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Knowing when to harvest garlic scapes can make a big difference to the flavor it provides. It can also increase garlic yield by as much as thirty percent.
I have to admit that as a child, garlic wasn’t on my favorite list of vegetables. As the son of Italian immigrants, garlic was a huge part of our kitchen.
My mom, apart from being an expert gardener, was even better in the kitchen. Everything savory we ate had garlic in it.
While it didn’t do wonders for my breath, the lingering taste of garlic was amazing.
Mom and Dad’s garlic patch was a work of art. When I got over my “garlic phobia”, I added it to my garden. I was about nine when I grew my first garlic.
Watching it sprout was fun. It was like a sense of achievement. When it got to a certain stage, Mom intervened.
I got home from school one day and mom was in my garden with scissors. I was filled with terror as I assumed she was about to destroy my garlic patch.
She asked me to join her and in the next ten minutes, I got a lesson in how to harvest garlic scapes.
Some of my garlic started to flower. Some of it was starting to curl. My lesson on when to harvest garlic scapes was about to begin.
Mom explained the best time to harvest the scapes is when they start to flower or when they begin to curl.
She explained that if you leave it any longer, then you risk the scape becoming woody. That’s not good for digestion.
In this article, I’ll show you the why, how, and when of harvesting garlic scapes plus storing and using scapes.
Understanding Garlic Scapes: Hardneck And Softneck Garlic
Garlic is grown in two main types: hardneck and softneck.
Hardneck garlic varieties produce a central stem known as a “scape” that eventually forms a flower bud.
This is where garlic scapes come into the picture. On the other hand, softneck garlic varieties do not produce scapes and generally have a milder flavor.
Are Garlic Scapes Edible?
So, are you wondering if garlic scapes are edible? The answer is yes!
Harvesting garlic scapes can benefit the garlic plants by allowing more energy to go towards bulb formation, leading to larger bulbs.
So when is it the right time to harvest garlic scapes? Before they make their first curl and are still soft. Harvesting at this time ensures that they have the best flavor and texture.
Garlic scapes are not just edible but also have a delicious flavor profile. They offer a fresh, green garlic taste that is similar to garlic bulbs but milder.
You can use them in a variety of dishes to add a unique twist to your favorite recipes.
Just remember to harvest them at the right time (late May to mid-June in most Northern zones) for the optimal flavor experience.
Knowing When To Harvest Garlic Scapes: Size Indicators
The ideal size of garlic scapes for harvesting depends on a few factors. Earlier is generally better, as it prevents the garlic plant from investing too much energy into the scape, which can lead to a decrease in bulb size.
Younger scapes also tend to be more tender in texture. When the garlic scapes make several twists and turns before growing upward, it’s a good indicator that it’s time to harvest them.
To avoid tough, fibrous scapes, try to harvest them before they make their first turn.
In monitoring your garlic plants, be sure to keep an eye out for developing scapes.
When they emerge in late spring or early summer, this is an ideal time to harvest them.
Use garden shears or a sharp pair of scissors to clip the scape off just above the garlic leaves. If you have a large patch of garlic, check every few days for new scapes, as they won’t all appear at the same time.
Climate and weather play a significant role in determining when garlic scapes are ready for harvest.
If you live in a northern time zone, they expect to harvest from late May to about the middle of June. In southern time zones, this would be mid to late November to the end of December.
However, this can vary each year, based on the weather during each particular season.
Be aware that these harvest dates are only estimates and can differ depending on environmental factors and climate changes in your area.
Remember to observe the size indicators, plant maturity, and weather considerations while determining when to harvest your garlic scapes.
By being aware of these factors, you can ensure a successful and tasty harvest.
How to Harvest Garlic Scapes
Garlic scapes are a delicious and versatile ingredient that can be harvested in your garden.
Harvesting them at the right time ensures that they’re tender and flavorful.
In this section, we’ll explore two different techniques for harvesting garlic scapes: using scissors or shears, and the twisting and turning method.
Using Scissors Or Shears
Harvesting garlic scapes with a sharp pair of scissors or shears is a quick and easy approach. When the green shoots begin to curl, that’s the best time to harvest them.
My mom always had a pair of scissors in a pouch around her waist whenever she was in the grade. She also used a knife but I would advise you to stick with scissors because they are much safer.
To do this, simply:
- Locate the garlic scape on your plant.
- Position your scissors or shears close to the base of the scape.
- Make a clean cut, being careful not to harm any surrounding leaves.
- Gently tilt the cut scape upside down to avoid losing any juices.
This method ensures clean cuts and minimal damage to your garlic plant, which promotes overall health and growth.
