To scape or not to scape? Garlic wisdom

Garlic stalks, called “scapes”, start growing out of the centres of hard-neck garlic about now.

Garlic stalks, called “scapes”, start growing out of the centres of hard-neck garlic about now. Should we cut them as gardening pundits suggest?

The seed heads that form at the top will take nutrients from the root, they tell us, and the garlic bulb is subsequently smaller. I used to follow this advice until I read Ron Engeland’s Growing Great Garlic. He discovered that when he left the scapes to grow out, the garlic produced didn’t rot in winter storage.

Two years ago I let mine grow out, too, and was astonished to watch them shoot five feet straight up. I grew several different kinds and the bulbs never grew mouldy over winter for the first time ever, although I also had just acquired a cool, dry pantry that probably helped. This year I’ll put a few in the cool room that I used to keep my garlic in just for comparison.

Plant cloves of garlic in mid-October, pointy end up, three inches deep, four inches apart in rows 18 inches apart. Prepare the soil ahead of time by digging one inch of compost into the top six inches so the soil will be softer and allow the bulbs to expand. Each clove becomes a bulb of many cloves. Side-dress with an organic fertilizer about two weeks later, again mid-February and again mid-April. Pull out any weeds by hand.

I’ve never watered before because garlic roots go deeply enough to ensure a good supply right through to harvest and the bulbs are less likely to go mouldy, but with the predicted drought, I might have to water occasionally. In the past I’ve sprayed compost tea on the crop once a month, but because the soil analysis this year showed my soil to be sandy, I’m spraying once a week.

When the leaves start turning brown come mid-July, check for maturity by digging a bulb up every few days. As soon as they look mature, don’t wait to dig them all up because the bulbs will blow apart and won’t keep well in storage. Spread them out to dry under cover for a few days then take them outside to a cool, shady spot because you might as well be comfortable and because you’re going to make a mess.

Cut the roots off a half-inch from the base (I use scissors) and gently scrub out the dirt with a toothbrush. Carefully rub off the dirty outside layer and, if they’re soft-neck you can have some fun braiding them to hang in a cool and dry storage area. If they’re hard-neck, trim the stalk to one inch and store in mesh bags, hanging up if possible so air can circulate.

Last year I thought I’d have a little fun and plant the bulbils and seeds that form at the top of garlic scapes so I left a few in the ground till the bulbils and seeds had formed. I popped off the bulbils that look like tiny garlic cloves, exposing the tiny flowers that pollinating insects then could reach. I harvested many black seeds, planted them in October and now have a bunch of garlic seedlings popping up.

I’ve never watered these either and so far, so good. Since these seeds were cross-fertilized, they will be indigenous to my garden and if they turn out, I’ll save a bundle by not having to buy any more. Hmm, what should I call them? I’m inclined to Mesachie Rednecks, though that nomenclature would be social rather than botanical.