Garlic is really easy to grow—you plant it in the fall and then just keep it watered and weeded until harvest, except you do have one task to complete right about now. And that’s chopping off those curly things that have formed at the top of the garlic plants.
Those are called scapes. Essentially, they’re flower buds, and if you let them bloom and be pollinated they will form seeds. But when you grow garlic you don’t want seeds, you want a good sized bulb (or head) of garlic. Gardeners chop off the scapes now, in order to direct the plant’s energies towards the garlic bulb.
This is part of my garlic patch, where I’ve cut off all the scapes except for one. Can you see it?
This might make it easier:
So the way a garlic plant grows is that the leaves each connect down to one of the “papery” outer layers of the garlic bulb. Right now, they aren’t papery, they’re soft, living tissue. The scape forms at the top of the plant–emerging tightly curled as you see in the top image on the page, and then unwinding as it matures (as you see directly above). If you leave the scapes on you’ll still get bulbs, but they’ll be much smaller, which isn’t what you want. I suppose that ideally you’d chop them off as soon as they emerge, but I don’t usually notice them until they’re starting to unwind.
As soon as I do find them, they get removed from the plant. I could compost them, but that would be a waste, as they make a great, somewhat peppery, pesto. I whiz them up in my food processor, along with some olive oil, walnuts (you could also use pine nuts) and parmesan. Then I freeze it in small portions so that I can enjoy garlic scape pesto throughout the year. Yummy!
So if you’re growing garlic in your garden I’d encourage you to trim your scapes as soon as you can. You’ll be glad you did in another month when you’re harvesting substantial heads of garlic!