Wednesday, April 19, 2006

What Is Spring Green Garlic? Growing It, Cooking with It, Loving It, and a Recipe for Easy Green Garlic Fettuccine

volunteer spring green garlic - In My Kitchen Garden
Young volunteer garlic: surprise gourmet food right under my hoes.

2013 Update: Love garlic? It's easy to grow, even in containers. Learn How To Grow Your Own Garlic here.

Last week I received an email from Catherine at Albion Cooks saying that she had just made another batch of my Savory Cheese & Scallion Scones, but this time she substituted cheddar and green garlic for the feta cheese and scallions.

Green garlic? A quick pop over to her site revealed a lovely photo of the item in question, a delicious looking batch of scones, and the nagging feeling that I'd just read about green garlic somewhere else. But where? Oh, wait. Everywhere.

There were green garlic growing instructions from Veggie Gardening Tips. Then the little bit of green garlic history and a great photo, along with a recipe for Catalan-Style White Bean and Green Garlic Tortilla at In Praise Of Sardines.

Mariquita Farm had another beautiful photo of green garlic, along with numerous tips on ways to use green garlic, plus several green garlic recipes, including green garlic mayonnaise, green garlic soup, and step-by-step photos of how to make green garlic pesto.

This stuff really is everywhere. And those are just the ones I remembered.

So what is green garlic, and how had I lived this long without knowing about it? Green garlic, also known as spring garlic, young garlic, baby garlic, and garlic shoots, is, claims Catherine, "a culinary secret." It is "immature garlic that hasn't yet developed its garlic bulb and has a much milder flavor than the mature bulbs, yet still has that distinct garlic flavor."

What do you do with green garlic? "It can be used in any recipe in place of regular garlic or leeks, and can be used raw or cooked." And, obviously, it can take the place of scallions, too.

Green garlic is also a market gardener and small farmer's (and backyard gardener's!) dream crop, as you can grow it in what would otherwise be unused space.

More below. . .

Green garlic season starts as early as February in places with mild winters and can last through June in some areas. Look for green garlic at farmers' markets, in your CSA subscription box, or try growing some yourself.

How do you grow green garlic? You simply plant your fall garlic twice as thickly as you normally would, and then harvest up half of it as baby garlic in the spring. How brilliant is that? An added bonus for farmers is that it's ready to sell when not many other things are, bringing in much needed income.

You can also plant your garlic cloves in the late winter or very early spring, and if you're growing it specifically to harvest as baby garlic, you can space them as close as one inch apart.

Diehard kitchen gardener and foodie that I am, it's bad enough that I'd never heard of eating baby garlic until now. For years I've even swiped some of the first tender garlic leaves from my plants and tossed them into spring salads, although I've since learned that doing this could be detrimental to the garlic bulb.

But what's really embarrassing is that I excel at planting everything too close together—onions, beets, lettuce, tomatoes, you name it—except garlic. I'd never thought about doing that.

But the good news is that a quick tour of my garden revealed something wonderful: I have ready-to-eat, volunteer green garlic all over the place.

It's even growing in the pathways between the raised beds.

Naturally I immediately tried some. I sprinkled it on a salad and stirred it into my special green scrambled eggs. But the delicate, subtle flavor was buried. I wanted to taste this culinary secret without anything else in the way. So I turned to my favorite simple comfort food indulgence: pasta with butter and cheese.

In a perfect world, I would have made my own pasta from scratch. On days full of digging in the garden and tending little lambs, a box of organic Italian fettuccine works just fine.

As the pasta was simmering, I stole my first taste of the lightly cooked, buttery green garlic and let out an involuntary little moan. This stuff is beyond good. It's garlic, but it's not. It is the essence of garlic, the epitome of spring. It is seasonal eating at its very best.

Freshly harvested and prepped garlic ready for cooking.

The green garlic pictured above is on the mature side. I've never seen green garlic for sale here in rural Missouri, but in this photo and this one, the bulbs haven't started forming, and it bears a closer resemblance to scallions or baby leeks. Spring green garlic is edible at any stage.

