Garlic Bulbil Harvest

On our farm, garlic harvest starts around the second week of July with 2nd year bulbils.

What are bulbils?

Garlic bulbils are the small bulbs that develop in the garlic scape if you leave it on the plant.

Young garlic scape

Garlic scapes are often referred to as garlic flowers. However, scapes aren’t true flowers – the reproductive parts only partially form and they are not viable. As such, there is no cross pollination. The bulbils that form are clones of the mother plant. They are essentially mini-bulbs that will grow to be large bulbs if they are treated like normal garlic cloves.

Growing 2nd year bulbils

This year, I grew 5 garlic varieties from bulbils harvested in 2009 (4 Rocambole varieties and 1 Porcelain variety).

They were planted in mid-October 2009:

  • 5 rows to the bed (instead of 3 for large garlic)
  • Rocambole bulbils were spaced 4″ apart in the row
  • Porcelain bulbils were spaced 2″ apart in the row

In early June:

Two Rocambole rows on the left, a porcelain row in the middle, and the rocambole rows on the right.

In late June:

Harvesting 2nd year bulbils

I knew it was harvest time when the small Porcelain garlic started to flop over.

When the leaves start to die off, it isn’t long before the stem disappears hiding traces of the little bulbs.


I use a broadfork for harvest.  I push the tines completely in vertically and then pull back on the handles.

When the earth splits, I know the bulbs are loose. I pull the 2nd year bulbils out carefully. They are more delicate than full size bulbs. It is quite easy to pull the stems right off.

I then lay the bulbs on the ground.

Comparing 2nd year bulbils

These are rocamboles. The small bulbs mostly have differentiated cloves. Occasionally,  I get one-clove bulbs called rounds.

Notice the tag with

  • the harvest date (JL9),
  • the year the bulbils were collected from scapes (BB09),
  • the row number (1),
  • and the variety name (Québec).

This tag will stay with the garlic until it gets planted in the fall.

Not all garlic bulbils grow out the same way.

These are 2nd year Porcelain Music bulbils. They are all rounds of different sizes. Next year they will probably produce small cloves similar to the Rocamboles above.

The difference between the two garlic types is quite pronounced.


Left: Porcelain round. Right: Rocambole Bulb. Both from 2009 bulbils. The difference in size is solely due to the variety.

After the harvest

The garlic bulbs and rounds are cured in the barn.

All the Rocambole bulbs are bunched by variety with their tag hanging from a nail. I put the Porcelain rounds in the paper bag as they were too small to bunch effectively.

I will ignore these until the end of August when I start thinking about next year’s crop.

My next posts will also be of a pungent garlic nature – about scapes and bulbils, and, as we harvest the main crop, on the differences between different garlic types.

I hope you’re all doing well with the heat!!

37 responses to “Garlic Bulbil Harvest

  1. Hi Dan – Thanks for sharing on garlic bulbils! I’ve done some experimenting here at Hope Seeds with bulbils as well, and have found something in the third year of growing. Taking the mini-bulbs vs. rounds, I’ve found the cloves from the mini-bulbs produce MUCH smaller bulbs in the 3rd year’s harvest when compared to the bulbs produced from the rounds. This is true for both the porcelain and rocambole strains. The trick is to figure out how to encourage the 1st year bulbils to produce more rounds than mini-bulbs in the 2nd year. One idea is to plant the 1st year bulbils in the Spring following harvest from the mother plant, rather than the Fall of the year before (i.e. keep them over winter out of the ground). I haven’t done this comparison yet…
    Happy harvest!
    Andrea

  2. Hi Andrea,
    Thanks for your observations.
    I hadn’t noticed the difference growing out 2nd year cloves vs. rounds of the same garlic type. To be honest, I haven’t grown them out separately. I do love growing out bulbils but I tend to get frustrated keeping track of them over the years. I like harvesting bulbs vs. rounds since it means more cloves sooner.

