Elephant Garlic!

So I've got a garden too. I happen to like my garden. There are a ton of things I like about gardening and a handful of things I don't. Most of all, I wish I had a bigger yard, fewer trees and a complete lack of neighbors.

A couple of years ago I decided I'd grow garlic. I bought some from the store and pushed the cloves into the ground. They grew, but I was "meh" about the results. The rounds were small and the plants weak over all. My inexperience definitely showed.

So I did my homework and the following season I tried again. This time my mother had given me a ginormous round of elephant garlic. She got it from a friend. In November, 2011 I made a spot in my well-tended raised bed and pushed all six cloves into the earth and waited.

An article I had read said to let the scapes grow and when they uncurled and stuck straight up into the sky, they were ready for harvest. Well, elephant garlic is apparently not a "true" garlic. Despite the fact it looks like garlic, smells like garlic, and tastes like garlic it's more on the leek side of some weird evolutionary chart. Thus, you don't wait for the scapes to grow. You hack those suckers off pretty much as soon as they appear. In either case, upon harvest the following June I got some pretty decent sized rounds, but nothing approaching the size of the original.

They all had these tiny little seed like things attached to the roots.

So I turned to the internet again. Apparently this is pretty standard in the elephant garlic world. Those little suckers are called bulbils. They grow on the roots and apparently in some cases on the flower. I also apparently like to use the word apparently a lot. It's my skeptical nature.

I cured them all and planted the biggest cloves in November 2012. I had about 25 bulbils too and just kept them in that black bowl until November. I planted them in a special spot I called my experimental plot.

The cloves sprung to life pretty quick and sprouted in just a few weeks. The bulbils didn't show at all. As a matter of fact, come spring I just tilled that whole area having decided the bulbil experiment had failed. I even saw some of the bulbils turn up. They were completely unchanged.

By the next week, much to my surprise, a bulbil had sprouted. A total of six of the 25 actually came up. So that plot was pretty empty this past spring.

The thing with growing from bulbil is that you don't get a full round the first year of growth. You get a single, well... round, clove. Plant that sucker and you'll get cloves next year. So, if you get a bulbil to grow, you'll get garlic in two years. Or just eat them.

So, on to harvest June 2013!

The Twenty from cloves

My six little embarrassments
I actually left one scape on just to see how much of a different in bulb size I'd get.

First things first. You are supposed to harvest when the bottom third of the plant's leaves start to brown and die off. Or in my case, just get tired and fall over. I had both going on.

The ones that fell over
I'm fairly certain that some of those shown above didn't actually grow cloves. They are probably just really big round ones.

Above are the bulbils I got off those five. I'm gonna try a new experiment this year! More on that later.

Comparison shot
Above is a round I pulled this year compared to the last of the rounds from last year. Turns out that little one did not form cloves. Tasted the same though.

It did not smell good at all.

These smelled awesome
In the above photo you see the one set diagonal from the rest? Yeah, that's the one I let the flower grow on. Two thing about this. One, the round is smaller than the average ones I grew. And two, you are supposedly able to eat the scape. Apparently. Well, not this one. We tried and no. It was tough and stringy.

And now for the babies!


The babies had babies.

More comparing.

Above you can see the bulbils taken from the mature plants grown from clove on the far left. In the center are the bulbils taken from the largest of the babies. The ones on the right are the rest taken from the... let's call them yearlings now. I don't like calling them babies. Before you know it Lady Gaga or someone will start writing songs about them.

The new experimental plot
Ok, so here we are. I didn't see anywhere that you weren't supposed to just keep the yearlings in the ground, so I replanted them. As for the bulbils, I planted them. I planted the four big ones from the largest yearling and one little itty bitty one just to see what would happen.

As for the rest... well, I've got plans. 

I read that part of the problem with the bulbils is that they are so impervious to water. It takes a long time for water to get past that hard outer shell. I believe I went totally wrong by storing them over the summer last year. They dried out and that shell became even harder. One video I watched said to plant them right away.

So, I planted 50 of them.

But wait! I'm not done.

I planted seven I pulled from the first day directly in a separate plot. And then I planted seven in peat pots and labeled them "No Soak." Then two days later I planted seven more in peat pots and labeled them "2-Day Soak". And then seven days later planted seven more in peat pots labeled "7-day soak".

And then in November, I'll plant the largest cloves from this season's harvest.

If you have any questions, comments, or suggestions I'd sure love to see them!

UPDATE: 6/10/2013

Ok. I lied. I actually completed this page before planting the above pictured bulbils. So they soaked for 10 days. NBD. Right?

Well I planned on planting them this past weekend. But I didn't. I could have, but I didn't.

So I did it today. I had exactly 14 bulbils and seven peat pots and headed out the door. I very nearly died in the process.

Here's the thing. After 10 days in the cup they smelled like utter sewage. In my near death experience I had accidently stepped on one. It smelled like sewage+garlic. Curious I split the sucker open to see what was inside.

It was soft and squishy

Despite the smell, I felt that it seemed well enough to go through with the experiment. So I planted seven in peat pots and six in the ground. We'll see what happens.


  1. thanks for this, especially the bulbil part. This is the first time I've grown elephant garlic hence never having seen these little babies before. I think I'll just eat them now rather than wait two years to see what they can do. Cheers, Marian

    1. Not a bad idea. I guarantee this is the last year of experimenting with bulbils. Next year I'm going to move on to the fancy pants garlic.