Tricking garlic to set seeds

The garlic has become “lazy” after thousands of years of vegetative propagation via cloves and top sets. But we can fool the hardneck cultivars by removing the top bulbs early and produce seeds and thus achieve more genetic variation.

All known cultivars of garlic are propagated vegetatively, mostly by planting cloves in autumn. For so-called “hardneck” varieties, which produces top sets, you can also propagate from those. It takes from 2 to 3 years to become a fully developed garlic that way. But this is a great way to grow a lot of garlic, when you first get into the rythm of planting top sets every autumn.

Photo: Karl Aakerro. Composed in 2019 with ‘Alexandra’ in four stages, including the top bulbs, so it took three years to get these wonderful bulbs.

Many people write that garlic is a kind of disease preventer in the garden, but the fact is that it is itself very susceptible to viruses and fungi. This is connected to the fact that it rarely renews itself genetically, and thus the attackers have plenty of time to specialise. Since it reproduces so easily vegetatively, it has become “lazy”, and no longer produces seeds.

As with most onions, seeds are formed in an often round seed stand on top of a main stem, it’s just that top bulbs are also formed between the seeds, and they take all the power. But if we pick out the top bulbs when they are formed, the seeds get an increased opportunity to develop.

It was a central figure in plant breeding who started a small trend in this a few years ago, Ivan Buddenhagen. He passed away this summer, after a 60-year career with many new cultivars in important food plants behind him (see article about Buddenhagen on CGIAR. The website he ran has been taken down, but there is a forum on FB for those interested:  True Garlic Seed Forum. The aim is to produce many new variants so that we have a larger register to choose from for local adaptation.

We bought around 200 seeds from Buddenhagen four years ago and have some plants that could be promising. The one on the left in the picture at the top is one of them, compared to ‘Susan Delafield’ on the right. Both produce small bulbils, so you probably have to count 3 years until full size.

There are only a few top onions, so we are selling a few portions of 20 top onions to those who want to try. NB! These are the first plants that came out of the original seeds, and we haven’t even had the resources to take this as far as to produce our own seeds yet.

Here is the result after two years from the first sowing in 2018.


Sist oppdatert 2023-11-09 av Bi-O

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