If you grow hardneck garlic (Allium sativum), you are in for a treat. Hardneck garlic varieties are some of the few plants with two harvests. As a result, although from the same plant, each harvest comes with its own distinct flavor and texture, all in the same season. Garlic scapes are harvested first, usually in the late spring to early summer, and then the bulbs are harvested later in the summer.
A few weeks before the garlic bulb is fully grown, you can harvest garlic scapes. The scape is the stiff, central flower stems found in hardneck garlic varieties. These long, thin, curly, and vibrantly green scapes are edible and are typically the first vegetable produce found at spring farmers’ markets. They are loved for their tender, mildly garlic flavor, making them a favorite amongst foodies and chefs.
If you are looking to grow garlic scapes, you are in the right place. In this article, we will provide you with everything you need to know about these delicious greens.
What Is A Garlic Scape?
A garlic scape is the hard, central flowering stem or flower stalk that emerges from hardneck garlic varieties. Softneck garlic does not make a shoot (garlic scape) but does produce more garlic cloves per bulb. Thus, in a trade-off for having fewer garlic cloves per bulb, hardneck garlic plants produce scapes, which can be harvested.
About three weeks before the garlic bulb is ready for harvest, the garlic crop sends up a flower stalk known as the garlic scape. The stalk grows straight up for several inches and then curls once or twice before growing upward and blooming.
If left to mature, the scapes produce small garlic bulbils that can be planted to produce more garlic. While you might be tempted to grow your garlic from the small bulbils, be advised that they take a considerably longer time to grow than growing hardneck garlic from cloves.
But usually, these scapes are chopped off before they flower. Harvesting the scapes before they bloom is an integral part of garlic farming. If the scapes aren’t cut off, the garlic plant expends its energy trying to grow the stem and flower, leaving the bulb small and flavorless. Hence, cutting them off before they bloom allows the plant to devote its energy to growing a larger, more flavorful garlic bulb.
Garlic bulbs arent the only ones to benefit from these trimmings – eaters and chefs alike enjoy these long curling aromatic stalks in delicious spring dishes. Garlic scapes have a texture similar to asparagus stems. They are tender enough to be eaten raw and sufficiently sturdy to stand up to roasting, grilling, and sauteing. When harvested, scapes look like long, curly green beans.
Scapes are edible and are a foodie favorite that can be used as a vegetable or to make pesto. Garlic scape pesto can be made by replacing the basil with raw scapes. We highly recommend using neutral-tasting oil so that the natural flavors of garlic scapes can shine through. They can also be tossed with olive oil and grilled or chopped and added to stir-fries or creamy pasts.
Garlic scapes make a fabulous addition to a flower bouquet.
Garlic scapes, like most other members of the allium family, provide numerous health benefits. For instance, garlic scapes are high in certain compounds that may help to reoxygenate blood, protect and maintain healthy tissue and organs.
They also contain allium compounds, which are thought to help protect against osteoarthritis. Garlic scapes also contain certain enzymes responsible for breaking down bone tissue, thus protecting against osteoarthritis. In addition, garlic scapes are high in antioxidants, have anti-cancer properties, and prevent oxidative stress that may cause damage to the kidneys and liver.
What Do They Taste Like?
Garlic scapes taste like a unique blend of scallion, green onions, and garlic. However, they are usually less fiery and have a fresher, greener taste than garlic bulbs. The texture of garlic scapes is similar to that of asparagus.
How To Grow Scapes From Garlic Cloves
Growing garlic scapes is relatively easy. There is nothing more you need to do to grow garlic scapes other than to plant garlic. The formation of scapes is a natural part of the garlic growth cycle and part of the plant’s reproductive process. Garlic scapes are the first tender green shoots on garlic, which grow into bulbils. Provide good care to the mother plant and watch scapes spring for the curly tendrils. The steps involved in growing garlic scapes include:
How To Plant Garlic Scapes In The Garden
Garlic grows best in areas that receive at least six hours of sun each day. We highly recommend planting your garlic in the fall for two main reasons:
- Garlic cloves need a cold period to trigger bulb development
- Fall planting gives the cloves time to set roots before winter
Garlic prefers nitrogen-rich, sandy, or loamy soil with good drainage and a pH of 6.0 – 8.4. Prepare a well-drained, compost-enriched seedbed. Raised beds work well for garlic cloves. You can also opt to plant them directly in the soil.
You can propagate garlic from the bulbs you’ve just harvested. Before planting, break the bulbs into cloves a few days before planting but keep the paper husk on the individual cloves.
Plant Your Garlic Cloves
Plant four to six weeks before the ground freezes for the winter. This will allow the cloves to achieve good root growth before the ground freezes. Make rows that are 6″ apart in your bed. Put the garlic cloves 1-2 inches deep with the tip facing up and 2-4 inches apart. Gently cover the cloves with 1-2 inches of soil and water well.
Mulch The Bed
Once you are done planting your cloves, top the bed with two to three inches of shredded straw or leaves.
Give the garlic bed a deep watering to ensure the newly planted cloves have all the moisture they need to sprout.
Growing Garlic Scapes In Containers
You can also grow your scapes in containers, planters, or pots. The diameter of the container depends on how much garlic you want to grow, but it should be at least 8 inches deep.
