Early Alliums: How to use Garlic Scapes, Green Garlic, & Onion Tops

June 26, 2018


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The genus Allium includes hundreds of species, but you're probably most familiar with the most common examples, including onions, garlic, shallots, and chives.  Basically, this is your group of wonderfully smelly garden treats that have the power to scare away pests (and sometimes dinner dates or vampires) but do wonders for your cooking.


There are a few treats from the allium family that are often available in the spring but not always as familiar to gardeners or home cooks.  This article describes three allium options that shouldn't be dismissed, especially because they are available earlier in the season than when you might harvest most of your garlic and onion varieties.



1 Onion Tops 

We're used to eating the white (or red) part of an onion, partially because when you harvest a large number of onions from the garden you want to leave them out to dry so that they are prepared for storage and the stems are meant to dry out during that process.  But when you overwinter onions and harvest them in the spring, you can use the onion right away and take full advantage of a few feet of onion greens too. 

Much like scallions, the green part of a fresh spring onion can be chopped up and used to flavor many dishes.  Add it fresh to your salads, or add it toward the end a stir-fry or pasta dish.  As recommended in this Article from Eating Well, you could also add onion tops to a soft cheese dip or a fresh salsa.  The taste of the onion green is more mild and softer than the hard part of the onion, but still adds beautiful flavor.  



After all, why waste an

onion green that is as

tall as a small child?





2 Green Garlic

When you plant a clove of garlic in the fall, the time it spends in cold soil over the winter triggers it to produce a full head come the following spring.  That same clove of garlic, when planted in the spring, will not have enough time to produce a full head, but it will produce a nice thick green stalk, much like a fat scallion and maybe a roundish large clove under the soil.  This is nice to know when you still have a bucket full of garlic come spring and it is starting to sprout on you.  Throw it in the ground for a nice early harvest of green garlic! Disclaimer: the green garlic pictured is a little more on the "garlic" side cause I left it in the garden longer; you probably want to pick it before it has started to form bulbs!

Much like the onion top, the green garlic is going to be a bit more mild than your typical garlic clove but can be used in the same ways as scallions - diced for dips, salads, pastas, etc.  We used our green garlic to make a delicious pasta primavera based on this recipe from the New York Times, which also makes great use of other spring harvested veggies like snap peas, asparagus, and parsley (we used green garlic as a substitute for the green onion and garlic).  



3 Garlic Scapes

That garlic you planted in the fall?  Well, chances are right about the time you're harvesting your green garlic and spring onions, it is shooting up garlic scapes.  Garlic scapes are the twisty tubes that shoot out of the middle of the garlic about a month before it is fully ready to harvest.  Consider them a bonus, providing early access to the garlic that you are dying to harvest.  Many people have no idea what to do with scapes and will pass them by at the Farmers' Market without a second thought, but I highly advise you to take full advantage of this early harvest, whether from your own garden or someone else's.


Garlic scapes are ready to be cut from the plant when they have made a nice curve.  Depending on the garlic variety they might be anywhere from 12 to 24 inches long, with a little nodule toward the top that would become the garlic flower if you left it to keep growing.  Instead snip the scape right at its base, where it meets the plant.  Scapes are harder than scallions or green onions so they need a little bit more processing to be enjoyed but offer a nice variation on the garlic flavor you anticipate once the full heads are harvested.  Dice them and put them into a stir-fry much like you would an onion so that they get a little bit browned and softened, or do the same with a pasta sauce or marinate for meat.  They can also be used in a pesto recipe, like our Arugula and Garlic Scape Pesto, in place of a head of garlic, because they will get nicely chopped up in the blender.  




The moral of the story here is that these variations on the allium can be used much like their onion and garlic cousins and you shouldn't miss out on what they offer!  


What are some of your favorite recipes?



For more resources on vegetable gardening, check out these great titles from Chelsea Green Publishing! (disclaimer: these are affiliate links)
















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