One of the great things about raising shallots, multiplier onions, and gourmet garlic is that it’s so easy to produce your own seed stock for future plantings. The subject of garlic seed saving was raised in a recent comment and inquiry from Cynthia:
“I had such a good crop of Fireball garlic last year that I used some of the best cloves for planting last week. Hope that it works. Have others saved their own bulbs or are you buying new ones every year?”
Saving the Best of Your Garlic Harvest for Seed Stock
It doesn’t get any simpler in terms of seed saving than to sort through your garlic harvest and select the largest and best looking bulbs to become the seed stock for future garlic generations. But it does sometimes require a bit of discipline to resist cannibalizing those prized garlic bulbs that must be set aside and reserved for seed!
While most gardeners want to use super sized bulbs for planting stock, some argue that the medium sized bulbs are just as good and maybe even a better choice for planting. I’m OK with using either as seed stock, but reject any dwarfed cloves from the seed quality bulbs and send them off to become salsa or guacamole instead of seed.
One caution when saving garlic seed is to ensure that all of the garlic bulbs designated as seed stock come from healthy plants that grew free of any sign of disease. Plant viruses are common in the garlic world and infected bulbs are perfectly fine for eating, but are best avoided when it comes to selecting your garlic seed.
Diagnosing, Managing, and Controlling Garlic Viruses
That’s easier said than done because the signs of disease aren’t always obvious and can be easily overlooked. Garlic viruses sometimes make themselves known by the appearance of stunted plants, misshapen leaves, and poor growth in the field.
Other times diseased crops may be revealed by slightly yellowed or discolored leaves, smaller sized bulbs at harvest, or garlic that stores poorly. While the presence of a virus in the garlic seed won’t automatically doom your crop, if you have doubts about the health of the seed I would recommend starting your next planting with good quality seed stock obtained from a reputable garlic seed supplier.
I’m obsessive about rotating my garlic beds so that the crop doesn’t grow in the same spot more often than once every four or five years. You needn’t worry over the following concerns that Josh expressed regarding crossing though: “If I plant potato onions next to gourmet garlic is there any threat of the two crossing to make some sort of hybrid plant?”
Other Considerations for Saving and Maintaining Garlic Seed
There’s no pollination necessary in the sex life or reproduction of garlic, so there’s no risk of garlic crossing with nearby shallots or potato onions. In fact you don’t even have to worry about different varieties of garlic crossing with each other in the garden, and no separation or isolation is required to save and maintain pure seed stock.
As far as using garlic from the supermarket for seed, I always advise against it with good reason. First, the seed may have been treated to discourage it from sprouting, but more importantly obtaining specialty seed affords the opportunity to explore and experience the wide assortment of flavors and types of gourmet garlic varieties rather than settle for the single softneck variety that is likely to be stocked by your local grocer.
After harvesting and curing garlic I store the bulbs indoors until it’s time to replant them in the fall. Keep them in a cool, dry, location, but never refrigerate garlic. Also, you shouldn’t remove the wrappers or separate the cloves until just before you are ready to plant the garlic seed out into the garden.
Custom Crafted Gourmet Garlic Strains from Your Garden
Saving garlic for seed is an easy way to multiply and propagate your gourmet garlic crop while eliminating the expense of purchasing garlic seed every year. I admit that I frequently purchase a portion of my garlic seed stock anyway, just to try out some new and different gourmet garlic varieties that are out there.
Saving your own seed also has the advantages of enabling you to develop superior garlic strains; as the garlic will become better acclimated to the specific climate and growing conditions present in your own backyard.
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