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Navigating the Rocky Road from

Growing Out Hardneck Garlic Bulbils to


Seedworthy Rounds

Heavily Revised December 2018


First Put Out December 2017
By Andy Leahy <garamondo36@gmail.com>
Living in Syracuse, NY -- USA
Growing in Zone 5b, Latitude 42.3° N.
Whitney Point, NY -- USA

Hardneck garlic seed stocks can be multiplied faster


-- and “cleaned up” against soil-borne and clove-
borne pests -- by saving and re-sowing bulbils from
the topsets, then re-sowing rounds or cloves.

Or, at least, that's how the bulbils advocacy goes. There is a catch,
though. In fact, there are several catches.

The biggest catch is this: Under growing conditions typically provided by


most veteran garlic growers, bigger bulbils (and similarly sized rounds,
previously grown from plants originally seeded out of smaller bulbils) tend
to want to promote themselves to small, clove-divided heads. And the key
word here is “small.” Small heads can be a discouraging end point for all
the bulbil effort expended, as, yes, the cloned seed stock has multiplied,
but it has multiplied more so in terms of numbers, than in terms of sizing up
future individual seed pieces.

Since one of the keys to growing bigger heads of garlic is to somehow,

2 -- Hardneck Garlic Bulbils


presto, get your hands on the biggest possible seed pieces, the road from
bulbils… to seedworthy rounds… to bigger heads… can seem, at times, far too
rocky. Garlic's natural enthusiasm in wanting to move -- at the first sign
of decent conditions -- to clove-divided heads can be a nightmare blotting
out the human enthusiast's big garlic dreams.

This is intended to be a workable road map forward -- much more strategic


than previous bulbils advocacy I've seen -- in order to guide fellow fans of
hardneck garlic who, for one reason or another, are thinking about growing
out bulbils, and starting down that road from bulbils to (hopefully)
seedworthy rounds.

(A round, for the uninitiated, is called by some a roundel, or a rounder.


Others call it “single clove garlic.” As you might imagine, it's round, as
it doesn’t show any of the “clove bumps” found on even the tiniest sizes of
regular heads of garlic. A round is an energy-storing underground bulb that
embeds only one future growth point, rather than multiples, as is the case
with a bulb of cloves. A round is formed at some mystical point during the
season by a garlic plant that is without enough strength to put up a scape
and/or divide its bulb into two or more cloves -- presumably due to its small
original seed size, difficult growing conditions, some sort of special
treatment, or some combination of these factors.)

The Back Story on Bulbils

Most hardneck garlic growers don't bother with bulbils -- except to annually
snap off the ends of the scapes. These are the bolting central stalks from
which bulbils grow in bunches within a toboggan-cap-shaped umbel, or (often-
presumed-vestigial-or-false) flower. Out of all the labor-intensive ways to
add a bit of extra size and weight to your underground garlic heads (some say

3 -- Hardneck Garlic Bulbils


bulbs) by the time of harvest, snapping scapes off your hardneck varieties a
month or so earlier, when they first appear, is probably easiest. Energy the
plant had otherwise earmarked for making the topset bigger and bigger is then
re-directed for the rest of the growing season to the head.

(Softneck Silverskin garlics are reported to only rarely send up a scape --


and, if they do, it's supposedly a sign of stress, not health. Softneck
Artichoke garlics, on some plants in some years, will often set bulbils at a
weird, mid-stalk location, closer to the ground, sometimes called “stem
bulbils” or “neck bulbils.” I’ve tried growing some of these, but most of my
bulbil experience -- and most of what I’m writing about here -- has to do
with working with hardneck, a/k/a stiffneck, garlic.)

Snapped off young enough, scapes are tender, mild compared to regular garlic,
and useable to flavor food; picked later on, they can get a bit too woody.
There has been, these last few years, quite a lot of hype out there in
Artisan Food Land about what a great, early-season treat scapes are. Color
me dubious. Our modestly sized garlic operation has never been able to make
much use or market out of more than maybe 10 percent of our supply, which
comes out of the fields in several 5-gallon buckets and mostly just gets
composted.

But back to the bulbils, which represent potentially useful seed pieces
cloned from the parent plant, in the same way that cloves are genetically
identical clones of the parent. Bulbils are smaller than cloves, sometimes
far smaller, but they are usually more numerous per plant, sometimes far more
numerous. And so some see future seed-making potential.

There are only a few reasons why a sane, diligent garlic grower would let any
hardneck topsets and their baskets of bulbils grow unsnapped on purpose.

Some experimenters have been playing around with leaving some topsets on
certain key varieties of hardneck garlic as nascent flowers, usually
carefully teasing out bulbils, and creating enough room and motivation for
the plants to finish making flower parts in order to possibly reproduce
sexually. This is in hopes of making tiny black true seeds, which -- if
enough of them were to be successfully sprouted, grown out, tested, and
tasted -- could create novel or improved strains of garlic. If you want to
learn more about that, Google “true garlic seed.”

Other garlic growers may have a limited supply of certain choice varieties
and wish to cost-effectively expand production, down the road, by saving both
heads and at least some bulbils, growing out both. Depending on the garlic
variety, as much as 20 percent of a grower's harvest (that’s by head count;
by weight, it can be even more) can be “lost” to the bottom line, just in
order to keep the following year's head count even -- to say nothing of
wanting to expand future production. Again, saving, selling, buying, or
trading bulbils can be a more cost-effective way than traditional trafficking
in seed heads in order to get started with, or more quickly expand production
from, varieties of interest.