After 17 years, this Korean Style Hand Plow, also called an EZ Digger, is still my favorite all around gardening tool, and the only thing I use to dig up garlic. I own two because I lost one once and went immediately crazy without it, then found it a year later. I use them for everything from weeding to seeding. Lately I've had my eye on this long handled version.

Farmgirl Susan's Easy Green Garlic Fettuccine
Cook your choice of pasta according to package directions. I add a splash of olive oil and a heavy dose of salt to the water.

Meanwhile, heat a lump of butter in a skillet. Finely chop as much green garlic as you like (warning: it shrinks down) and add it to the pan of butter. For one serving, I used the white and light green parts plus an inch or two of the leaves of three stalks.

Many people just use the white and light green parts, like with leeks, but using some of the green part gives you more green garlic, and I thought it tasted great.

Cook on low heat until softened, about five minutes or so. Add a splash of pasta water, cover, and turn off heat while pasta finishes cooking. Stir the drained pasta into green garlic mixture, along with another lump of butter and plenty of freshly grated Pecorino Romano (or Asiago or Parmesan). Salt and pepper to taste.

Garnish with more grated cheese and a few finely chopped garlic leaves if desired, and serve it up quickly—or risk finding yourself standing in the kitchen with fork and empty bowl in hand and a very confused look on your face.

Other Ideas: I think this buttery green garlic would also be wonderful mixed with boiled red new potatoes, stirred into some rice, or sprinkled over mashed potatoes.

Update: It also tastes great on pizza!

After two nights in a row of devouring this delectable dish, I now of course want lots more green garlic—and I don't plan on waiting a whole year for it, though I'll definitely be double planting my garlic this fall.

I realize—and you probably have by now, too—that everybody is already harvesting and eating their spring green garlic crop.

We pretty much missed planting time by at least a couple of months. But I'm not letting that stop me. I figure my fall planted garlic still has about two more months to go, so I assume that means favorable growing conditions for baby garlic, too.

Here's the plan: I'm sticking individual cloves of garlic (about an inch into the ground, pointy side up, one to two inches apart) in every nook and cranny of the garden I can find: between the rows of onions where the lettuce and beets did a no-show, in a circle around each tomato plant, in the bare spots in the strawberry bed.

If you're gardening by the moon signs, the best time to plant garlic is in the third quarter. For more about gardening with the moon, I recommend Astrological Gardening: The Ancient Wisdom of Successful Planting and Harvesting by the Stars by Louise Riotte, who is best known for her .

We're talking about half an hour of effort at the most. After that, garlic is practically a no maintenance crop. Pests ignore it—in fact it's used as a natural pest repellent—which means you're also doing your garden a favor by putting it everywhere. Just mulch to keep away the weeds and water regularly.

That's it. And this is a perfect way to use up those sprouting heads of garlic you probably have hanging around (unsprouted cloves work great, too).

No garden? No problem. You can even grow green garlic in a flower pot or a bucket: just fill your container with soil and/or compost and poke the cloves in about an inch deep and an inch apart.

So what are you waiting for? Grab the garlic and get planting. And be sure to let me know if our plan works out.

Need something to eat while you're waiting for the garlic to grow? You'll find links to all my sweet and savory Less Fuss, More Flavor recipes in the Farmgirl Fare Recipe Index.

©, the spring green foodie farm blog where garlic breath is a happy fact of life.


  1. Susan,

    I've been looking, unsuccessfully, alas, for green garlic around here. You really should move to East Tennessee so I can keep a closer eye on your garden.

  2. You've sold me on "why" ... now it's just a question of "how"... do you mean to just stick a garlic clove in the ground??? Or in a pot since I'm determined to move herbs out of one garden better used for cut flowers ...

  3. Oh, that recipe sounds divine, and my garlic is coming on strong right now. I'm going out to cull some leaves, and next year, I'll plant it double close! Thank you for this!

    Do you use the scapes too? So delish!

