Garlic scapes are the flower buds on garlic plants and they're a sure sign that you'll be digging up heads of garlic soon. Today you're gonna learn how & when to trim them PLUS how to use them in cooking.
Since June is the time of year to harvest garlic scapes, now seemed like the best time to tell you not only how to harvest them, but what to do with them once you have a big old tangle of them in your hands.
If you're growing garlic and you haven't done it yet, you'd better go check on your garlic plants. If you aren't growing garlic, you should. It's really easy. Go look at my guide to growing garlic. I've been doing it for decades.
June is the month that these curly stems called scapes shoot out of the middle of your garlic leaves.
Those stems need to be cut off before they grow too big but don't just throw them into the compost pile.
You can use garlic scapes in all the same places you'd use garlic. Unless you shove garlic up your nose for some reason. In that case, I don't think scapes would work well at all. Feel free to give 'er a try and let me know.
Table of Contents
What Are Garlic Scapes
Scapes are the squiggly stems that grow from the centre of garlic plants, sprouting in June. On the top of the stem a flower bud forms, and then later an actual garlic flower that's filled with tiny garlic seeds (called bulbils).
Scapes start out straight but curl as they mature.
There are 2 types of garlic: hardneck and softneck.
ONLY hard neck garlic grows scapes. Hard neck garlic is grown in cooler climates. If you own a snowshovel, you're probably growing hard neck garlic and will have scapes that need to be dealt with.
Why Do You Cut 'Em?
You're going to want to chop those scapes off because the scapes eventually turn into big, puffy, garlic scented flowers. That might sound like a fun thing but if you let your scapes go to flower then it'll drain the plant's energy from forming proper sized heads of garlic. So, you need to trim your scapes.
- You can allow some of your scapes to grow and harvest the seeds that eventually emerge after the flowers. These are called bulbils and they can be planted just like you plant a garlic clove but it takes a couple of years before they'll actually form full heads of garlic.
- Some people leave a couple of scapes on their plot of garlic for harvesting purposes. When the garlic is mature scapes will unwind from their characteristic curl and point straight up to the sky. That's your signal it's time to harvest.
When to Cut Scapes
The absolute perfect time to cut the scapes off is once they've curled into one complete circle like this. But ... it's pretty much whenever you notice them.
If they've done two curls, don't worry about it, just cut them off and grin to yourself for remembering to do it at all.
If you plan on cooking with the garlic scapes, one curl is better as well because the older the scapes are the tougher and more fibrous they get.
They grow fast those scapes. One morning you have a regular stalk of garlic and the next you'll have a patch of squiggles. That's when it's time to grab a pair of scissors.
How to Cut
Just use a pair of regular scissors or pruners to cut the scape off where it meets the first leaf it comes to.
Make your cut on an angle like you would cutting any plant outside, because it allows rain to slip off instead of collect on top. Although, honestly, I don't think it really matters all that much.
Can You Eat Them?
The entire scape is edible, and like I mentioned earlier if they're young with just one loop they're very tender. Anything bigger than that and they start to get fibrous, plus the flowers have started forming inside the tip and even though you can eat the tips it's a bit of a weird texture.
Leek Moth in Garlic Scapes
Leek moth lay eggs on garlic scapes, onions, leeks and shallots. Those eggs hatch and then the larvae burrow into the plant and eat their way through it from the top down.
Look for leek moth larvae damage on the leaves at this time of year.
If you have damage like this, spray your garlic with Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) a soil bourn natural bacteria that disturbs the guts of caterpillars and larvae and stops them from eating.
So if you're cutting your scapes to eat - make sure you don't have this kind of damage or you could also be eating leek moth larvae.
You can see where leek moth larvae have burrowed into this scape at the tip.
If you cut the tip crosswise, you can see the hole goes down into the scape. So if you eat this scape, you'll probably be eating larvae as well without any of the added benefits of winning Survivor.
Remove any leaves or scapes with leek moth damage and throw them in the garbage - not the compost pile. You should also pull up infected plants to help prevent more emergence and damage.
What to do with them once they're cut?
- Stick them in the freezer and add them to soups and stews throughout the winter for a garlic flavour that's a little subtler than garlic cloves.
- Substitute them in any recipe that calls for garlic.
- Use them in flower arrangements. Seriously.
- Compost them
Also it's infinitely easier to make a garlic necklace out of scapes than it is out of whole heads of garlic.
Garlic Scape Recipes
If you don't grow your own garlic, garlic scapes are available at most farmer's markets in June.
Garlic Scape Pesto
- Garlic Scape Pesto is the way you want to go for cooking. I make a double batch every summer with my garlic scapes and freeze it to use throughout the winter. Plus I eat some immediately of course. It's a light, bright, tasting pesto with a mild garlic taste.
I *just* made a triple batch of garlic scape pesto this weekend. I freeze it in ice cube trays and use it all year long for on linguine and PIZZA. Pesto pizza is fantastic.
- Grilled Garlic Scapes are an easy fast side dish for the BBQ.
Garlicky Green Beans
- Instead of adding garlic to green beans, cut your scapes to the length of your green beans and cook them alongside the beans. You can even French them like beans.
- Pickle them! Use the same method as for kosher dills but use 4-5" lengths of garlic scapes instead of pickles. Or do both at the same time!
- Garlic Scape omelette. I prefer a French omelette like this one. Just remember to sauté your scapes to cook them first before adding them to the omelette.
So if you grow it, go outside and check for scapes now. Before the thought escapes you. Then get cooking.
Or making necklaces to ward off evil spirits and vampires and probably pastry chefs.
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