    One difference in my bulbil grow-outs over the last 5 years has been to move to wider spacing. This has usually led to bigger 2nd year bulbs. It has also resulted in way less rounds. Have you tried planting bulbils at different densities to produce more or less rounds?

    I usually also select the largest bulbils to plant out. I haven’t tested this but larger bulbils might produce more bulbs than cloves. What do you think?

    Also, I have noticed that some rocambole strains produce bigger bulbs quicker.

    Hope the hope seeds garlic is doing good!

    Dan

  3. Brian Creelman

    Hi Dan,

    Interesting take on propagating garlic, which I am following with keen interest. You might find this link of interest – http://www.snakeroot.net/farm/GrowingRoundsFromBulbils.shtml

    • Brian, thanks for the link. I do find it interesting. It seems that in Snakeroot farms experience planting date has an impact on round production too.

      Dan

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  5. David Sabold

    Has anyone grown garlic from true seed? I didn’t know it was possible until I found a very old packet of Rocambole seed. None germinated, though: too old. I’d like to try growing from seed (not cloves or bulbils – SEED)
    My Rocambole varieties never enjoy sexual reproduction – they never put out flowers.

    • Hi David,

      The garlic varieties available to most gardeners and farmers don’t set true seed. The complete book of Garlic by Ted Jordan Meredith shares a lot of recent work to produce garlic seed – this involves plucking bulbils out of the garlic scapes to stress the plant into maturing its flowers rather than aborting them. To my knowledge this is mainly being done in research labs and true garlic seed is not available commercially.

      Where did you get your rocambole seed?

      Dan

  6. David Sabold

    The packet of 1500 mg of Rocambole garlic seed came from Semances Heritage from Seracon in Montreal. I will try removing bulbils from several more primitive varieties in hopes of enabling a few seeds to set on the less crowded flowers.

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  8. Hi, Dan! Thanks for the info on garlic bulbil planting characteristics. I have just begun to grow garlic (retired) and LOVE the stuff!

    Have a super day!

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  11. I have just bought a house with a mature v. large garden that contains numerous garlic plants. The previous owner was Italian and grew the garlic to make pasta sauce for all the neighbours. The garlic plants are at the stage where most have bulbils and the leaves are mostly brown, so I am going to take them out at the next opportunity. We just had a heavy rain so I need to wait for the ground to dry. Curiously, though, some of the garlic plants have produced true seed and I have collected a reasonably amount. I am going to see if it will grow.

    • Hi Kathleen,

      Do the plants currently have small black seeds?

      Are you sure the plants that the plants that have set seed are actually garlic and not an onion, leek, or flowering allium?

      It is pretty exciting if you do have true garlic seed.

      Please keep me posted!

      Dan

      • The garlic plants that produced small black seeds were in a group by themselves and flowered before the rest of the garlic plants. I collected the seeds about a week ago. They are definitely garlic. Whether they will geminate or only time will tell.

      • If you ever have more seed than you know what to do with, I know somebody who would be interested!

  12. VERY exciting to learn that you have garlic seed! Garlic hasn’t seen much sexual reproduction for thousands of years! Last summer I tried tweezing bulbils out of scapes to free up room for the vestigial flowers I saw all crowded in there. No luck producing true seed, though. Please keep us posted and consider sharing seed in the years to come if you have luck germinating the seed.

    • Supposedly the type of garlic has a big impact on success in setting seed. Marbled purple stripes, purple stripes, and porcelain garlics having been more successful though it sounds like porcelains are a lot of work to remove the bulbils.

      So far, I’ve only worked on the rocamboles since the other garlics didn’t have formed bulbils yet. In the next dar or so, they should be ready.

      If I can get enough seed that germinates I would be happy to share – though I think that might take a few years!

