Garlic scapes, Leeks, and Container Plantings — by Peter Heffelfinger

By Peter Heffelfinger

posted June 28, 2022

Garlic Scape Season

As my garlic crop begins to mature, the central seed head stalks, or scapes, emerge. There is considerable debate in the garlic world whether to remove the scapes as soon as they appear, in order to increase bulb size, or to let them stay on the plant until harvest as a way to extend storage life. I have evolved a compromise of sorts, perhaps acknowledging both sides of the issue.

garlic scapes

I always remove the scape stalks to focus the remaining plant energy on the bulbs. Since I grow all hard stem varieties, when I clean and dry the garlic for storage I leave 2-3 inches of dried stem on each bulb, thinking that the upright stalk will serve as a wick to remove any moisture from deep inside the bulb interior during the winter months. I also make sure, when cleaning the air-dried bulbs, to closely cut off the roots to remove any soil fungus, to rub off the loose sheaths around the bulbs, and finally to make sure there is an open space between the top of the remaining two tight sheaths around the bulbs and the exposed stem. The aim is to vent any trapped moisture that might develop mold or fungus. It seems to work well so far, since I am usually able to store garlic into March/April, depending on the variety.

The best part about scapes is that they are an edible allium crop in themselves. I process smaller ones into a paste, with oil, a bit of lemon juice and salt, for use as a simple garlic spread, or add canned white beans for a zesty bean dip. Adding tahini and garbanzo beans to ground scapes makes for a chunky green hummus. Scapes can also be stir-fried, steamed, or grilled, as well as added to a vegetable soup stock. I freeze some, especially the large ones, by chopping and blanching the solid stalks, omitting the soft buds and thin upper leaf-ends, then quickly chilling them in a cold water bath before placing in freezer bags. Very useful addition to winter soups.

Harvesting all the scapes can be a challenge since they appear over an extended period of time, depending on the variety. They can be hard to see amidst all the leaves, even after you have walked around the patch multiple times. There always seem to be a few that you miss unless you check once more. Plus they seem to pop up instantaneously behind you as soon as you have moved down the row. This year as an experiment, aiming to get a higher percentage of good-sized bulbs to improve my seed stock after last year’s drought, I am snipping off the seed-heads just as soon as they appear just above the leaves. Make sure you get the complete inch-long bud, so as to completely stop the seed formation process. It makes for shorter scape stalks, so there is less to cook. Longer, fully extended scapes, which quickly develop in a day or two, will give you more vegetable to work with. It’s a trade off, but in any case, use what size scapes you have while they are here.


Leek transplants about to be covered by pots before the heat of the day

Coinciding with scape harvest, I am planting leeks for fall and winter use as part of my alliums all year round plan. Since the summer heat has arrived, I protect the young transplant seedlings by placing them deeply in a throughly wet, ‘puddled in’ trench, having removed the top 2-3 inches of leaf stems to ease the initial demand on the roots. I also work fertilizer into the bottom of the trench beforehand. Make sure the roots extend straight down, not ‘j-rooted’, turned upward at the ends. I immediately cover the plants with half gallon pots to protect them from the sun for 4-5 days until they can stand up on their own. As the seedlings grow, the sides of the trench are gradually filled in around the stalks, leaving the roots well below the surface as a protection against summer drought and then frost in winter.

Note: this year instead of commercial pre-mixed garden fertilizer I am using a homemade mix of 4 parts soybean meal, 1 part kelp meal, 1 part alfalfa pellets, and 1 part lime. I omit the lime for potatoes, while adding a bit of bone meal for tomatoes and peppers. All the ingredients were bought in bulk in order to reduce costs.

Container Plantings

Blue potato plants coming up in tubs

Growing spuds in bags, large pots, cardboard boxes, or even plastic laundry baskets seems to be the latest thing in online gardening advice. I found some very well-sprouted blue seed potatoes, the last variety available this late in the season, and planted them in old recycling bins, having drilled extra drainage holes. I filled them 2/3 full with a mix of worm castings, commercial organic compost, and soil, with a bit of fertilizer mix stirred in. The tubs are lined up by the one sunny, south-facing wall in my continuing expansion of mini-gardening at a house mostly surrounded by tall trees. The first leaves quickly appeared above the soil mix and I can tell, as with any container planting, they will need regular watering during the hot weather. As the plants grow I will fill in the top 1/3 space with added compost around the stems as a way of hilling.

Nearby I have an assortment of plants in pots on the high stump of a newly cut down cedar, well-exposed now to the sun: trailing rosemary, cilantro, and Romaine lettuce.

Stump with rosemary pot

Romaine lettuce, cilantro, rosemary plants on cedar stump

I also need to find a spot for two new pots of bunching onion starts and some transplanted purple mustard seedlings that appeared as volunteers in the main garden. The kitchen garden keeps expanding, filling up old pots with new edibles. The snow peas are also producing, planted in early March in large nursery tubs down amongst the now waist high weeds from all the recent rain. The two deer who go through the yard twice a day have missed the peas so far, having so much other lush wild growth to nibble on. Let’s hope they don’t notice all the recently added plantings in containers.

Peas in the Valley of Weeds