Here’s a helpful video guide on when and how to harvest garlic scapes using scissors.
Twisting and Turning Method
Another effective way to harvest garlic scapes is by twisting and turning them.
If you are caught without scissors or an instrument to cut the scapes, then it’s safe to do it this way.
This method does not require any tools and can be done by hand. Here’s how:
- Find the garlic scape on your plant, which usually grows as a single shoot from hardneck garlic plants.
- Gently grasp the scape near its base with your fingers.
- Slowly twist and turn the scape until it separates from the plant.
Although this method may take a bit more effort and time than using scissors, it can be just as effective.
Some gardeners prefer this hands-on approach, as it provides a better feel for the scape’s thickness and overall quality.
When choosing between these two harvesting methods, consider your preferences and the tools you have available in your garden.
To be honest, if you harvest the scapes at the right time then twisting and turning them for removal is a breeze. It’s only when you let them mature too long that scissors, shears, or a knife will be needed.
Whatever method you use, all these options will provide you with delicious and fresh garlic scapes to enjoy in your favorite recipes.
Using Garlic Scapes In The Kitchen
Garlic scapes are a versatile and delicious ingredient to use in your cooking. They have a mild garlic flavor that can enhance a variety of dishes.
Whatever my mom was cooking where garlic was added, she’d always use a generous amount of scapes during the initial phases of preparing whatever dish she was cooking.
In this section, we’ll explore a few ways you can incorporate garlic scapes into your meals.
One popular way to use garlic scapes is to create a flavorful pesto. They blend well with other fresh, tender ingredients, bringing a unique twist to classic pesto recipes.
Pesto was a big part of my life growing up. It is more than ever as my wife is what I term an addicted pesto fan.
She uses pesto on just about everything that warrants extra flavor.
The day she uses it on her cereal I’ll let you know but my fingers are crossed that this never happens!
So, to make your garlic scape pesto, simply follow these steps:
When preparing the scape, it’s best to remove the top and bottom parts as they can be dry and woody.
Before placing them in a blender or food processor, you’ll need to chop them up into more manageable pieces.
Add your other pesto ingredients, such as basil, pine nuts, Parmesan cheese, and olive oil.
Blend the mixture until smooth, adjusting the texture with more olive oil if needed (source).
Incorporating Garlic Scapes Into Salads, Soups, And Stews
Salads, soups, and stews can also include garlic scapes. Their mild flavor adds a subtle garlic taste without overpowering other ingredients.
When I prepare soups and stews especially, garlic is the first ingredient I choose. Some might say I go overboard but I’ll use both scapes and garlic bulbs.
What can I say, I just love this little vegetable!
Maybe that’s one of the reasons these dreaded vampires never show up at my place!
Anyway, to use garlic scapes in these dishes, simply:
- Chop the raw scapes into small pieces and add them to your favorite salad for added crunch and flavor.
- Stir thinly sliced scapes into hot soups or stews, where they’ll soften and release their flavor.
- Sauté the scapes with other vegetables before adding them to your soup or stew for a deeper taste.
Cooking Garlic Scapes With Pasta And Sauces
Now we’re talking my language. Pasta sauces!
I can’t tell you how many times I watched my mother prepare pasta sauce in her special Italian way.
When you see something performed over and over again, you’re going to get a good idea of how to do it yourself.
And yes, this is an ego-driven plug for me and my ability to make great pasta sauce. So much so, I share it unashamedly with several of my neighbors.
Pasta dishes are another great way to showcase the flavor of garlic scapes.
You can incorporate them into a variety of pasta sauces, or even use them as a garnish.
Here are some ideas for using garlic scapes in pasta dishes:
- Sauté scapes with other aromatics like onions and bell peppers, then add tomatoes and herbs to create a delicious pasta sauce.
- Stir chopped scapes into creamy Alfredo sauce for a mild garlic twist.
- Toss cooked pasta with your garlic scape pesto and serve with grilled chicken or shrimp for a tasty and satisfying meal.
By incorporating garlic scapes into your cooking, you’ll unlock a world of flavors and textures that can elevate your dishes to new heights.
Storing Garlic Scapes: Proper Refrigeration
So what do you do with all the garlic scapes you harvest once you’ve used some of them?
This is very important but don’t get too worried that you are going to lose them or their freshness.
It’s simple and this is a step that requires little thinking and doing. Enter the “trusty old refrigerator!”
Proper storage of garlic scapes in the refrigerator can help preserve their texture and flavor.
All you need to do is clean them, cut them at whatever length you need to fit into freezer storage and you are good to go.
