Growing Garlic From Bulbils: How to Grow Free Garlic (For Real)

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Last Updated on 8 months by Michelle

What if you could grow garlic for free—yes, you read that right, for free! According to the National Agricultural Statistics Service, the average American consumes about 2 pounds of garlic per year. Now, imagine not having to spend a single dime on those 2 pounds and instead, walking out to your garden where rows of garlic plants sway gently in the breeze, their green leaves reaching towards the sky like nature’s own skyscrapers. Garlic Bulbils allow you to grow your own free garlic!

Garlic Bulbils

Welcome to the magical world of growing garlic from bulbils! If you’re scratching your head wondering what a garlic bulbil is, don’t worry, you’re not alone. Bulbils are tiny, seed-like bulbs that grow at the top of a garlic plant, and they’re your ticket to a lifetime supply of free garlic.

In this blog post, we’re diving deep into the how-tos of growing garlic from these little wonders. From planting garlic bulbils, harvesting your bulbils, to planting them out a second year, I’ve got you covered. So let’s get started and turn that garlic dream into a delicious reality!

 

What Exactly Are Bulbils?

So, what are these mysterious bulbils? Simply put, bulbils are small, bulbs that grow at the top of a garlic plant, specifically in the mature garlic scape, which is the garlic flower stalk. They’re like mini garlic cloves, packed with all the genetic material needed to grow a new garlic plant. When the scape matures, it forms a capsule-like structure called an umbel, which houses these tiny bulbils within.

Garlic Bulbils

Why Choose Bulbils Over Garlic Bulbs?

You might be wondering, “Why not just plant seed garlic bulbs?” Well, there are several compelling reasons to opt for planting bulbils first:

Cost-Effectiveness

In today’s world, where grocery prices have skyrocketed—did you know that the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported a 5.4% increase in food prices in 2021 alone?—we’re all looking for ways to stretch our dollars.

That’s exactly why I decided to grow garlic from bulbils. These tiny gems are practically free, and let’s face it, with the way things are going, we need all the financial help we can get.

First and foremost, bulbils are incredibly cost-effective. If you love hardneck garlic plants, you can grow bulbils, making your future garlic crops practically free.

Even if you have to buy them, they’re usually much cheaper than garlic cloves meant for planting.

Fewer Soil Borne Diseases

Bulbils are less likely to carry soil-borne diseases that can affect garlic cloves because they don’t form in the soil. This can result in a more robust and resilient garlic crop.

Ease of Storage

Bulbils are easier to store than seed garlic. They are tiny, so they take up hardly any space. Also, they have a longer shelf-life than regular garlic and are less prone to rot, giving you more flexibility in your planting schedule.

Hundreds of Garlic Bulbils From My Last Harvest

So there you have it! Growing garlic from bulbils is a wallet-friendly option and an eco-conscious choice that can yield a bountiful harvest. With the rising cost of groceries, it’s a win-win situation for your garden and pocketbook.

Garlic Varieties that Create Bulbils

Garlic bulbils are created only by hard neck varieties. My favorite is Music, and all the bulbils I grew this past year were that variety. Any hardneck garlic variety will produce bulbils.

Don’t worry about the size of the garlic bulb from the plants that you let go to seed. There is a myth out there that letting the scape grow will lead to a small garlic bulb, but I haven’t found that to be the case. Check out this garlic bulb from a plant that grew a mature bulbil. It’s just shy of 3 inches wide, and it’s every bit as large as the other Music bulbs that I grew after I removed their scapes.

 

 

Materials Needed to Grow Garlic from Bulbils

Growing garlic from bulbils is a straightforward process, but like any gardening project, you’ll need some essential materials to get started. Here’s a comprehensive list to ensure you have everything you need for a successful garlic crop:

List of Materials:

  • Garlic Bulbils: The star of the show! You’ll need to source garlic bulbils or you can grow your own.

  • Well-Draining Soil: Garlic prefers soil that drains well to prevent root rot.

  • Compost: To enrich the soil and provide essential nutrients.

  • Mulch: Straw or organic mulch to help retain moisture.

  • Garden Trowel: For digging holes for the bulbils.

  • Garden Gloves: To protect your hands while planting.

  • Watering Can or Hose: For consistent watering.

  • Fertilizer: Preferably organic, to boost growth.

  • Garden Markers: To label your garlic rows.

Where to Source Materials:

Garlic Bulbils

  • From Your Garden: If you’re already growing hardneck garlic, you can collect bulbils from your own plants.

  • Local Farmers: Many local farmers who grow hardneck garlic varieties will have bulbils available. A quick 2-minute search yielded a source 5 minutes from me on Facebook marketplace.

  • Online Stores: Websites specializing in heirloom or organic seeds often offer garlic bulbils. I’ve recently seen bulbils available for sale on Etsy.

Soil, Compost, and Mulch

  • Garden Centers: Most garden centers offer a variety of soils and composts suitable for garlic.

  • Online: Websites like Amazon also offer soil and compost, often with reviews to help you choose.

  • Local Farms: Some farms sell compost and may even offer mulch.