  4. Ahh, why didn't I think of that? It's hard to get green garlic here. OK, I'm in--I'll grow it. The recipe sounds delish.

  5. I just finished mowing and came in to sip my herbal tea and read blogs for awhile. Little did I know you were going to go garlic today.... "today or tommorrow, the best days to plant" you say, well,I'm busy tommorrow. Guess my tea will steep and I'll run out right now and plant the two garlics I have sitting in my kitchen. I haven't planted garlic before... looks like it will keep coming back, so I'll put it in a pot and set it in my herb bed (what is to be my herb bed) for now. I am assuming I should open up the head and plant the cloves... I sure hope so, off I go.

  6. Ummm...I thought you weren't supposed to plant garlic until July or August for harvesting the next year. Am I wrong about this? I have never heard of "green garlic", but the recipes and ideas sound fantastic. You definitely would have to grow your own to be able to do that, though. I've never grown it because, well because I thought you had to plant it late. And, frankly by July and August I'm too tired to do anything more in my garden but pick and eat!

    Great post, by the way.

  7. You've inspired my husband and I to plant the tiny bulblets at the bottom of the garlic jar. He is big into planting our underground vegetable "crops" in the full moon. He's learned this from our neighbor who is a 100 year old native Italian (transplanted to the US.)

    Will interplanting garlic and strawberries give you garlic-scented berries?

  8. I've never planted garlic because I've been told that you need to plant it in July or August. By that time of the year I'm just trying to keep up with the harvesting and weeding. I imagine green garlic is like green onions and unless they starting selling them in the grocery store (or the farmer's markets) I'll just have to try planting some.

  9. Oh... I apologize for commenting 2x. I just now saw the thingy up top about your approval. Sorry. I should know better because I do the same thing.

  10. Since we've had so much cooler than normal weather, I had a craving for fettucine alfredo last month, which I've never made before. When I told my husband what I was making for dinner he got all upset, because he said no one makes good alfredo. I had to chuckle to myself, because I knew mine would be good -- lots of parmesean reggiano, garlic, and broccoli (the last two were my inclusions, not included on the recipe). Sure enough, guess who went back for seconds? And now we've cooked it about 3 times in 1 month.

  11. I suppose I'll have to go investigate the garlic that was planted mid-last summer and has grown very little. It's about the same size as the leeks that were too small to harvest at the end of the summer (don't ask, the bed's got waaaay too much shade) but I bet they both taste good.

  12. Very interesting. I guess I've had this in my garden but didn't ever know it.

  13. Hi Kevin,
    Ha ha, you've already admitted that soon it'll be so hot you'll be soaked with sweat just traveling from front door to car door, AND I know there aren't any good bread around your neighborhood. So I think you're gonna have to come up with something on the tempting, positive side before I agree to relocate the garden and flock, LOL.

    Hi AK,
    Apologies for taking so long to get back to you. But it's still not too late to get some garlic growing. Yes, if you are planting in the ground, you simply take the individual, unpeeled cloves and poke them into the soil about an inch (as opposed to about two inches if you're going for full size heads of garlic). Plant them about an inch or two apart, pointy side up. Make sure they're covered with soil and then water them well and on a regular basis. Soon you'll see little green shoots sprouting up.

    For container growing, just fill your pot with some nice soil and/or compost and poke as many cloves in there as will fit--they can be quite close together since you'll be harvesting them before they start to form heads underground.

    Okay, so no excuses. Go get your hands on some garlic and get planting! : )

    Hi Kelly,
    You're very welcome. I'll definitely be planting double the number of garlic cloves in the same amount of space this year. In the meantime, I'm really hoping the ones I'm planting now will give me some more of that lovely green garlic. Instant addiction!

    Hmmm. Scapes? Sounds like another garlic delight I am not familiar with. Must look into this.

    Hi Kitchen Queen,
    Bummer about the tossed sprouted garlic (it was halfway started for you : ). But as you said, now you know what to do.

