I’ve given up on growing garlic (for the time being at least) due to a few years’ poor results, but I am still growing elephant garlic. You can also buy elephant garlic (Allium ampeloprasum) as a garden ornamental, and it’s easy to see why:
The received wisdom is that you should remove the flower stems – the scapes – as soon as you spot them, because the energy that the plant puts into the stem and flower won’t go into the bulb, and you’ll end up with smaller bulbs as a result. I’ve certainly seen onions wrecked by flower scapes, and leeks develop a tough, inedible central core when they flower, that makes them trickier to chop for cooking, but I wasn’t sure if the same would apply to elephant garlic.
Not being a big fan of blithely accepting received wisdom, I decided to run a small test last year. Of the 12 elephant garlic plants I grew, I de-scaped six and left the other six to flower. I then harvested and weighed the bulbs of both halves, and there was only 4 or 5 grams’ difference between the two batches, suggesting that there was no particular reduction in bulb-size as a result in flowering.
Thinking about it a bit more, the fact that the flower is held on a tall, bright green stem, and all green parts of the plant are photosynthetic, that means that there’s actually quite a lot of photosynthesis going on in a portion of the plant that’s lifted well above the leaf clump and away from other plants’ competing foliage. And as it’s the rate of photosynthesis that determines the amount of carbohydrates that are fixed and subsequently stored in the bulb, then if that green stem helps to fix more carbon than the carbon that’s consumed to fuel its growth, then it’s probably helping as much as it’s hindering when it comes to the overall growth of the plant and size of the bulb.
Plus, the flowers not only look great, but provide a good source of nectar for bees, and that’s always a win in my book. So this year, I left our entire patch of 12 to go to flower:
The only down-side is that we weren’t able to eat the garlic scapes this year, and they are rather tasty if you catch them young enough, before they stiffen and toughen up to support the weight of the flower head.
How about you? Do you de-scape your garlic and/or elephant garlic, or leave it as a bee-buffet? Let me know, via the comments.