Whilst there have been some experiments in producing garlic “seeds”, almost all garlic is grown from individual cloves. You can start growing garlic simply by taking the biggest, healthiest looking cloves from an ordinary bulb of garlic and planting them.
So why, then, should we worry about seed garlic? Why should we pay money for garlic seed when we can start growing our own garlic without buying anything?
Why Buy Seed Garlic?
The answer is quality. Growing garlic from randomly selected cloves is a lottery. You can increase your chance of success by using the best cloves from the best bulbs. However even then there is always a chance of disppointing results.
One basic issue is that garlic is asexual. Because it is grown from cloves with no pollination, a bulb of garlic is effectively a clone of the head from which the seed garlic was taken.
This means that if the original bulb was prone to weaknesses then the seed garlic will also be prone to these weaknesses and so on through the generations. Commercial seed garlic is selected to avoid weak garlic wherever possible.
Another problem is disease. It is almost impossible to keep the average home garden clear from all the possible diseases, fungi, etc that can affect your crops. This means that – especially after a few years of cultivation – the chances are that your garlic has at least some minor infection. Obviously if you start growing garlic with an infected clove then the odds are stacked against you. Buying fresh, commercial seed garlic avoids this problem.
Finally, buying in seed garlic gives you the opportunity to try growing different varieties of garlic. Most food shops stock only one or two types of bulb and rarely tell you exactly which variety you’re buying. If you use shop bought garlic as your seed stock, it is often difficult to be sure exactly what you are growing!
It is definitely possible to grow great garlic in the home garlic without spending money on commercial seed garlic. However if you have been diappointed with your results then perhaps a small investment in some garlic known to be healthy and without disease would be a good way to kick-start your gardening.