Ask Chef Boy Ari
Q: Dear CBA,
Last fall I planted garlic. It’s really taken off this spring, and it’s taller than my bellybutton (I’m 5’9”). Is this normal, or abnormally tall?
Also, I’ve heard you’re supposed to pick off the flowers to make the bulbs bigger. Is this a good idea? When should I do this?
A: Dear GG,
I’m 6’2”, and my garlic is taller than my xiphoid process, so by my standards your garlic is on the small side. But, as your letter suggested, it’s what’s underground that counts.
Only some garlic varieties—the so-called hardnecks—send up a flower. My garlic does, and yes, I snap off the flowers—known culinarily as scapes—and eat them.
If you planted a hardneck, or if you don’t know what kind you planted, be on the lookout for a shoot coming straight out the center of the plant. While some people prefer to leave the flowers alone—citing plant-integrity issues and likening it to castrating steer—trimming them does make the bulbs bigger. Since growing a big bulb is the point of growing garlic, I break off the flowers as soon as they appear. Steam the scapes like asparagus, grill them basted in olive oil, or stir-fry them Chinese-style with chopped bacon and oyster sauce.
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