Margaret Lauterbach

Growing garlic? Read on

Margaret Lauterbach
Margaret Lauterbach

When you harvested your garlic, did you find a lot of little bulblike growths where the flower was or hard bulbils in the soil around the heads (some protected by the papery covering of the heads)? Most gardeners remove the scapes (stems bearing flowers or bulbils) of those varieties of garlic that produce them to later harvest larger heads (and larger cloves) than the plant will produce if scapes are not pulled. You can plant either types (tops or in soil) of bulbils about the same time you’d plant garlic cloves in autumn. That is, after the soil cools to about 60 degrees.

The tiny bulbils that formed at the top of the stalk probably won’t produce cloves, but they can produce a round head unless you previously removed the scape for immediate consumption. Then you can later plant that round head, which will produce a cloved head. So it’s at least a two-year process instead of one, to plant bulbils instead of garlic cloves. Some take three years. Plant scape bulbils about one inch deep, at least two inches apart and the soil-borne a little deeper, perhaps two inches deep, three inches apart.

The hard bulbils that are clustered around the base of elephant garlic and some other varieties of garlic also can be planted and produce a round solid head that will ultimately produce a head of cloves, but it’s not just a matter of putting this or any garlic bulbil in soil. They’re encased in a very, very hard shell that should be nicked or peeled off prior to planting to produce a round head in one or two years. Some prefer to peel bulbils rather than to nick them. In either case, I’d be careful about damaging the top of the bulbil or the bottom. Nick or start the peeling in the middle of the soil bulbil. If you don’t peel or nick it at least, it may sit in soil for two or three years, that hard coat slowly deteriorating , allowing growth.

Some folks fear garden soil contamination of bulbils from disease left from previous allium plantings. To avoid that, they use sterilized potting soil in containers they bury in garden soil, and plant bulbils in that, mulching with clean straw (no herbicide contamination) for winter. This is a more involved process, but it will save money. Garlic heads for planting are rather costly.

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How are your gardens growing this year? My inclination is to report my garden is doing poorly, yet I’ve harvested, blanched, FoodSavered and frozen 10 packs of snap green beans, dehydrated a lot of summer savory for bean soups, harvested and dried a large quantity of onions and garlic, and have a large quantity of harvested tomatoes, eggplants and cucumbers awaiting treatment. Tomatoes aren’t as vigorous as they usually are, but melon vines, pole beans, winter squash and cucumber vines have gone crazy. I have the best set of Swiss chard I’ve had in many years with very little leaf miner damage, but I see their eggs on the back of most chard leaves.

I told a friend my garden seems to be stuttering this year. She lives in the North End, and said that described her garden too, but she has a major identifiable problem: common bean mosaic virus. This disease may be aphid-borne or seed-borne.

Many varieties of beans are immune to this disease, but those lacking the gene may contract the disease. The disease shows up as mottled discolored leaves, mottling yellow to white, reducing the productivity of the plants. Common bean mosaic virus was introduced to Michigan, New York and Idaho, according to a University of California Agriculture information bulletin.

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We usually plant spinach in early fall, either for winter harvest or for very early spring harvest. Timing is critical, however, because if you plant too early hot weather will cause plants to bolt. If you plant too late, seedlings won’t be large enough to yield edible leaves very soon. Another problem is that our soil may be too warm for spinach germination unless you start it indoors, intending to transplant seedlings.

If you’ve had success with fall planting of spinach, when did you plant it? Many of us would like to know. My late gardening friend, Ross Hadfield, planted lettuce about Thanksgiving. I like to plant seeds a little earlier, so it at least germinates. Those tiny seedlings just sit and wait for longer sunshine days and slightly warmer weather, then they grow quickly.

Send garden questions to or Gardening, The Statesman, P.O. Box 40, Boise, ID 83705.

Win a copy of Margaret’s gardening book

The Agriculture Department at the Western Idaho Fair is giving away four of Margaret’s autographed books. Look for the “Enter Here” sign in the front half of the North Expo building. The winners will be chosen and notified at the close of the fair.