Roots and Shoots: Garlic Scapes

By Pamela Doan

Spring vegetables make the garden seem worthwhile — more than a summer hobby for the purpose of a good tomato in July. A rhubarb patch, asparagus, radishes and lettuce whet the appetite before other vegetables are ready. While waiting for the peppers, tomatoes, corn and squash to mature, it’s wonderful to get early rewards and to get the most out of the garden space. Had a garlic scape yet? These delicious non-flowering stalks of hard-neck garlic varieties like German white are in season now and portend the garlic harvest.

Garlic bulbs should be about ready to harvest now and in the coming weeks. Planted in mid-October through November, garlic settles in for a long winter’s nap, and the green shoots are some of the first arrivals in a spring garden. When the yard is still gray and dreary from the winter and there’s no promise of summer glory yet, those garlic shoots remind a winter weary soul that sunny, warm days are ahead. Thank goodness that seems like a distant memory right now.

garlic scapeAfter choosing a sunny spot in the garden for the garlic, the most important thing to successfully get through the winter is mulch to protect it from the freeze-and-thaw cycle. As the ground freezes, thaws and freezes again all winter, especially when there isn’t a layer of snow, plants get unsettled in the soil and move to close to the surface and are damaged. Straw is excellent mulch for garlic.

In the spring, just pull aside the mulch to give it air and room to breathe. Then do nothing but watch. Garlic isn’t known for having a lot of pests or diseases, and it’s fairly easy to grow for that reason. It’s nice to have at least one thing that isn’t a battle. Three cheers for low maintenance.

Garlic scapes can be trimmed once they appear to focus the plant’s energy on the bulb growing below the ground. The sooner the scapes are harvested, the more tender they’ll be. Some common uses for scapes are in pesto, salads and salad dressing, and if the urge is there, pickled. Why not? Check out online recipe guides and find really creative takes for garlic scapes in the kitchen.

Garlic is ready to harvest when the leaves turn brown and fall down, like the plant is dying. What a great signal! No guessing. Use a pitchfork or shovel to gently lift the bulb from the soil; it’s only a few inches down, but pulling on the wilted leaves to yank it out of the ground won’t work. Maybe the head will be gigantic, full of juicy bulbs or maybe on the smaller side. Either way, it’s got full flavor and is ready to eat.

Prepare garlic for long-term storage by drying it for three to four weeks in a cool, dry, dark place if delayed gratification is more of your thing or there’s a large enough harvest to make it through the fall or winter. Garlic is such an easy and inexpensive vegetable to buy at the grocery store, I initially didn’t consider it worthy of much prime garden space, but hopefully, the flavorful harvest I’m about to reap in the next few weeks will change my mind about all that. Now that I’ve got a few different varieties, all I need is to sacrifice a few cloves from each in order to start the process all over again this fall, but who can think of fall on a beautiful summer’s day?

The garlic braid isn’t just a lovely piece of décor for the kitchen — it’s also a great way to store garlic. Garlic likes to feel the air around it. It likes to stay dry, never moist, and once it’s done growing, the sun doesn’t help it. Garlic can be kept and used throughout the winter once it’s dry and if it’s stored properly. There are so many ways to enjoy it year-round.

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