Garlic is one of the favourite items that I use in preparing food: raw, roasted, or sauteed! Going through the supermarket it is hard to find local, let alone organically grown garlic. Most of the supply comes in from China, Mexico or other places from far distances, yet, garlic is well suited to grow right here! There is certainly a demand for locally grown garlic, and most other farmers I know have a hard time growing enough for their market tables, or for planting stock for people that want to grow their own.
Normally, garlic is grown by taking a mature bulb, separating the differentiated cloves within the bulb, and planting each clove about 4 to 6 inches apart in a well prepared, fertile garden bed in the fall (usually October). Some bulbs only produce 4 to 6 cloves, so many of the garlic plants that are grown need to be saved and replanted to have enough for next year’s crop. Soil borne diseases can become a problem since planting stock generally comes from other plants that have been in contact with the soil.
But all garlic doesn’t have to be propagated this way. Their are two main types of garlic: hardneck (Allium sativum ophioscordon) and softneck (Allium sativum sativum). Hardneck types produce a flower stock (often called the ‘scape’) from the plant that most growers remove so that energy goes into producing a larger, heavier bulb. However, if you let the flower stock continue to grow and mature, it produces tiny seed-like ‘bulbils’; clones of the parent plant that can be planted and grown out to be full-sized bulbs. Depending on the variety of hardneck garlic, it can take anywhere from 2 to 5 years (or potentially longer!) to obtain a full-sized garlic bulb from planting bulbils. Some are very tiny, around the size of a grain of rice, and some are larger, around the size of a pinky-fingernail.
Here at Broadfork Farm we have begun the process of propagating bulbils to grow out for eating and planting stock.