    Hi Sher,
    I can't believe that after so many years of growing garlic, I never thought to use the entire baby plant. I guess because I was unwilling to even fathom the idea of sacrificing some of the bounty. : )

    Hi Dori,
    Apologies to you, too, for my late response. I hope all went well with the planting. I got some in the ground but should really be poking some more cloves into the ground today. (It's a fertile 4th quarter day--one of the ones that some people think is fine and others think is not good for anything much except mulching or weeding. I figure a fertile fourth quarter day is at least better than one that isn't fertile. Oh, the rationalizations we make for the sake of gardening--and our sanity, LOL! Or is it the rationalizations that are making us crazy?)

    Hi Amybee,
    It sure sounds like you have a wonderful gardener to learn from. What a rare gift. Well, I hope I won't get garlic scented strawberries, as I planted several dozen cloves in the strawberry bed the other day. : )

    Hi Sally,
    No apologies necessary re double commenting. That Comment Moderation was doing crazy things on its own, and hopefully I won't be forced to turn it back on again.

    As far as when to plant garlic, I was told to plant it in the fall--usually October here in Zone 5/6--before the ground gets too cold. I didn't get mine into the ground until November this year, and it's doing fine. You can actually plant in spring, but since garlic is so hardy, having it already in the ground over the winter means that it will start growing just as early as it possibly can.

    I can't really think why you would want to plant as early as July or August because the garlic would no doubt sprout and start growing through the rest of the summer and fall then freeze. Unless this was advice for growing garlic in warmer climates? I usually harvest my crop in late June or July. I'm sure that someplace like Florida, if you planted in July, you'd have mature garlic by spring.

    The good thing about planting in October or November is that there is usually much less going on in the garden at that time. I definitely would never get around to planting garlic in July or August--nor would I have the space!

    The green garlic is really delicious--I definitely think you should try planting some cloves now for late spring green garlic, and then plant a full crop in the fall.

    Hi Berecca,
    Oh my. Your fettuccine alfredo sounds divine. LOL, I probably would have made it three times in one week. But I'm like that--once I find something I love, I'll happily eat it for days on end (especially if I only have to cook it once, like soup!)

    Hi Kalyn,
    I was just so thrilled to learn about what really does seem to be a "culinary secret." But the clove is out of the bag now!

  14. Oh, you lucky thing! I wish it was growing in my garden. The pasta recipes sounds awesome - I will have to try this.

  15. I just found a ton of volunteer garlic by the front porch. I think Tyler tossed a bunch of scapes out there after the farmers' market one day last summer, and tonight we're having your recipe with fettuccini and a gorgeous salad from the cold frames.


  16. Okay, THAT was so delicious. I added black olives and used Asiago. Even the toddler groaned her way through the meal, smacking her lips and exclaiming "this is goooooood, mama!"


  17. Hi Catherine,
    It could be growing in your garden. Just find some nice garlic at the farmer's market and pop a few cloves into the ground. The ones I recently planted already several inches high!

    Hi Kelly,
    LOL, your two comments just made my evening. So glad you all enjoyed your surprise green garlic pasta. Adding olives sounds delish. And I absolutely love asiago. Thanks for taking the time to write. : )

  18. yippee! Your pictures have confirmed that I do in fact have garlic growing in the backyard. I just moved and I have been finding all sorts of delightful items. Yesterday I smelled garlic, but when I tasted the green and examined the bulb it looked more like a leek or scallion. I am now positive it's garlic. Delicious!

  19. thanks for the link on etsy gardeners flickr group- your info is sooo helpful !!!!

  20. What a cool site! I am a little obsessed with green garlic too -- here's my favorite way to use it:

    Mix chopped green garlic with Greek yogurt cheese (we have at our Trader Joe's -- sub greek yogurt if you can't find) and a splash of ww vinegar, olive oil, salt and pepper. Then use it as a dressing or dip for poached asparagus (it's good with steamed new potatoes or green beens too...)

    Or add a wee bit more vinegar and oil to thin out and a bit of dijon mustard and use a salad dressing...