To grow garlic in containers, use a fresh standard growing medium with three-quarters high-quality potting mix and one-quarter compost. Also, add in a fertilizer like a granular fish or all-purpose vegetable garden fertilizer. Space the cloves two to three inches deep and 3-4 inches apart.
Put the container on a deck or patio where it receives plenty of direct sunlight. Water the container regularly and fertilize it every two to three weeks with a liquid organic fertilizer.
Caring For Your Garlic Crop
Although garlic is a fairly low-maintenance crop, you will want to put in some effort to encourage the largest and tastiest bulbs. Here are a few maintenance tips you should follow:
Provide Sufficient Moisture
If the weather in your area is hot and dry, deeply water your garlic bed every seven to ten days. Water-stressed plants do not produce big bulbs.
Pull Out Weeds
Do not let grassy or broad-leaved weeds compete with your garlic plants for moisture and nutrients. Instead, pull out weeds as they appear. If you mulched the bed after planting, weeds shouldn’t be much of an issue.
Garlic plants are heavy feeders and appreciate rich organic soil. Feed the soil with compost in spring and nitrogen-rich organic fertilizer like fish fertilizer or alfalfa meal. This promotes healthy foliage growth, which in turn helps the plants form large bulbs.
Around late May or early June, depending on the hardneck garlic variety and your location, you will notice a stalk growing from the center of your garlic plant. If allowed to grow, the scape will form a coil.
Common Garlic Scape Diseases
Although the pungent aroma of garlic means it is fairly pest-resistant, it is not entirely free from destructive creatures. For example, your garlic scapes are susceptible to leaf miners, which damage the scapes, and wheat curl mites which cause twisted, stunted growth.
Nematodes are another huge problem that eats both the scapes and the garlic bulb, causing a slow death to your crop. If you are comfortable using commercial pest-control measures, apply a pesticide to your plant to control insects. If you prefer a more natural pest control measure, rotate the crops annually.
Should You Cut Garlic Scapes?
Whether or not to cut scapes off your garlic plant is an individual decision. Many gardeners believe that scapes, if left to grow, will stunt the growth of your garlic bulbs by redirecting energy into the production of garlic seeds. This may result in the production of small bulbs with equally small cloves. So it is best to remove them when they appear. Your garlic bulbs can double in size in the last month of growth.
That said, you can opt to leave them and allow them to mature so you can harvest the bulbils for future planting. There are several advantages to letting garlic scapes mature and replanting the bulbils that develop.
For starters, planting garlic from bulbils is an effective way to increase your planting stock without needing to sacrifice edible cloves. It also allows you to plant garlic stock that is homogenous to the mother plant.
Overall, when considering whether to cut or grow scapes, consider the clove size you’d like to have. If your goal is to grow monstrous garlic, then you will likely want to remove the scapes.
How To Harvest Garlic Scapes
Harvesting garlic scapes is easy. When the scapes are just starting to poke above the leaves, they are tender enough to eat raw. Although the twists and turns look wonderfully exotic, they become spicier and more fibrous as they grow, requiring peeling and some gentle cooking before eating.
Ideally, it would be best if you harvested your scapes when they are about 10 inches tall. Harvest garlic scapes once they form their first loop for a more tender scape. Cut the stem to the point where they meet the top leaf of the plant. If you can, use a running sheer as they tend to leave a clean cut.
How To Store Garlic Scapes
Garlic scapes do very well in the crisper and can last for a long time with proper preservation. If you plan to use them sooner, you can place the scapes in a jar with a couple of inches of water, the same way you’d display flowers, and keep them on the counter for a few days. However, if you want to use them for longer, here are 3 ways you can preserve your garlic scapes:
Garlic Scape Pesto
Pesto provides an effective way to preserve the mild flavor of garlic scapes. Once made, freeze the pesto. Then, to enjoy, thaw the pesto and use it as a dip, pasta sauce, or even pizza topping.
Freeze Your Garlic Scapes
Another way to savor the mild garlic scape flavor for longer is to chop them into 1-inch pieces and freeze them in zipper freezer bags. This makes it easy to grab a handful of garlic scapes and add them to soups, stir fry, stews, or anywhere that you would use garlic. Scapes hold up really well to freezing and remain firm and fresh for long.
Canning Garlic Scapes
Yes, just like anything else, you can also pickle your garlic scapes. Cut them into equally sized lengths and pickle using your favorite pickle recipe.
Garlic Scapes FAQs
How Are Garlic Scapes Different From Ramps?
Ramps, also known as wild leeks, can sometimes be confused with garlic scapes because they tend to be available in early spring. However, ramps are their own plants, unlike scapes, which are the stem of the garlic plant. Also, they taste like leeks and onions.
Is Green Garlic The same As Garlic Scapes?
No. Green garlic is a young garlic plant that is harvested before maturity. They have tender leaves and are harvested before the garlic bulbs develop. They also have a milder flavor than scapes. However, green garlic can be substituted for green garlic and vice versa.
Where Can I Find Garlic Scapes?
Garlic scapes have a short season and can be found in late spring to early summer at farmer’s markets, gourmet grocers, specialty markets, and grocery stores in the fresh produce section. You ca n also find scapes at Asian markets, where they are sold in bundles.