive when you want a large crop. I’ve been working on building up my supply for years. I’m still not there. Bulbils could speed up that process. And those bulbils can be used in a little gourmet cooking.
Lesson number two – If you question, like I do, when to harvest garlic because each variety has its own story, letting 1 or more plants develop scapes is a sure fire method. You simply wait for them to uncurl and reach for the sun to display their bulbil pods, then harvest your crop.
Lesson number three – Not trimming off the scapes does divert part of the energy of the plant towards bulbil production. That means your bulbs will be smaller. I still had some pretty big ones. Wonder how big they would have been. But the best method over all is to let a few scapes form to remove the guess work and guide you to harvest timing. The rest cut and wait for the few to tell the many what’s next.
Lesson number 4 – Which brings me back to my subject title. It is another way to extend the harvest of garlic. Plant a patch of bulbils in the garden and the small shoots can be harvested like chives in early spring. You don’t need to let them develop all the way.
The next way is to use vinegar and can some garlic cloves. Another way is to dry part of your harvest and turn it into garlic powder or garlic salt. This year it will be a very small amount that my crop allows me to experiment but I still get to play and see what we think of homemade versus store products of powder and bottled cloves. I can almost guarantee which will be better. Some of you may already know the answer.
So how much garlic do I need? One article recommends, of the Music garlic variety, to grow 10 to 20 plants per person for a years supply. Then you would have to put back into the soil that many plants for next year. So it equals to more like growing 20 to 40 plants per person with half for eating and half for growing. The heads to choose are your largest ones as they will produce the largest plants for next year’s harvest.
At $15.99 for 3 plants, how much would that cost to have the harvest you need in one years time for one person? $15.99 divided by 3 which is the average number of heads you get is $5.33 per bulb or head. Times that times 40 plants you will need for eating and replanting for one person minus shipping costs is $213.20. Times by the number of people in our home which most often is 6 and you have $1279.20. OUCH!!! Or 240 bulbs which I in no way can afford all at once. So I’ve been buying a few bulbs a year and replanting almost my entire harvest for 6 years. A long process.
My experience is slim but I chose Music garlic because it was popular, which I assume it was for a reason, and it stores for 6 to 8 months under the right conditions. The storage time allows me to put up the rest of my garden’s harvest and then during the leisure of wintertime, bottle some, and powder some. This also means more of my garden is used fresh and less needs processed. Less energy used and time consumed means more of it to be used in other areas of our lives. Another factor was that the processing of the garlic would be in winter when I’m wanting the warmth that drying or canning would produce.
But I don’t intend to stay strictly with Music which is a softneck variety. It may store 4 to 6 months but it is not as cold hardy as hardneck varieties which only store for 3 to 5 months. We will get another bitter winter one of these days and I might loose my whole Music garlic crop because of it. It would be nice to have something else too.
But what about the other 6 to 4 months? That is the gap I’m thinking about also.
To extend my harvest time I will work toward—
- Growing bulbils in the spring for a green chive like first crop.
2. Scapes for the second harvest of garlic flavor.
3. Bulbs for the third.
4. Music garlic for extended storage of heads.
5. A hardneck variety of garlic for canned and dried garlic to fill in the gap between when music will store no more and the spring greens from bulbils form. Of course some bulbils will be allowed to grow and replanted to increase my garlic harvest size in the future.
This will not all come to fruition this next year but the first step to success is a plan.