How to Plant Garlic Bulbils
The weather can get seriously nasty in November, but if you have a few garlic cloves left, you can still stick them in the ground.
I laugh as I read that sentence, which I wrote after I got the main garlic crop in the ground and also – and this is key – an experimental crop of bulbils, those tiny seed-like things in the mature scapes. I then “blithely” skipped town and headed for a week in a warmer climate. In my absence, the Olympic Peninsula got hammered with about a foot of heavy snow – which I have not yet come home to witness. In fact, I’m not sure I can even make it home – and based on reports, I’m not sure I even want to!
But seriously, folks – saving those scapes and planting the little bulbils just may have saved my you-know-what. (CROP is what I mean, of course.)
Yeah, I know – most people don’t allow the scapes to mature. Common wisdom says to cut off the scape in June when it snakes its gangly neck toward the sun, which forces the plant to send its full energy downward, resulting in gargantuan (one would hope!) bulbs.
Traditionally, I, too, being the manipulative person I am, have followed this advice. But I just had this gut feeling last May that everything was not going as well below ground as it was above. We had more rain October through December than we usually get all year, and where we usually get an average of 17” per year, by the end April, we were approaching 2 feet. All winter and spring, steady winds roared in off the coast, gusts frequently topping 40 mph. Our average maximum temperature, even during the “heat” of summer, never hit 70 degrees. I had placed a relatively heavy mulch of old hay over the crop, which I thought was helping to filter the rain and protect the plants, but I knew it could go both ways – it might just be holding in the cold and wet.
And so, when it came time to cut the scapes, I thought maybe I should let the plant do its own thing – be the plant it was designed to be. I confess, I cut a few simply because they are so irresistibly good, but I showed remarkable self-restraint and let the rest grow. If all else fails, I reasoned, I can at least start over with the scapes.
It proved to be a good tactic, as I lost nearly 75% of my bulbs to mold and neck rot.
The best hardneck survivors of rain, wind, and outright neglect:
- Porcelain: German Extra Hardy and Romanian Red
- Purple Stripe: Russian Giant and Siberian
(Lesson learned: I should have pulled back the mulch much earlier than I did – or not used it at all.)
Ok. Moving forward.
How do you plant bulbils from scapes?
Heck if I know. You think I’m some kind of expert just because I blog about it? Beware of people like me on the Blogosphere! I’ve never done it before. But I know it can be done. Or so I hear. Course, you have to pay attention to your plants for at least 3 years to get them up to size (again, according to Internet wisdom) – but if you consider how many little bulbils you can get off one scape, and how much it costs if you buy disease-free organic seed stock at somewhere between $14 and $20/lb or more, it would seem to be an excellent way to size up your crop if that’s the way you want to go. And as a caveat – I HAVE successfully planted the little nuggets that grow off the sides of Elephant garlic bulbs – but that’s not the same thing. Besides, Elephant garlic is not really a garlic, but a leek.
So here is what I did:
Where to put them was a major consideration. I knew I couldn’t plant the tiny bulbils in my regular garden because they would probably look like blades of grass and would be difficult to weed out. I needed someplace relatively protected, because they are likely to be fragile this first year. Planting them inside was not an option for me, and besides, they probably need a period of cold like their larger cousins.
Next problem: What to plant them in. I did not have enough pots for the number of bulbils I wanted to plant, but I did happen to have some large plastic bins that I had previously used for my red wiggler worms. I cut them in half around the perimeter (a 2-foot depth of soil seemed like overkill, and I could use the top rims to use as border control around invasive plants). I drilled holes in the bottom for drainage and filled the bins with decent potting soil that was reasonably weed-free. The bulbil seeds vary from the size of a spinach seed to a large pea – so I pressed them into the soil accordingly and covered them with more top soil. I covered the bins with a scrap of fence wire mesh to keep the cat out – and we shall see.
I’ll keep you posted on the progress. Stay tuned!