Breeding Garlic: An Introduction

And now for something a bit different; plant sex! Part 1: background information.


Science on growing things takes a while, and is not terribly suitable for our standard format (until the end of the growing season is reached perhaps). Since it has just started to pretend to be summer-like where we live, this post will serve as a background for an experiment that was technically started last Fall, with the planting of garlic.



Friend and pushy gardener S (as in, she tries to make me grow things), recommended that I try growling garlic. Now, garlic is highly enjoyed here at the Primary Testing Facility, but it is readily available at the store and gardening space is a bit precious when working with a standard-sized yard. Growing things that cannot be purchased at the local grocery store (or that suck at the local grocery store, you know, like tomatoes), is much more appealing.

But, then I read this, which made growing garlic become science. The gist:

  • Garlic is reproduced entirely asexually and has been for millennia 
  • Even “seed garlic” as typically used, is a natural clone of the parent plant as it refers to garlic cloves reserved for planting
  • Bulbils (topsets) are also clones of the parent plant
  • The growth of bulbils crush the flowers, thus preventing formation of true garlic seed
  • Asexual reproduction limits the crop as new varieties cannot be readily created by crossbreeding
  • True garlic seed is possible if the plant is allowed to flower AND bulbils are plucked out

So, garlic was purchased and planted it out back where the tomatoes had previously been. Three varieties were chosen and purchased from SeedSavers, and for the challenge, 1 nice looking “California White” bulb was selected .

  • Chesnook Red: 
  • Persian Star (Samarkand):
  • Russian Giant:
  • California White (from the grocery store): soft neck variety which is not known to bolt…. they might though if pissed off with “adverse growing conditions“.



Note that California Whites are generally grown in the mild climates of northern California. The hope is that the long winters endured at the Primary Testing Facility will be sufficiently different from their preferred climate to induce bolting.

Related Works:

Al-Zahim, Newbury, Ford-Lloyd. 1997. “Classification of Genetic Variation in Garlic (Allium sativum L.) Revealed by RAPD“. HortScience 32 (6): 1102-1004.
Kamenetsky. “True Seeds in Garlic“. Revised and reprinted from the March 2004 edition of The Garlic Newsletter on Boundary Garlic Farm.
Meredith & Drucker. 2012. “Growing Garlic from True Seed“.
Rosen, C. et al. 2008. “Growing Garlic in Minnesota“. University of Minnesota Vegetable Crop Management.

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