Garlic Bulbils

What is a bulbil

A bulbil is a false seed grown by a garlic plant in order to reproduce. These Bulbils are miniature clones of the garlic plant itself. When your garlic plants approach maturity, around 4 to 6 weeks before harvest time, they will produce a scape. This is called bolting. It is a stem that will grow rapidly from between the last two leaves, and it will have what is known as an Umbel at the end of the scape. As the scape grows, it will curl and the umbel will start to fill out with bulbils. Depending on the Hardneck Garlic variety, there can be anywhere from as few as two to as many as 150 bulbils in the umbel when fully mature. Rocambole’s will have the smallest quantity of bulbils, but they are the largest in size and range from pea sized to marble sized. Porcelain’s will average 100-200 bulbils as small as a grain of rice. They are not true seed but like cloves if you plant them they will produce bulbs eventually.

Why plant Bulbils?

If harvested properly (never touching the soil) bulbils, unlike cloves, do not carry or transmit soil-born diseases. When you grow your garlic from bulbils it helps reduce the transfer and spread of any garlic viruses. As well, if you are trying to build up your inventory, you will end up with exponentially more bulbs than when you are growing from cloves. Studies and farmers who have tried growing from bulbils almost all claim that garlic grown from bulbils is healthier and larger on average than garlic grown from cloves. The reason most farmers grow from cloves is because of time to maturity. It takes one season to grow and harvest your crop from clove. Growing from bulbils will take anywhere from three to five years, depending on the cultivar, to harvest your crop. We would encourage everyone with the room and patience to try growing some of their garlic stock from bulbils. However, if you don’t have the time or patience for this, GOOD NEWS, we grow lots and sell them along with our seed garlic bulbs.

How to Grow from Bulbils. The First Year.

Our tried and true method of planting bulbils is in raised beds using 100% organic compost, as we do all our crops. Bulbils are planted at the same time as cloves, and are planted tightly with spacing from half and inch to one inch. Next we lightly rake them in and add about 1” to 2” of compost. Weed with care as bulbil shoots that come up will look just like a blade of grass for the first little while. Keep your bulbil patch watered in dry spells. Some of the bulbils will turn into a small bulb as indicated by the presence of a small scape. Be sure to remove the scape once it has curled. Rounds (what the bulbil turns into) should be harvested and cured at the same time as your garlic bulbs. When you harvest, you will find rounds ranging in size from a quarter of an inch to an inch wide. On our garlic farm, we grade the rounds and plant the largest 75%.

Replanting. The Second Year.

When replanting, you will need to give the rounds more spacing than you did the bulbils. We plant small rounds on a three inch squared spacing; medium rounds on a four inch squared spacing; and large rounds, and cloves, on a six inch squared spacing. Bulbils that produced bulbs the first year need to be treated like regular bulbs, ensuring to separate the cloves. Once again, harvest and plant like regular cloves.

Continuing the Cycle. The Third and Fourth Years and Beyond.

Different cultivars mature at different rates, with Rocamboles likely producing a full sized bulb by the end of the second year. By year three, most of the rounds and small cloves will have become small or medium bulbs with some achieving a large size. Some cultivars, like Porcelains, produce smaller rounds, which by year three will have just become larger rounds. By year four, most of the cloves will now be market sized bulbs. Some Porcelain’s may need a fifth year. Of course, through all this, you should be maintaining best farming practices and crop rotation.

All this to say, planting from bulbils is well worth the time, patience and space if you have any to spare. However, since we are already doing this, you could also save yourself the hassle and purchase your seed garlic bulbs from us as we grow from bulbil and rotate yearly on an ongoing basis.