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The last reason to get involved with bulbils should probably be the first, as
it’s the most important: Pest avoidance. Microscopic fungus and nematode
issues (pictured above) can quietly and gradually build up within a garlic
population that is repeatedly grown out from cloves only, year after year,
especially in the same field. These issues are often not recognized by
growers as too big of a problem until a long-lurking pest population suddenly
manages to explode, decimating the garlic. For the grower, it’s a bit like
not bothering with renter’s insurance, until your apartment has just been
ripped off. Just getting the religion of crop rotation -- moving the garlic
to new ground, that is, every year or two or three -- is unlikely to save the
day. And that's because many of these pests are also unwittingly moved, most
conveniently either right inside the flesh or riding the surface of seed
cloves that came out of the prior patch.

Bulbil advocates make the claim -- not fully supported in all cases by hard
science, to my knowledge -- that starting anew on virgin ground, with bulbils
only, not cloves, can be an effective way of leaving nearly all pest issues
behind. Because the bulbils are curiously set by the parent plant on a long,
unfurling stalk, high off the ground, they are thought to be free of pests
more closely associated with garlic's point of soil contact.

As a consequence, some growers believe -- even if the high price of seed


garlic wasn't a factor -- it's a much wiser course of action to introduce
different varieties from off the farm by always starting with bulbils in a
separate area, rather than cloves. These growers also believe it's wise to

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occasionally go through the laborious process of cleaning up one’s own seed
stocks by switching over to exclusively seeding with rounds or cloves that
were derived -- over a pre-planned course of prior years -- from bulbils
only, if all this is done on new land.

If the painstaking work is started on virgin, quarantined ground -- never


within living memory used to grow anything in the onion family, and protected
against soil contamination from uncleaned footwear, tools, and machinery used
elsewhere on the farm -- that increases our chances of creating “clean seed.”

It's a reasonable theory. Some have expressed doubt it would be a workable


plan for dodging virus issues, as these would seemingly be capable of
spreading through plant flesh in the time it takes for bulbils to mature.
But for the rest of garlic's thorniest pests -- white rot, fusarium,
botrytis, stem and bulb nematodes, maybe bulb mites, and so on -- the bulbils
plan is so crazy, it just might work.

In fact, it's probably at least part of a good explanation for why hardneck
garlics are genetically programmed to have adapted what were once -- possibly
some time way back before humans were paying attention -- fully functional
flowers to instead put out an even-more-energy-intensive cloned topset.
Similar to the life strategy of a walking onion, in a wild situation, these
stalks eventually fall to the ground at some distance from the parent plant,
propagating the parent's genestock at a rooting spot that's potentially
better than before, and perhaps with fewer of the pests that haunt the
plant's original base of operations.

Anyway, that's the basic bulbils pitch. Now here's more about that biggest
catch.

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The Biggest Catch

There is out there on the Internet some information advocating for garlic
growers to get into growing out bulbils, for the reasons described. Most of
the web pages and PDFs I have seen seem to assume that the objective is
winding up -- one or two or three years later -- inevitably generating a
series of many small heads of cloved garlic, which then can be traditionally
grown out further. Like, in other words, they’re okay with that! I, for
one, don’t like this. Small heads of garlic carry small cloves, and it’s
already too much of a treadmill, gradually sizing these up, year after year.
A better objective for any dalliance with bulbils would be to wind up with
many large, seedworthy, single-seed-piece rounds -- in fact, as many as
possible from the supply of bulbils (and, later, small rounds) that we did
all the work to save and sometimes repeatedly sow and grow.

The only question is: How do we do that, without “losing” so much of our
painstakingly grown inventory of bulbils and rounds to those seemingly
dreadful, small, clove-divided heads?

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The Two-Year Trick

The goal is to get something from nothing -- if we combine “nothing” with


some labor and expertise. Whether we handle the job as a one-time project,
or as an annual procedure, what we want is a substantial collection of
“something” valuable, seedworthy rounds (or cloves), as large as possible,
and as many as practical, to expand, replace, size up, or clean up seed
supplies that would ordinarily be entirely formed from traditionally reserved
seed heads. This alternate seed source is to be derived from a supply that
started out as essentially worthless “nothing” bulbils hiding within topset
scapes otherwise destined to be tossed on the lawn, or composted, or sold or
used to flavor or decorate mid-summer meals.

And we’re willing to do most of this on a two-year cycle. If it could be


routinely done in just one year, at least for certain varieties, so much the
better. But if too much of the work takes three or four years to bear fruit,
we’re much less interested.

Year One: A Semi-Traditional Size-Up From Bulbils

The starting point for Year One is going to be a partial bulbils harvest,
keeping the varieties segregated and labeled through curing, followed by a
semi-traditional sizing up effort over a full cycle of the available seasons.
I say a "partial" harvest because many ongoing hardneck operations are going
to be too large to warrant leaving every scape on every plant. Saving them
all could easily create too big a starting supply of bulbils and overwhelm
future labors. Instead, we’re just taking a sample of topsets from certain
varietal portions of main crop beds that have been flagged so as to remind
ourselves to hold off on the de-scaping for a few extra weeks. Topsets from
certain varieties that tend to form a smaller number of larger bulbils, such
as rocamboles, should be harvested when the largest of the umbel contents

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look about pea-sized; left to go further, some of these will get marble-
sized, which overshoots our starting point mark, and robs excessive energy
from the main crop parent bulbs. Topsets from other varieties, such as
porcelains, should be harvested about the same time as the main crop harvest,
because their larger number of smaller bulbils will by then be nearly as big
as they’re going to get, hopefully rice-grain-sized. For our relatively
modest 5,000- to 8,000-head garlic operation, every year I hope to harvest
and cure enough umbel capsules to wind up with maybe 5 pounds of new bulbils,
after drying and processing.

