If you live in a cold climate, hardneck garlic varieties are a better bet than the more usual softneck types that mature more quickly and store better.
Used raw and cooked, both types produce aromatically delicious bulbs that we use to flavor a multitude of different foods. But hardneck garlic offers a bonus that the softneck type doesn’t … intriguing, delicious garlic scapes.
You’ve planted your hardneck garlic, and then you discover you don’t only need to know when to harvest the garlic bulbs, you also need to know when you can harvest the scapes. While it depends on the variety of garlic you planted, garlic scapes will usually be perfect if they are about 10 inches tall.
How do you know when your garlic scapes are ready to harvest?
First things first. You probably know that we commonly grow garlic from individual cloves that are separated from a garlic bulb.
If you are new to garlic scapes, you may be wondering where to buy bulbs of the hardneck garlic varieties that produce these wondrous scapes. Many small-time farmers produce scapes and sell them at farmers’ markets.
You may come across offers to buy garlic scapes on various websites that talk about growing or cooking with vegetables and herbs. Some give links to Amazon, which is fine, as long as you know that they may earn from qualifying purchases.
But there’s something else that you need to be aware of. Garlic scapes are green garlic shoots that become the flower stems of the hardneck garlic plant.
The longer you let your garlic scapes grow before you harvest them, the tougher they will get. If you harvest them when the shoots are young and green, they will be crisp like a snap bean and taste like a garlicky green onion.
You can expect to see the first signs of garlic scapes about 3-6 weeks before the bulbs will be ready to harvest, though it depends on the variety. At that stage, the leaves of the plants will turn brown and start to wilt.
These wonderfully exotic-looking flowering stalks twist and turn, but if you leave them too long they’ll get fibrous, so you’re going to have to peel and then cook them before you can eat them. That said, they do get spicier the older they get.
Sure Signs That Your Scapes Are Ready to Harvest
When your garlic scapes start to poke out above the leaves of your garlic plant they should be about 10 inches tall. If you harvest garlic scapes now, you will be able to eat them fresh and raw, just like green onions.
Let the flower stems loop once before you harvest them. If they start to straighten out, you can be sure that the garlic scapes are toughening up.
You can harvest them later, but you will need to peel them and cook them gently before you eat them.
What happens if you don’t harvest garlic scapes?
If you don’t harvest the garlic scapes produced by hardneck garlic, your garlic bulbs are likely to suffer. You need the garlic plant to put as much energy as possible into forming a larger bulb.
According to sustainable market farmer and author, Pam Dawling, garlic can double in size in its last month of growth. Removing the scapes of hardneck garlic can increase the size of the bulbs by as much as 25%.
She also maintains that removing the scapes makes it easier to braid the garlic. So, not harvesting your garlic scapes will make it more difficult to braid the garlic.
A possible bonus of not harvesting these potentially delicious flower stems is that they will develop bulbils. These are small bulblike tips that form at the ends of flowering stalks.
Left to grow, they will develop clusters of tiny white blooms and little seeds will form in the flower heads.
You can leave the plants to self-seed and reproduce. Otherwise, you can harvest the seeds and plant them in early spring or in the fall before the ground freezes.
To harvest the seeds, remove the clusters and allow them to dry out completely before storing them in an airtight container.
According to the certified urban agriculturist, Bonnie L. Grant, it will take 3-4 years for new garlic plants to fully develop. It’s a lot quicker and easier to grow garlic from bulbs.
Most people maintain that it’s best to remove garlic scapes for the best bulb growth, and a larger bulb. However, there is a school of thought that maintains that by not harvesting garlic scapes, garlic bulbs will store better and therefore last longer. Pam Dawling disagrees.
As mentioned above, when the garlic matures, the scapes start to grow straight, and the flower head opens, signaling that the bulbs are ready for harvest.
Of course, once you have removed the scapes, you won’t be able to use the flowering stalks as an indication that your garlic bulbs are ready to harvest. For this reason, it’s a good idea to leave one or two of the flower stems with the flower heads on.
How to harvest garlic scapes?
Harvesting garlic scapes is a lot easier than harvesting garlic bulbs. There’s no grubby digging in the ground and no risk of damaging your harvest. Timing also isn’t that critical.
About two weeks before you aim to harvest your scapes, stop watering completely. This will help the garlic plants dry down. The same rule applies to harvesting garlic bulbs.
Also, bear in mind that not all your garlic scapes will be ready to harvest at the same time.
Methods used to harvest scapes
There are several ways to harvest garlic scapes. Whichever harvesting method you choose, the best time to harvest is in good weather, and either late in the morning or early in the afternoon.
One way to harvest your scapes is to simply snap them with your fingers. Scientists say that there is less impact on the garlic bulbs than when we cut the garlic shoots.
But a very common way to harvest scapes is with sharp scissors or small pruning shears. The most tender part of the flower stems is at the base, so cut low down.
Usually, stems that are cut do tend to ooze, but it doesn’t take long for the sun to warm and seal the cut.
Pam Dawling likes to pull her scapes. She doesn’t even wait for the scapes to loop around because she says they will have already begun to toughen.
To use this method, wait until the pointed caps (bulbils) of the flower stems show above the center of the garlic plant. Then hold the scape just below the bulbil and pull slowly and steadily. You don’t want to pull the bulbs out of the ground, just the scapes.
As the garlic scape emerges, you will hear a popping sound as the stem breaks just above the bulb. It will also ooze a bit, but if it’s reasonably hot, it won’t take more than 15-20 minutes to heal the “wound”.
People who remove the scapes simply to improve the quality of the garlic bulbs generally cut them when they start to show above the leaf of the plant. They then discard the garlic shoots or add them to a compost heap. What a waste!
Should you wash garlic scapes after harvesting?
After you have harvested your garlic scapes, rinse them under running water. Shake off the excess water and store them in a zip-top bag or airtight plastic container.
Garlic scapes will stay fresh in the vegetable drawer of a refrigerator for at least a couple of weeks. They will last as long as spring onions or chives.
Can you eat garlic scapes immediately after harvesting?
You absolutely should eat your garlic scapes immediately after harvesting, or certainly as soon as possible. The flower stems are a fresh treat that is great in salads and can be added to stir-fries.
Garlic scapes are delicious added to stews, soups, and sauces. You can also add them to various types of pesto.
If you are going to cook the scapes, you can freeze them for out-of-season use.
Gardeners don’t usually plant hardneck garlic especially for its scapes, but they are a wonderful bonus. A few weeks before you are due to harvest your garlic bulbs, you have the option to harvest the beautifully curly scapes that shoot up above the leaves of the plant.
There are several different methods that you can use to harvest garlic scapes. Our gardening tips for 2023 provide details on the three most usual methods.
The processes are simple, making the task of harvesting delicious, curly scapes from your veggie garden a treat. While you can use shears or scissors to harvest your scapes, you don’t even need these tools.
You can simply snap the flower stems or you can pull them so that they snap on their own just above the still-growing bulbs.
You just need to be aware that you won’t get scapes from soft neck garlic. Also, hard neck garlic grows a lot better in cold climate regions than in areas that are hot and humid.
If you’re a garlic lover, why not give garlic scapes a try?