The love of flowers is really the best teacher of how to grow and understand them.
- Max Schling
Seeds of Diversity thanks the
J.W. McConnell Family Foundation,
the October Hill Foundation,
Bauta Initiative on Canadian Seed Security
for their support.
Garlic is a bulb that multiplies by dividing underground. In Canada, we normally plant garlic in the fall and harvest it in mid to late summer. It is one of the few crops that is planted in fall to over-winter!
When we talk about a garlic "bulb", we mean the whole underground part that is harvested. When you cook with garlic, you peel the papery bulb skins (which we also call "bulb wrappers") to reveal many small pieces of garlic inside. The pieces are called "cloves", and each of them has its own skin or "clove wrapper".
When you plant garlic in the fall, you peel the bulb, break apart the cloves, and plant the cloves separately with their clove wrappers intact. Each clove sprouts into a new plant and divides underground to make a whole new bulb with many cloves.
The bulb wrappers are actually the lower ends of the leaves. If you count the leaves you'll find the same number of wrappers.
Inside a garlic bulb you sometimes find a stiff round part in the center. This is the bottom of a flower stem, called a "scape".
Garlic scapes are tall stems that sometimes curl or twist into interesting shapes. They also carry an unusual flower structure at the top that normally doesn't bear flowers.
Although garlic once had flowers like other plants, after thousands of years of cultivation it has lost the natural ability to make flowers and seeds. Instead, the scape bears a cluster of "bulbils". Each of these little round parts is like a tiny clove, and they can be planted separately to make garlic bulbs (although it takes a few more years).
Normally, growers remove the scapes when they have made one-and-a half turns. The tender stems and tops are edible and delicately flavoured. Also, removing the scape allows the bulb to grow bigger!
Note that some varieties do not grow a stem. These are called "softneck" varieties, and scape-producing varieties are called "hardnecks". Softnecks are usually imported from warmer parts of the world, and these are the only kinds that are easily braided.
Stem growth is climate dependent. A "hardneck" variety that grows a stem in one part of the country might be a "softneck" in another (usually milder) growing area.