(If one would rather try harvesting large, fully mature, marble-sized
rocambole bulbils, storing them all the way over winter still attached within
their protective topset umbels, and skipping directly to the Year Two
procedure of Late Spring Sowing After Artificial Chill in Winter Storage,
then that's definitely worth a shot. If a large-bulbilled variety could be
identified as doing the intended job in one go-around, then this could be a
One-Year Trick, and not a Two-Year Trick.)

But back to assuming a two-year plan. Instead of waiting to break up and sow
these newly harvested bulbils in fall, as traditionally, I currently advocate
waiting only until a late-summer, mid-August re-planting. This is based on
something I first took a closer note of in 2018. I found that prior year
plantings of small rounds, left in the ground due to procrastination or
overwork in New York State, will start to put down fresh roots and send up
green shoots, surprisingly as early as about mid-August. Something similar
can sometimes be witnessed with volunteer garlic -- heads that got missed in
the field at late July harvest will feature splayed cloves which later that
same fall are already well sprouted. These seem to be clues that garlic,
left to its own devices, is actually naturally adapted to grow over two cool
seasons -- the first from late summer through fall, then a set-back or shut-
down over winter, and then the second season starting in early spring. So
the theory is, because our aggressively large inventory of new, rice-grain-
and pea-sized bulbils makes us less concerned with over-winter mortality, we
could choose to sow these fairly early, counting on the garlic to similarly
sprout and gain some strength that very same late summer and fall, then be
inevitably set back over winter, and then to pick up growth again come
spring. Our plan is essentially to lengthen the overall growing period for
these bulbils, at least among those that survive.

It’s true I haven't yet proven to my own satisfaction whether such a late
summer sow will be a net positive, in terms of considering both survivorship
and weight gain. If one would rather wait until fall to sow -- a more
cautious, conservative, traditional course -- then that's fine.

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For sowing these tiny bulbils, I’ve currently settled on a trenching scheme
that runs across our 3.5-foot-wide beds, using up about the middle 3 feet,
and targeting soil as loose and as fine and as organically infused as
possible. Each trench is separated from the other by about a foot on center,
so as to leave surrounding room for future mulching (which I’ve typically
either skipped entirely, or handled only after the garlic reveals itself),
and even later hand-weeding. Most flat-bottomed hoes are about the right
width for smoothing out a 1- or 2-inch-deep channel, again about every foot.

The bulbils should be spread out at such a thickness, before covering with
soil, that the starting weight for each group is taken into consideration.
If we chose a practical, middling-to-somewhat-luxurious planting density
guideline of about 30 to 48 square feet of bed space (not counting alleys) to
1 pound of seed (about 454 grams), then every 3-foot-long trench is only good
for about 45 to 30 grams of starting bulbils (or about 15 to 10 grams to the
square foot), whether they’re pea-sized or rice-grain-sized.

Whether sown in late summer or fall, in most garlic-friendly growing areas


these plants are going to naturally vernalize, on account of having been
asked to live outdoors through the winter chill. As a consequence, they are
going to be on a schedule similar to, though slightly earlier than, main crop
garlic when it comes time to lay down, brown up, and go into dormancy. (To
“vernalize,” traditionally, means to be biochemically primed by the winter’s
chill for flowering on schedule. In the specialized case of hardneck garlic,
which usually reproduces asexually, to vernalize means to be biochemically
primed by the winter’s chill for timely bulbing and mid-summer maturity,
including cloving and sending up a scape as a vestigial flower, if possible.)

So some portion of these small, bulbil-derived, vernalized garlic plants are


likely to be prone to cloving, especially if growth conditions are especially

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terrific, and if the original bulbil seed was sizeable. This cloving issue
is the main reason for harvesting bulbils from rocamboles and certain other
varieties somewhat early and pea-sized, and declining to enter into this
whole two-year crapshoot with a large supply of fatter, marble-sized bulbils.

For those bulbil-derived plants which both clove and send up a scape in just
Year One, any experimenter will be faced with a choice as to whether to
bother to de-scape. On the one hand, leaving scapes on could fairly
painlessly help supply the next cycle’s round of new bulbils (if that’s what
you want to do), and limit the size of the underground cloves, both of which
could actually be good things (more on this, below). On the other hand,
taking the scapes off could be a good plan for one who already expects plenty
of bulbils from other sources, and who prefers instead to gather an inventory
of small heads carrying small (but not desperately tiny) 3, 4, or 5 gram
cloves -- in order to see what might happen if they’re saved over winter and
submitted to some version of the Year Two, Late Spring Sowing procedure
(again, more on this, below).

Another small point from close observation: For small garlic, the sending up
of the scape is not a foolproof way of distinguishing all the plants which
cloved from those that just made rounds; some small hardneck plants can, in
fact, clove and then stop, not bothering to finish scaping, especially in
highly competitive conditions.