  21. Well then, happy to find your blog. The current green garlic fave in this household is to mince the stuff up up, toss it with thin sticks of celery root and douse everything in a creamy dressing of plain yogurt (or sour cream) mixed with dijon mustard, salt, pepper and olive oil. Yum...slaw. Nice to know I can get a container growing with cloves. Thank you!

  22. My neighbor gave me some of his homegrown garlic last year. Most of them had been harvested rather late, and had produced bulbils from the flower tops. I planted hundreds of the little things in a 4 x 6 patch, and now am in the process of harvesting extras as spring garlic. I'll leave the rest in until fall, and see if they're ready then, but I think that they'll need to be 2 years old b4 harvesting them as garlic bulbs. In the meantime, when they produce the flower buds, I'll harvest them before they open as scapes, which are yummy in a stir-fry. That also helps the plant put more energy into the developing bulb underground. That's the plan anyway, we'll see how it goes!

  23. help! I have a ton of young garlic plants, planted from cloves last fall, that are about 1.5 ft high, young'ns, and are already getting scapes!
    What to do please??!!

  24. Hey Anonymous,
    What you need to do is snip off all those scapes. That way the plants will send their energy down into the bulb, rather than up into a flower stalk. Lots of people love garlic scapes - you can do everything from stir fry them to make pesto - and say they have a very mild garlic flavor, though I've always found mine to be too strong tasting. I'm sure the flavor depends on the variety of garlic.

  25. The Spaniards have been cooking with green garlic (ajetes) for years. They scramble it with mushrooms and shrimp. It is absolutely delicious.
    I am trying to grow it myself too. The info you had in the blog was very helpful.
    PS: If you google the word ajetes. You will be able to find many images of dishes from Spain. It is pretyy popular.

  26. Went to the Elephant Garlic festival in North Plains, Oregon last week. Besides the Elephant Garlic (which is really a leek), vendors were selling all kinds of garlic bulbs to use or plant. I told them about planting the little bulbils in the spring, and they told me to pull up the resulting 1st season plants, separate the cloves, and re plant them in September for harvesting next July...I'm on it!

  27. Green garlic is like a weed in my garden. I planted some bulbs in my flower beds once upon a time and now I can't get rid of it. If you let the bulbs go and do not weed them out in the fall you must get 10 times as much in the spring. So if you want spring/green garlic throw some old cloves in the flower beds right now and let them go. Soon you will have more spring garlic than you ever bargained for.

  28. I, believe it or not, have NEVER heard of this!!!! My husband and I go crazy planting fall garlic!!! Wait until he hears about THIS!!!!! We always break the scapes off and enjoy those but NEVER thought about eating the actual immature garlic! Unfortunately, I now have to wait until SPRING to try this!!!

  29. My dad showed me how to grow spring garlic when I was just a boy. I plant them in large pots in mid Nov. and water it every few days for about 4 weeks. Then , in December and January, the winter rainfalls take care. By later January, I am ready to sip off the green leaves and use it as finely chopped herbs in many Indian curry recipes.
    One particular dish I prepare every winter is called "KAAchoo" which requires ( alot ) 1-1/2 cups of finely chopped green garlic leaves(only) and half pound finely ground chickhen (Uncooked) Fresh masala paste, garam masala , salt and 1/4 cup of cooking oil. Mix all the ingredients well. Chop 2 to 3 Boiled EGGS and add to the mixture. Dish is ready to eat with roti, chapati or spread on bread. It's a great winter dish !!!

  30. Just added it, with young carrots and some roadside fennel, to white beans for a simple soup/stew. Yum.


March 2013 update: My apologies for the inconvenience - I know word verification is a pain - but I've had to turn it on to help stop the ridiculous number of anonymous spam comments I've been getting every day. Thanks for your understanding.

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I try my best to answer all questions, but sometimes it takes me a few days to get to them. And sometimes, I'm sorry to say, they fall through the cracks, and for that I sincerely apologize.

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