The First Garlic Harvest
The odd, twisting flower stalks of hardneck garlic begin their unfolding magic from mid-June to early July in many northern gardens. Called garlic scapes, they are the first garlic harvest of the season.
The scapes are both flavorful and highly nutritious. While somewhat more mild than the underground bulb, the scapes add zest to many dishes, both raw and cooked, from salads to soups, pesto and even garlic bread.
Similar to the garlic bulb, the scapes are packed with many exceptional vitamins and other important compounds necessary for better health.
Some Other Uses for the Scape
Some gardeners will save the scapes, actually small garlic bulb seeds, which can then be replanted in the fall. This is a good method to help reproduce what a gardener believes to be the best and most flavorful hardneck variety. Using the seeds, called bulbils, for reproduction takes about two years before a good sized garlic bulb can be harvested.
The bulbils are small and it takes patience to plant them at the same time as garlic cloves are planted in the fall. Like the larger garlic cloves, the bulbils will sprout in the very early spring.
Other gardeners simply believe it is best to cut the scapes as soon as they appear. This method operates under the belief that, minus the scape, the underground garlic bulb will have more energy to grow larger.
In general, scapes are not found at the supermarket. They’ll be more likely found at a Farmer’s Market since they are something of a niche food item. So for some gardeners, the first garlic harvest, the scape is an extra source of income.
Some Important Details
Garlic has been planted and used for thousands of years as a medicinal and culinary plant. There are two main division in the garlic world: softneck and hardneck garlic. Softneck garlics are usually the variety found in many supermarkets which were grown hundreds or thousands of miles away or perhaps even on a different continent. In general, softneck varieties do not produce a scape. Softneck varieties are generally well suited for more mild climates where they mature earlier and tend to store better than the hardneck varieties.
Hardneck varieties are the best choice for northern gardeners in the United States and Canada. They are hardy and laugh at the cold winters. Hardneck garlic will send up a scape in the late spring or early summer.
There are nine different species of hardneck garlic, the hardiest is called “Rocambole” which also produces for some the best scapes and flavorful bulbs. Other varieties include: Purple Stripe, Marbled Purple Stripe, Asiatic, Glazed Purple Stripe, Creole, Middle Eastern, Turban and Porcelain.
Once the scape appears on the hardneck varieties, it is a sign the garlic bulb underneath will be ready within about four weeks, or the Second Garlic Harvest. A few months later in northern areas, usually in October, the smaller cloves as well as the bulbils can be re-planted for next year’s crop.
Many online seed sources sell a variety of different garlics which can be planted. Another good source would be Farmer’s Markets and neighbors who grow a “homegrown” variety.
For all the benefits of garlic both in the kitchen and for health, it’s ease and hardiness and two harvests, it’s well worth the time and effort to plant a patch and enjoy the unfolding and twisting magic.
1. personal experience