The first year I grew out bulbils, I didn’t know the right timing or method
of extraction for the resulting Year One harvest (hopefully mostly rounds).
The timing turns out, helpfully, to be do-able over several weeks before the
main crop garlic harvest becomes a garlic farmer’s main burden. The key
thing is to notice when the leaves on plants that formed rounds (as intended)
start to lay down all tangled together in a mat, still green. The visual
effect can sometimes be blurred due to mixing with still-erect, still-green,
neighboring plants which promoted themselves to form later-maturing, clove-
divided heads (as not intended). The rounds are most easily found and
disentangled from soil when they’re still attached to green or mostly green
leaves, not brown. Whether green-leaved or brown, there’s little chance of
pulling rounds free from the garden directly by simply grasping the leaves;
chunks of root-bound soil must be first undercut, at or below the root level,
and loosened.

Another thing I didn’t know beforehand was whether it would be easier to sow
the bulbils bed-wide in a blanket before covering with soil, or to restrict
them to burial in parallel shallow trenches that would grow up to form strips
of green shoots. Having done it both ways, I can now recommend the trenches
that become strips. And the reason why has to do mostly with easing the
chore of recovering rounds at harvest from all that soil.

When a hoe is used to carve shallow trenches across a 3.5-foot-wide bed, that
leaves just enough space between and at the ends of the garlic strips to
later, if desired, apply a weed-suppressing mulch of chopped leaves or
something similar -- after the shoots show, but without smothering the
plants. Soon after the summer solstice, after most of the garlic leaves lay

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down, and start gradually turning from green to brown, signifying the onset
of senescence (going into dormancy) and harvest time, a hoe can be used to
gradually strip away some of the intervening weeds, and the top mulch, as
well as a couple inches of soil, adjoining right up against the edge of the
first group of still rooted garlic. A shovel can then be used to undercut
these garlic plants and scoop them all out with a limited amount of soil,
transferring to a wheelbarrow that's filled up for processing elsewhere,
seated somewhere in shade with suitable refreshments. The job in the shade
involves combing through the soil to recover as many rounds as possible,
snapping off the garlic leaves, before returning the soil to the field. Back
in the field, with prior strips of garlic out of the way, the hoe can then be
returned to service against the next, and so on.

The blanket plan, by contrast, seemed to require doing this work seated or
kneeling right in the sunny field, or moving too much soil back and forth by
wheelbarrow.

For several weeks after this Year One harvest comes out of the ground, I
spread each varietal group out in a thin layer on screens, under cover
against sun and rain, in order to get them quickly dried down. Afterwards,
the harvest is safer against mold and mildew issues when it is stashed away,
sitting inside labeled paper lunch bags, awaiting the sorting process.

Again, we may also wind up harvesting some small clove-divided heads of


garlic, formed in one cycle from bulbil seed. Instead of treating these as
failures, and setting them aside for food or compost, I currently advocate
for holding onto these small heads and stashing them away alongside the same
variety’s collection of rounds. The cloven seed pieces will be impossible to
immediately sort by size or weight, without breaking them up, which we don't
want to do just yet. Instead, they should be saved intact, and treated to
the same Year Two over-winter storage and two months of artificial chill as
will be more fully explained.

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Year Two: Overwinter Storage, Artificial Chill, Late Spring Sow
The starting point for Year Two may as well be sorting out the harvested
(mostly) rounds from Year One:

• Anything less than 1.0 grams per probably (and, sorry to say,
unfortunately) still has another year to try sizing up again, as above;

• Those that fall in the range of 1.0 to 3.5 grams are selected for
humidified over-winter storage, two months of humidified artificial chill,
immediately followed by a late spring sow, as will be further explained;

• Anything bigger than 3.5 grams, we just use as admittedly small, main crop
seed that very next fall.

Note that it’s pretty difficult to make these gram-level or tenth-of-a-gram-


level distinctions without using a gram scale, at least to get started. Most
of us would need to check, using a dieter’s kitchen gram scale that has a
readout ostensibly accurate down to a tenth of a gram. After we've weighed
out a couple dozen that are confirmed as falling within a certain prescribed
weight range, future sorting becomes more of a process of visual selection,
and only occasionally having to double-check with the scale.

The sort setting up Year Two can happen over any number of weeks after the
initial cure, and there’s not really much of a deadline (unless one intends
to quickly re-sow, in late summer, rounds that came back a disappointment,

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weighing less than 1 gram per). Sorting first means pulling together those
that actually cloved, which is sometimes more a matter of touch than sight.
Then, for the remaining rounds, we take out those too small (back for another
go at the Year One procedure), and we take out those too large (main crop
seed to be used that fall). We’re left with a varietal inventory of rounds
that’s destined to skip pre-winter planting, and instead spend the winter
indoors, alongside whatever we have from that same variety that’s still kept
in the form of small, clove-divided heads.

Through late summer and fall, regular, unadjusted room temperatures and
natural household humidity levels have been fine for my open-topped paper bag
storage scheme -- but only up until the time period when my forced-air
furnace starts coming on regularly. At that time, I move my inventory, still
within open-topped bags, onto lower shelves or the floor of a darkened
closet-sized pantry. Then I set nearby on the pantry floor one of those
ultrasonically powered misting humidifiers, running it at the lowest possible
level, and leaving the pantry door partly open. A digital readout humidity
meter sitting on a pantry shelf allows me to regularly see how far off I am
in aiming for a relative humidity of 60-70 percent, which I currently
recommend (but which I’m very interested in pushing higher, if it could be
safely done). The R.H. number tends to wander with whatever the weather is
doing outdoors, and the pantry door can be swung slightly more open or
slightly more closed to adjust; even just an inch or two of door opening can
make a difference. Over the coldest days of winter, my pantry door may have
to be kept nearly fully closed, with the humidifier still running inside. At
that time of year, the cold outdoors air has had most of its moisture supply
wrung out of it (having been repeatedly chilled beneath its dew point), and
so my furnace would be chugging along indoors moving around heated air that
winds up as low as 20 to 30 percent relative humidity at room temperature.
This is the season for waking up with dried sinuses, and for finding stiff
sponges and wrinkled apples on your kitchen counter, and so that’s the period
when overwintering supplies of small garlic are most at risk of shrinking
excessively within their skins.

