As summer draws near, bundles of garlic scapes abound at farmers’ markets with their wild, curly tendrils and you might be seeing them in your own garden too.
If this is the first time you’re growing hardneck garlic at home, you’re in for a treat because you actually get two completely different harvests—each with its own distinctive flavor and texture—from the same plants in the same season.
Those pretty spiral stems that form above your garlic in June are edible, and they’re a foodie favorite that can be used like a vegetable. By picking this bonus crop now and reaping its delicious benefits, you’ll even improve your garlic harvest the following month!
What is a garlic scape?
Garlic scapes are the hard, central flowering stems of hardneck garlic, but they don’t actually flower in the traditional sense. The stems grow straight up for several inches, then curl once or twice around before growing upward and blooming.
If left to mature, the seed pod at the end of the scape will produce small bulbils (essentially tiny, undivided bulbs—like baby plants, or clones of the parent) that can be planted to produce more garlic.
(You might be tempted to try this, but growing garlic from bulbils takes a considerably longer time than growing garlic from cloves—up to two or three years for a decent-sized bulb.)
The long, thin stems of garlic scapes (which are sometimes called garlic shoots, stems, stalks, or spears) have the crispness of a snap bean and the flavor of garlic crossed with green onion. They’re milder than garlic cloves and have a “greener” and fresher taste—like what you’d imagine a plant stem to have.
Should you cut garlic scapes?
Scapes will stunt the growth of hardneck garlic bulbs by redirecting energy into the production of seeds (bulbils), so they’re best removed when they appear. Besides, you’d be throwing away perfectly good food if you didn’t!
Garlic can double in size in its last month of growth, and removing the scape can increase mature bulb size by 25 percent.
If you want to harvest the bulbils for future planting, then simply leave them alone and let the scapes mature. The flower cluster (inflorescence) will continue expanding, eventually splitting the sheath open to reveal green or purple bulbils inside. (The color depends on the variety of garlic grown.)
When this happens, cut off the entire cluster with the bulbils intact and leave out to dry completely before storing the bulbils with the rest of your seeds.
How to harvest garlic scapes
Once you see the exuberantly loopy shoot forming in late spring or early summer, you’ll know your garlic harvest is only a month or two away!
Read next: The Trick of Knowing When to Harvest Garlic
In most climates in the Northern Hemisphere, the season for garlic scapes starts some time in mid May to mid June. Day length, as well as accumulated Growing Degree Days (GDD), determines when the scapes appear and when the bulbs are ready for harvesting and curing.
You’ll want to harvest the garlic scape once it’s grown above the rest of the plant and just before, or just after, the top of the stem forms it first loop.
If you let it continue coiling around, the scape will toughen up (making it not nearly as palatable) and reduce the final yield of the garlic bulb.
(You can, however, eat the fresh bulbils if you don’t plant them. Treat them like miniature garlic cloves: you can use them whole, mash them with the side of a knife, or run them through a garlic press.)
It’s best to harvest scapes in late morning to afternoon when it’s dry, that way the cut has time to heal and is less susceptible to disease. Use pruning shears or snips for a clean cut, and cut the stem at the point where it meets the topmost leaf of the plant. Avoid cutting off any leaves with the scape!
If you want to maximize your garlic scape harvest, you can pull it out with your hand. Grasp the stem below the seed pod (which looks like a long pointed cap) and pull slowly and firmly upward. The scape will release with a pop, and you’ll end up with the full length of the stem, including the tender lower portion that you otherwise wouldn’t get if you simply cut it off.
If the scape snaps off before it pulls out, just wait until next time and pull the remaining stem when it’s grown taller.
Not all of the scapes will come at once, so visit your garlic patch at least twice a week to look for new scapes until all of them are removed.
Also, different varieties of hardneck garlic will produce scapes at different times, which is nice because it makes the harvest season longer so you can enjoy them in batches.
Before storing or cooking, I like to trim the pointy end for a neater appearance and a more pleasing texture (though it isn’t necessary since the entire scape is edible).
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Common questions about garlic scapes
This post updated from an article that originally appeared on July 4, 2012.