      Dan

  13. I have a German White (porcelain) that produced flowers this year and I’m hoping the seeds germinate!

  14. I had great success growing Musical garlic this year and I just harvested most bulbs leaving a small row in to let the bulbils mature. How do you know when the bulbils are fully mature and ready to harvest? I will definitely check to see if there are any with seed potential. Unfortunately, I grew my garlic in an existing garden that had onions in the previous year. My research in growing didn’t uncover the concern of planting near onions until the spring after my fall planting🙂. I only lost a few that seemed to have a small white mite of some sort eating the roots and imbedded in the base of the garlic. This is why I’m interested in the bulbils – I don’t want to use my garlic as seed garlic. I plan to start new beds to grow just the bulbils.

    • You can tell the bulbils are mature when the spathe is fully open and the bulbils have swollen up. The bulblis are usually not yet mature when the bulbs are harvested. You can either leave the scapes on the plants and let them continue maturing indoors. Or, you can cut the scapes with a long portion of stem and have them mature that way. Leaving them on the scape gives the best results.

      If you want true garlic seed, you should remove the bulbils as soon as they start forming.

      Dan

  15. Great post on bulbils. I “accidentally” harvested some this year when I cut my scapes a little late and left them on the stem in the basement. We’ve got a beautiful mess of bulbils. I’ve been using them in my pickles.

    I shared this post on my facebook page – https://www.facebook.com/CommonSenseHome

    I hope you get some more visitors to come take a peek. 🙂

  16. I have what I think are garlic seeds (from garlic bulbs that flowered). They are purple though – are those really onion seeds?

    • Hi Margaret,

      I think what you have are actually garlic bulbils. These are mini garlic bulbs that are genetically identical to the mother bulb. Garlic seeds would only be a few millimeters wide and black in color.

      You can plant out garlic bulbils and get larger (though still small) bulbs the next year.

      Dan

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  18. Andy Meighen

    Hi Dan
    I have been growing garlic for years from cloves but I am new at growing from bulbils. I am in the midst of harvesting a crop of mini bulbs from first year rounds planted last year. Do I replant these whole next fall or do I break them up and plant individual cloves?
    One more question – does size matter? I have a large variation in size of my first year rounds. Should I only plant the larger ones or all of them?
    Andy
    P.S. I just read Ted Meredith’s page about producing true seed. I have a patch of some kind of porcelain (not sure what) that has gone wild that I use as my source for bulbils – I will do some bulbil plucking this year and will let you know how I make out.

    • I crack my mini-bulbs into individual cloves and plant them at every 2-3″ in the row.

      Size does matter. If you have a huge number of small bulbs, plant the largest. However if you want to increase your planting stock quickly, plant everything!

      I look forward to hearing about your porcelain seed trials.

      Take care, Dan

      • I tried removing bulbils from the tops of scapes of several varieties of garlic in hopes of giving the flowers a chance to expand, attract pollinators and set true seed. I had no luck at all. I’d love to grow garlic from true seed as an experiment. Mankind has removed sexual reproduction from garlic culture and we may need it back.
        Can anyone mail me a few true seeds?

      • Hi David,

        The best place to ask for a few true seeds would be here: http://forums.seedsavers.org/showthread.php?t=4392

        Good luck,
        Dan

  19. Pingback: Growing Garlic From Bulbils | Going to Seed

  20. Hi, thanks for all the info! I was wondering. I had what I believe were bulbils fall off our garlic and plant themselves this late summer. They’re in tight clumps and I’m unsure on what to do. Should I leave them undisturbed over winter and separate them in the spring? Or should I separate them now and replant? And if I do replant, how deep? I’d hate to kill them off doing the wrong thing.

    • Hi Alida,

      You could probably leave them where they’ve planted themselves without problem.

      If the leaves die back in the fall, there is likely no danger in transplanting them elsewhere.

      I would bury bulbils about 3 times as deep as their width. For Porcelains that might be 1/4″ to 1/2″ deep. Rocamboles would be about 1″ deep.

      Good luck!
      Dan

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  22. Second and thirt year do bulbils have a clove? To separate and plant

    • When you first harvest bulbs grown from bulbils, they may or may not have differentiated cloves. Rocambole garlic tends to have cloves. Porcelain garlic tends to have no separate cloves. In subsequent years most garlic has cloves.

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