By the first weekend in March, I move all my supply out of the pantry and
into the refrigerator, in order to get the chill in, artificially vernalizing
the seed without rooting, some two months prior to my planned early May
sowing. This fridge air also should be humidified in one way or another. In
the past, I have had luck keeping damp but not dripping paper towels inside a
vegetable crisper drawer, next to the winter-stored rounds and cloves and the
humidity meter, and regularly checking. This time around, with a bigger
inventory, I have been testing out humidifying my entire fridge. Again, with
guidance from the humidity meter, it works pretty well to simply hang a damp
but not dripping hand towel on a fridge shelf, with adjustments made by
partly unfolding or folding up the towel, and thus offering more or less
surface area for the water to evaporate into the fridge air.

By the first weekend in May (maybe slightly earlier, maybe slightly later),
it’s time to leave the fridge, and get ready to immediately sow. I say
“immediately” because one of the things I’ve noticed about chilled garlic is

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that it sprouts very quickly after being returned to anything in the
neighborhood of room temperature.

The matching varieties of small cloved heads that we saved whole are now
ready to be broken up and looked over, selecting those cloves that are at, or
just below, the fresh, fall, 1.0-to-3.5-gram target range (making some
allowance for the fact that our spring weights are taken after some
inevitable dehydration over winter).

My process for late spring sowing of rounds and cloves into Year Two is
similar to my Year One procedure of setting up 3-foot-long trenches a foot
apart, on center, running across our 3.5-foot-wide beds. However, I do make
another round of plant spacing adjustments based on starting weights. Again,
choosing a practical, middling-to-somewhat-luxurious planting density
guideline of about 30 to 48 square feet of bed space (not counting alleys) to
1 pound of seed (about 454 grams), that suggests every 3-foot-long trench is
only good for about 45 to 30 grams of seed (or 15 to 10 grams to the square
foot). If my supply averages about 1 gram per piece, then maybe 45 to 30
seed pieces per trench; 2 grams per, then 22 to 15 per trench; 3 grams per,
then 15 to 10 per trench. And so on. I’m not sure it matters all that much
whether all the seed pieces are placed root side down. In the past, I’ve
made an effort to do that, but this next spring I may have too many saved for
the extra bother.

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Some Promising Results From 2018 Tests

In 2018, we learned that some varieties -- not all -- of late spring sown
rounds did what we wanted them to do, but only if they experienced two months
of artificial chill immediately prior to the sowing (which in 2018 was May 5,
just shy of seven weeks prior to solstice). This was the opposite of what we
were then expecting, but nonetheless came as a pleasant surprise. For those
varieties judged successful, a significant portion of them stayed round, and
got much bigger, ranking as very seedworthy, which was the main goal.

Some varieties still partly cloved, but the numbers of cloves per head were
limited so that most of the cloves were big enough to still be useable as
future fall seed, which is good enough toward the main goal of expanding,
replacing, sizing up, or cleaning up our seed supplies.

These chilled-in-storage plants also browned up and started to tip over in


the field, signifying senescence, or going into dormancy, right around late
July, similar to main crop garlic. The chill turned out to be absolutely key
to encouraging timely bulbing and getting them on the typical schedule for
mid-summer dormancy, which I only learned afterwards was already shown by
Californian Louis K. Mann in 1958, with a co-author. Mann worked with
softnecks and did not get into testing whether the late spring sowing of
small forms of chilled hardneck seed garlic is key to discouraging cloving
and encouraging rounding; that turned out to be the novel part of my tests.

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Here are my 2018 results, variety by variety:

For Music, a porcelain, our starting rounds


averaged 2.7 grams per (fall weight), then
lost 17 percent of their weight in over-
winter storage. Only 12 percent failed to
sprout or otherwise died before harvest.
About 50 percent of the survivors made
rounds averaging 17.3 grams, weighed fresh.
The largest was 30.3 grams, a record for
us, and the smallest was 6.6 grams, and,
for us, these are all seedworthy. For the
other 50 percent that made cloven heads,
many of these featured a limited number of
sizeable cloves, so those were also ranked
as seedworthy and kept for main crop sowing
that very fall.

For German White, another porcelain, our starting rounds also averaged 2.7
grams per, then lost 33 percent of their weight in storage. About 32 percent
never sprouted or otherwise died. Nearly 100 percent of the survivors made
rounds averaging 10.3 grams per, again, weighed fresh. The largest was 25.6
grams, and on the small end a few of them were still too small to qualify for
a fall sow (which, by our standards, means less than 3.5 grams per piece).

For Blanak, a glazed purple stripe, our starting rounds averaged 1.8 grams
per, then lost 29 percent of their weight in storage. Fully 50 percent
didn't make it. Nonetheless, for those that survived, 92 percent made rounds
averaging 9.1 grams. The largest was 20.5 grams, and on the small end a few
were still so small as to rank as failures.