Tools and Accessories

  • Garden Centers: A one-stop-shop for garden trowels, gloves, and other accessories.

  • Hardware Stores: Places like Home Depot or Lowe’s will have a garden section.

  • Online: Websites like Amazon offer a wide range of gardening tools.

By gathering all these materials beforehand, you’ll set yourself up for a smooth and successful garlic-growing experience. Happy planting garlic growers!

 

Step-by-Step Guide

Growing garlic from bulbils is an exciting journey, and I’m here to guide you through each step of the process. Whether you’re a seasoned gardener or a complete newbie, this step-by-step guide will help you grow small garlic bulbils up into a bountiful garlic crop with ease.

Before we get started, it’s important for you to know that this process takes multiple years. You will harvest cloves the first year, and then you will plant them back out later that year to grow another 1-2 years until they are their final size.

Time is the tradeoff here. Yes, its free garlic, but it takes more time to grow. Because of this, I plant regular seed garlic cloves and ADD bulbils to the inventory to make my Certified Naturally Grown garlic more affordable.

 

Step 1: Collecting Bulbils

  • When: When it’s time to harvest garlic scapes, decide how many you want to set aside and not cut off. These will mature into umbels. I decided to save 10 this year to plant out. Let them mature and grow in the field with the rest of your garlic.

  • How: When its time to harvest your garlic, just pull up the garlic bulb with the umbil attached. KEEP THE UMBIL ATTACHED TO THE BULB. Let that plant dry out and cure. Don’t cut the umbil off the plant until it is completely dry, has split open, and the bulbils inside are dry as well.

Stack of Garlic Umbils

Step 2: Preparing the Soil

  • Amend Soil: Add compost to enrich the soil and improve drainage. Add an all-purpose fertilizer like Espoma Garden Tone

  • Till: Loosen the soil to a depth of at least 6 inches.

Step 3: Planting the Bulbils

  • Spacing: You don’t need to space bulbils far apart because they are so tiny. Simply broadcast them at a depth of one inch and then cover them. Don’t need to worry about which end is pointing up because they are so small that you can’t even control that if you wanted to.

  • Depth: Plant the bulbils about 1 inch deep.

  • Orientation: Doesn’t matter for bulbils like it does for cloves because the bulbils are so tiny. You can just toss them out together and cover them as they land!

Scattered Garlic Bulbils About to be covered
  • Cover: Gently cover the bulbils with soil and pat down.

  • Water: Water them in.

  • Label: Labeling is very important for bulbils. When they come up, they will look like blades of grass so you’ll need to mark them so you don’t pull them up.

Sprouting Garlic Bulbils Look Like Single Blades of Grass

Step 4: Caring for the Growing Plants

  • Watering: Keep the soil consistently moist, especially during dry spells.

  • Fertilizing: Apply a balanced fertilizer about a month after planting.

  • Mulching: Add a layer of straw or organic mulch to help retain moisture and suppress weeds.

Step 5: Harvesting

  • When: Harvest the garlic plant when the bottom leaves begin to turn yellow.

  • How: Gently loosen the soil with a trowel and pull out the garlic plants.

  • Curing: Allow the garlic to cure in a well-ventilated area for 2-3 weeks before using or storing.

Step 6: Plant the Cloves Out Again the Following Year

You’ll need to plant the cloves again that grew from the bulbils. You’ll They will get even bigger the second year, and may get to full size garlic bulbs after the second year.

And there you have it! By following these steps, you’ll be well on your way to enjoying a plentiful harvest of garlic, grown right from bulbils. It’s a rewarding process that not only yields delicious results but also saves you money. Happy gardening!

Common Mistakes to Avoid

Growing garlic bulbs from bulbils is generally straightforward, but there are some common pitfalls that gardeners, especially beginners, should be aware of:

  • Planting Too Deep: Bulbils should be planted about 1 inch deep. Planting them too deep can hinder growth. They are very small and can’t handle being planted the same depth that you’d plant a clove when you grow garlic.

  • Overwatering: Garlic needs consistent moisture but doesn’t like to be waterlogged. Overwatering can lead to root rot.

  • Ignoring Soil pH: Garlic prefers a soil pH between 6.0 and 7.0. Ignoring this can result in poor growth.

  • Skipping Fertilizer: While garlic isn’t overly demanding, it does benefit from balanced fertilization.

 

How to Store and Use Harvested Garlic

  • Storing: Once cured, store your garlic in a cool, dark place. Mesh bags or paper bags work well for storage.

  • Using: Fresh garlic can be used in a variety of recipes, or you can make garlic powder for long-term use.

Conclusion

We’ve covered everything from what bulbils are, why they’re a cost-effective and sustainable option, to how to plant and care for them. Growing garlic from bulbils is not just an eco-friendly choice but also a wallet-friendly one. I encourage you to give it a try and share your experiences.

Call to Action

If you’ve enjoyed this guide and found it helpful, I invite you to share your own garlic-growing journey on social media. Use the hashtag #GarlicFromBulbils so we can all learn from each other. Stay tuned for upcoming blog posts on sustainable gardening practices that are easy on the pocketbook!

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