Place them in the vegetable drawer, and they can last for at least two weeks. For even better quality, keep your scapes in the crisper drawer inside a plastic grocery bag that is not tightly sealed, allowing them to remain fresh for 2-3 weeks. And that’s it! Simple, right?
Freezing For Longevity
If you plan on using garlic scapes beyond their storage life in the refrigerator, consider freezing them.
Freezing can help prolong their shelf life, but be aware that they may lose some of their texture after thawing.
Freezing was one of the things my parents did to store their harvested garlic scapes. They had so much of it that they had no other alternative.
To be honest, I didn’t notice a lot of difference between fresh and frozen garlic scapes.
How could I tell? The end dish they were used in never wavered in “deliciousness”.
So, to freeze scapes, simply chop them into bite-sized pieces or small bits and store them in airtight containers in your freezer. Frozen scapes can still be used in various recipes that call for garlic.
Pickling Garlic Scapes
Another way my parents stored garlic scapes were by pickling them.
This is a skill I picked up and while pickling sounds intimidating to many people, it is a simple process.
There are many recipes available for pickling all types of food including garlic scapes.
Why pickle garlic scapes?
Pickling not only imparts a tangy flavor to the scapes, but it can also greatly extend their storage life.
To pickle garlic scapes, simply follow a pickling recipe that works best for your taste.
Common ingredients in pickling solutions include vinegar, sugar, salt, and a variety of spices.
Once pickled, store the scapes in airtight jars and place them in a cool, dark location.
Pickled garlic scapes can be enjoyed as a condiment, added to salads, or served alongside cheese and crackers.
Additional Benefits Of Harvesting Garlic Scapes
By harvesting garlic scapes (flower stems) at the right time, you’re helping the garlic bulb to grow bigger.
So how does this happen?
When you remove the scapes, your garlic plant can redirect its energy to the bulb, resulting in a larger yield per plant.
As we hinted above, it is important to harvest the scapes before they make their first turn and while they’re still young and tender.
This ensures their flavor is still good, and they remain tender and not woody.
Larger garlic bulbs are much better to work with during the food preparation stage. For those of us who like to slice them, the bigger they are the less chance of cutting yourself.
Disease Prevention And Pest Control
There are several ways of keeping diseases and pests at bay when it comes to your garlic patch.
Whether you live in a sunny climate or wet climate, removing garlic scapes on time can help reduce the chances of this.
The removal of garlic scapes can also help in keeping your garlic plants healthy by reducing the chances of diseases affecting the garlic bulbs.
A late harvest increases the risk of fungal diseases, especially in a wet environment, which can lead to moldy or stained outer wrappers and even rotting of the bulbs.
If you live in a home without garden land available then you’ll grow garlic in containers. The same principle applies here in keeping the garlic healthy and clear of disease and pests.
So keep an eye on your plants and be ready to harvest at the right time to enjoy the benefits of your healthy garlic bulbs.
Garlic, or Allium sativum, is an excellent companion plant for several plants due to its strong odor and pest-repelling properties.
Planting garlic near plants that are more likely to attract pests (like cabbage, tomatoes, or beans) can help reduce the number of pests and promote healthier gardens.
We used garlic as companion plants for our large tomato garden. Tomatoes were an important part of my upbringing as a child of Italian immigrants. Sometimes I wondered whether my parents guarded their tomato patch more than they guarded me! Just kidding!
Scapes themselves can also be used as companion plants for the same reason.
By having garlic scapes and bulbs growing in your garden, you’ll create a natural pest deterrent, improving the overall health and vitality of your plants.
(Not to mention keeping pesky vampires away.)
Conclusion: When To Harvest Garlic Scapes
In addition to being a tasty and adaptable component, garlic scapes are essential to the life cycle of your garlic plants.
By harvesting garlic scapes at the proper time, you can ensure that your plants focus their energy on creating high-quality garlic bulbs and that you will have a plentiful supply of these attractive green shoots.
So let’s recap when to harvest garlic scapes to achieve the best of both worlds.
Depending on your growing zone and the weather that year, there are several good times to harvest garlic scapes.
In northern time zones, garlic scapes are typically available for harvest in late May to mid to late June.
One sign to watch for is when the scapes have taken numerous rotations but have not yet made their first upward turn.
The scapes are still soft and flavorful during this time, making them a great addition to your kitchen.
Remember that not all scapes will appear at the same time, so it’s important to check on them frequently and harvest them as soon as they’re ready.
The key is to be proactive with your garlic scape harvesting to enjoy the multiple benefits they have to offer. Your plants will thank you. Happy harvesting!