For Russian Giant, believed to be a marbled


purple stripe, our starting rounds averaged
1.8 grams per, then lost 12 percent of
their weight in storage. Only 2 percent
died. Survivors made rounds 96 percent of
the time, averaging 12.9 grams. The
heaviest was 24.4 grams, and on the small
end we had a few failures.

For Carpathian, a rocambole, and Muskegon


Duayne's, a marbled purple stripe, results
were inconclusive due to other issues. Stag
Wisconsin, reputedly a porcelain, under-
performed on the rounding, came out fairly
under-sized, and was very inconsistent.
Rocambole Spanish Roja, purported softneck
artichoke Frog Pond (a highly colloquial name), and glazed purple stripe
Vekak all wanted to clove. We may try again, probably changing up the chill
procedure, or delaying sowing another week or so, even later into spring.

17 -- Hardneck Garlic Bulbils


Some Spectacular Failures From 2018 Tests

We found, if the seed pieces were stored at room temperature all the way
through winter to early May sowing, and thus never chilled, this led to all
kinds of problems. The main problem was that hardly any of the plants wanted
to senesce on schedule. And some didn't want to "bulb up," or store energy,
at all, whether that meant making a round, or making cloves. When they did
clove, the cloves behaved strangely, immediately putting out green shoots
(trimmed samples in photo above) that usually presented themselves in the
field as spindly tangles struggling within the surrounding, still-green,
layered sheath of the parent plant's leaves. In other words, the plants went
ahead and multiplied themselves by cloving, but then those cloves made a
decision to keep growing right away, sending up new leaves well into August,
long after all traditional garlic has wrapped things up for the year.

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When they didn't "bulb up" at all, they became essentially a fat leek -- a
seemingly healthy plant with layer after layer of leaves, but none of them
feeding energy into an internal storage organ. The most tender parts of
these were useable in the kitchen if processed fresh -- like a late summer
version of small young “green garlic,” which is sometimes seen in ethnic food
markets far earlier in spring -- but this wasn’t what we were looking for.

Lastly, with the lack of senescence, these never-chilled plants had to be


harvested green all the way into August or September, and any resulting bulbs
(in whatever form) didn't cure very well. Even in weather-covered open air
with roots and stems trimmed, there were layers of live plant matter in there
that seemed to maintain access to, and transport of, energy and fluids from
the storage leaf, making one or more internal layers susceptible to sliminess
and rot. A regular mid-summer garlic harvest succeeds for human purposes in
storage because the plant is already in a temporary shut-down mode, a
dormancy. But all the way into September, even long after they were pulled
from the field, these never-chilled plants were not ready to quit; some of
them even continued sprouting green while sitting unrooted in a basket.

So the bottom line lessons from my 2018 tests were:

• We do, in fact, need some sort of chill without rooting in storage before
late spring planting; and

• Late spring planting of the right-sized rounds, for some varieties, does
seem to enhance further rounding and to discourage cloving.

The chill seems to put the plants on the right, tight, and typical schedule
of bulbing up and shutting down for the year, a month or so after solstice in
NYS. And, at least for those cooperative varieties, the late spring planting
seems to trick the plants into an even tighter schedule: Upon sprouting into
the sun and immediately discovering fairly long and lengthening days -- that
the solstice, in other words, was already closing in -- these conditions
"forced a decision" to decline cloving entirely, or to limit it.

19 -- Hardneck Garlic Bulbils


All That We Still Don't Know

I don't know very precisely how the size of my starting rounds from 2018 may
have helped. In Fall 2017, I chose for winter storage mostly rounds that
were just a tad too small to seem useable as regular seed. The average
weights taken relatively fresh in fall ranged, variety by variety, from 1.8
to 3.2 grams. But those are group averages; maybe those seed pieces that
really worked for me were 3 to 4 grams, and that’s actually the ideal range.
In Fall 2018, I zeroed in on everything I could get my hands on weighing
between 1.0 and 3.4 grams per (a few fatter), but that could mean that, on
average, I'm next going to be testing generally smaller stuff, and it won't
work out as well. We shall see. For what I’m advocating, it's best if the
large number of harvested, on-the-small-side, 1 to 2 gram rounds (grown from
bulbils in Year One) would wind up directly seedworthy after Year Two. If
they're not, then for some or all of these we’d have to add an extra year to
the process, and that makes the whole campaign much less promising.

I also don't really know what the upper limit should be, variety by variety.
For all I know, for certain varieties, we could make absolutely gigantic
single-clove seed rounds if we were willing to try playing around with 4 or 5
gram rounds (or cloves), possibly holding off on the sowing until mid May,
after the artificial chill, as prescribed. At the other end of the scale, I
also don't really know what the lower limit should be, and whether that’s
going to vary, variety by variety. It may be a waste of extra effort to
include the smaller rounds on a Late Spring Sow effort; for all I know, for
certain varieties, 1 to 2 gram rounds would do just as well, and mostly stay
just as round, if they were simply treated to a traditional pre-winter
sowing. (Though -- having dug up more than my fair share of tiny, clove-
divided heads grown in this way -- I’ve lost interest in further testing.)

I also don't know if smaller rounds could get a size boost, but still stay
round, if they were planted slightly earlier in Spring. During Fall 2018, I
set myself up to try testing this. My entire inventory of 4,600-plus seed
pieces was confirmed as falling (based on relatively fresh fall weights)
between 1.0 and 3.4 grams (a few fatter). And, when there was a big enough
supply to warrant breaking them out further, these were further broken down
into different weight-range groups. This allows a chance to put some of the
smaller groups into fridge chill a month or so earlier (say, early February
instead of early March), and then to sow April 20 or 27, instead of May 4.
It's true that the logistics of doing this make my head spin.

