Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Garlic from seeds

I've been reading several internet postings on growing garlic from seeds. As far as I can tell, this isn't currently done except in research and by some dedicated hobbyists. Garlic plants have been cultivated from cloves for eons - probably in a continuous string of generations (clones) dating back thousands of years. As a result, they have nearly lost their capacity to make seeds. Some don't even make flower stalks (scapes). Those that make flower stalks/scapes are the "hard neck". In the ones that do make scapes, much or all of the flower head is replaced by tiny baby garlic bulbs (bulbils) instead of flowers. Those bulbs can be grown into plants, but they are genetic clones of the parent plant. It turns out that there actually are flowers, but they form more slowly than the bulbils, and are crowded out and die before blooming. Getting garlic to make flowers involves removing the bulbils before they take over the room and resources of the scape. The covering is split open, and twezers are used to remove bulbils as soon as possible. Removing the covering from this scape, it looks to me like these are flowers. The bulbils must not be formed yet. I will leave it in place, and wait for the other 3 plants whose scapes I inadvertently left in place.

This may not work at all. I've never done it. Gardening is always an experiment.

The potential advantages of seed are many. In the millenia of cloning, genetic diversity is lost. There is some mutation and adaptation via rogueing, because sports also form. But overall, the genetic diversity is decreased, and the ability to adapt more quickly to environmental challenges or growth in new areas, becomes decreased. In addition, if seeds can be formed, so can hybrids. Hybrids give us more choices, and increase potential adaptation and development of variety, such as larger bulbs, or growing faster. Again, based on reading multiple articles, once a new generation of garlic is produced by seeds, subsequent generations are easier to produce. Finally, it's mentioned that viruses are passed through cloning, but not through seed production. I've seen that said for other plants too. I don't know if garlic varieties are virus infected - probably not as bad as with plants that are grafted (fruits, roses) or have long lives (figs), but it's been proposed that producing virus free seed-produced plants would mean more vigor and higher production.

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