I also don't know yet if it really matters that my seed pieces were all
rounds, and not similarly sized cloves. Most garlic buffs with whom I’ve
consulted seem to reflexively assume that the anatomical shape of the seed
piece, not just the size, really matters. You ask me, I’m not so sure.
Setting up in Fall 2018, I'm prepared to test this with two varieties for
which I have some small cloves, still stored within their heads. The plan is
to save small cloved heads through winter alongside the rounds, treat them to
more or less the same humidity, and the same chilling, and then break the
cloves up at sow time in such a way as to match up the shrunken round weights

20 -- Hardneck Garlic Bulbils


with similarly shrunken clove weights. If we have a certain variety where we
save out both cloves and rounds weighing 1 to 3.5 grams in fall (the rounds
are weigh-able, but the cloves are weigh-able only if we actually broke out
everything long beforehand and weighed them, but it’s too early to do this),
and the harvest in both cases results in quite a few similarly sized, larger,
seedworthy rounds, then that would really be something. That would mean
those tiny clove-divided heads that get created during the process of trying
to size up bulbils through traditional pre-winter sowing in Year One could be
saved and later made some use of. The multiplication by cloving could cut
down on existing losses (some from mortality, some from poor sizing-up, and
some from being simply unable to find them all at harvest), so possibly
saving and sowing 1,000 bulbils could actually result in, two years later,
making something closer to 1,000 (or, hopefully, more) seedworthy pieces.

I also don't know for sure yet if the seemingly terrific, exceptionally large
seedworthy rounds that I got are truly single-growth-point rounds, and
whether they'll survive and produce just as well as similarly sized giant
cloves on a main crop sow. For all I know, there may actually be two or
three or four or more nascent growth points hiding inside what looks
externally like a true round. Needless to say, I didn't want to have to cut
them all up in order to find out, because that kills them. Setting up in
Fall 2018, I'm prepared to informally test this. We have a number of
varieties where the seed pieces planted first, closest to the marker stakes,
all rank as Large Rounds, Fruits of Spring Sow Chill Tests. If many tend to
put out two or three or four or more plants, all in one spot, I’m pretty sure
we’ll notice, and so then all bets might seem to be off.

I also don't know if there's any better method of curing large rounds for
storage between harvest and re-planting in fall. The smaller and medium
rounds tend to dry down with fairly tight, paper-thin skin layers protecting
the flesh of the actual round, the internal storage leaf, with stem tips
turning into whispy nothings. The larger rounds, however, seem to feature at
least one thicker, watery, outermost skin layer, like what one would find in
an onion, forming with the other layers a drinking-straw-sized stalk at the
top. This thicker layer takes longer to dry down, tending to get all
wrinkled over time, and it raises the prospect for holding too much moisture
for too long a time against the storage leaf, being the actual internal
round. Possibly it would be better to use a knife to split the remaining
stalk, partially peeling the top skin back, in order to accelerate drying.
Or possibly I'm pulling these plants too soon, and, given enough time in the
ground, the outermost skin would have given up all its internal fluids to the
storage leaf and flattened itself into a true papery skin. Something to
think about for Summer 2019.

A related question comes from reading Louis K. Mann's 1952 anatomical work on
garlic. He describes a clove of garlic as actually being two specialized
leaves; the inner is a specialized storage leaf, and the outer is a thicker-
than-normal, specialized protective leaf (though neither “leaf” typically
extends above the soil surface to ever get green and make energy from the
sun). When we peel a clove of garlic for food prep (after freeing it from
the overall head), the protective leaf is that often-colorful, often-thicker-

21 -- Hardneck Garlic Bulbils


than-average thing we're taking off. With these rounds -- small, medium, or
large -- I'm not so certain that the plant is forming any thicker internal
protective leaf; instead, we may only have layers of overall "head skin"
surrounding the storage leaf in round form.

I also don't know if sowing "just shy of seven weeks prior to solstice" was
key. On the one hand, I can remember that prior, casual, spring-sowing
efforts in early and mid-April (eleven to nine weeks prior to solstice)
didn’t work out too hot. But what about trialing some garlic on an even
shorter leash? I might be dismissing certain varieties (for excessive
cloving) that could have successfully stayed mostly round if I simply waited
until six or five weeks prior to solstice.

Similarly, I also don't know how to guess beforehand, without testing each,
between varieties that behave, and varieties that don't. What is it about
the varieties that behave? Is there a pattern between porcelains,
rocamboles, and purple stripes? Or are some of each type successful because
they happen to be adapted for especially northern, cold conditions? Or, the
opposite, for more southerly zones? I just dunno. What if these seemingly
non-cooperative varieties simply need to be sown later, or kept chilled
longer, or chilled colder than a household fridge can handle?

I also don't know if what I'm doing is what certain Asian farmers do when
they make single clove garlic. The Internet is full of all kinds of sketchy
information about certain special types of garlic, grown in certain special
areas, that wind up making single clove garlic that sells for a premium, per
pound, for some sort of human reason of novelty or aesthetics or mystique or
presumed ease of kitchen preparation. If they are sowing various forms of
small garlic seed in late spring, after an artificial chill in storage, they
seem to be keeping that fact pretty quiet.

I also don't know whether two months of artificial fridge chill is really the
right amount of time. If three or four or five or six months are just as
good, and it's easier to keep these from drying out during refrigeration, why
not do that? Or, if the worst drying actually occurs during fridge chill,
despite adding moisture, and one month is just as good as two months, why not
do that? Or maybe the easiest way to prevent drying out, and to get the
chill in, would be to go through the whole winter at the -3 degrees C.
recommendation of Gayle M. Volk et al. 2004, which is colder than a typical
household fridge, and warmer than a typical household freezer. To get
storage at that temperature, one would have to borrow some technology from
home brewing buffs in order to rig a single-purpose freezer to maintain such
an odd target temperature.

Lastly, I also don't know, regarding my suggested early, by-the-end-of-August


planting of new bulbil supplies, if there's truly any net benefit to doing
that, instead of waiting until fall. I'm hopeful these plants will gain an
extra build-up in energy from September through October and November, before
the winter snows close in. Whether they lose all their gains during the
winter set-back, or get excessively killed, I don't really know yet.

22 -- Hardneck Garlic Bulbils


The Math For Doing This Routinely

Our team's garlic patch looks like it would run out of space, labor, or
enthusiasm if we ever got to around 8,000 main crop plants. In Fall 2018, we
sowed a tad more than 5,000. And, as in prior years, the bottleneck was
still not market demand, space, labor, or enthusiasm. The bottleneck was
suitable seed supply. So -- even if we could figure out how to routinely and
practically go from bulbils to medium rounds and small cloves (Year One),
then from that inventory to large seedworthy rounds and cloves (Year Two) --
we wouldn't want to wind up with any more than 8,000 main crop seed pieces,
should there be any danger of that happening. We'd just want to subsidize,
bolster, clean up, and hopefully size-up some substantial portion of 8,000.

So, without driving ourselves crazy with highly speculative mathematics or


the drudgery of overwork, how many new bulbils or topsets do we partially or
fully let grow and harvest every year to keep such a (hopefully) two-year
assembly line going? It’s pretty hard to say.

As of right now, my math says every year we might save up to about 5 pounds
of new bulbils (being the resulting weight after drying, and after cleaning
up all the topsets, and possibly eliminating some of the smaller pieces, if I
can figure out a labor-efficient way to do that). After late summer or fall
sowing to launch Year One, I assume 4X overall weight gain (four times
heavier) is possible, after deducting for mortality, for losing stuff in the
soil, for rounds that are already big enough to be promoted to main crop
seed, and for rounds that are still too small to be immediately useful in the
next step. Possibly we'd do much better than that, if cloves turn out to be
just as useful as similarly sized rounds, or if the extra, August, September,
October growing season really helps. Or possibly we'd do much worse than

23 -- Hardneck Garlic Bulbils


that, if it turns out 1 to 2 gram Year One rounds or cloves are just not good
enough for Year Two, and it's going to require an extra year of traditional
sizing up, which would be a big negative.

Assuming we get 5 times 4 = 20 pounds of rounds or cloves that are the right
size for the next step procedure of Late Spring Sowing After Artificial Chill
in Winter Storage, I further assume 5X is next possible, or five times
heavier, after again deducting for mortality, and for pieces at harvest that,
despite the extra effort, are still too small to be all that impressive
(which is really a judgment call as to what constitutes "seedworthy").
Possibly we'd do much better than that, once we get around to focusing just
on those varieties that are known to be the most cooperative, or if it turns
out that those that do clove make only two, or three, or four cloves, all
mostly sizeable. Or possibly we'd do much worse than that, if it turns out
that 1 to 2 gram starting rounds or cloves are just not big enough to make
seedworthy results in Year Two, or if mortality is way worse than hoped for,
no matter how much moisture we try to add during storage. And so on.

If I'm guessing right, 20 times 5 = 100 pounds of useable seed. Just to put
that in perspective, in Fall 2018, from all sources, we planted nearly 81
pounds of seed, formed from more than 5,000 seed pieces, not counting
whatever got planted off-site. Again, our goal is not necessarily to replace
all that seed, just to protect ourselves by subsidizing it with an alternate
source, hopefully pest-free, allowing expansion, or making extra higher-value
seed sales from large heads, if desired. If the Fruits of Late Spring Sowing
After Artificial Chill in Winter Storage are about the same average size as
what we’ve recently had, then 100 pounds should be about 6,250 seed pieces.
If the harvest is bigger on average that regular cloves, then maybe 5,000
seed pieces. For us, that seems like a reasonable goal and doesn’t (yet)
seem like overkill.

If the whole procedure proves to be overkill, getting us more than 100 pounds
of useable seed, then so much the better for doing less work down the road.
However, if it's impossible to get that 4X, then 5X, two-year result, or
something like that, then I don't know whether it's worth the extra work.

24 -- Hardneck Garlic Bulbils


Literature Referenced

Mann, Louis K., 1952. Anatomy of the Garlic Bulb and Factors Affecting Bulb
Development, Hilgardia 21(8):195-251.

Mann, Louis K., and David A. Lewis, 1956. Rest and Dormancy in Garlic,
Hilgardia Vol. 26(3): 161-189.

Mann, Louis K., and P. A. Minges, 1958. Growth and Bulbing of Garlic (Allium
Sativum L.) in Response to Storage Temperature of Planting Stocks, Day
Length, and Planting Date, Hilgardia 27(15):385-419.

Volk, Gayle M., Kate E. Rotindo, and Walter Lyons, 2004. Low-temperature
Storage of Garlic for Spring Planting, HortScience 39(3):571-573.

25 -- Hardneck Garlic Bulbils