By Kathryn Pankowski

We’ve all had the experience of reaching for the garlic, only to find that, showing a remarkable will to live, it is no longer just sitting there decoratively but is putting out lively green shoots. What to do? You can, of course, eat it all quickly. Or, if things have gone too far, compost it.

But (and here’s the exciting part) you can also pot it up, put it on your windowsill, and harvest garlic greens all winter long. While the garlic will need some light, it doesn’t need a lot, so this is something that even those of you in north-facing apartments can grow to eat in dreary November.

Here’s what you need:

  • A garlic bulb (or part of one) that is starting to sprout
  • Indoor potting soil
  • Something to put them in. Make sure it has holes in the bottom for good drainage, and something underneath to catch the drips. I usually use a 6-8” diameter pot for one bulb, but suit your pot to your windowsill size – you may need something longer and narrower.

What to do:

Put the potting soil in the pot. If the pot has large drainage holes, you may want to put a bit of paper towel, or paper coffee filter, or a clean flat pebble, over the holes before you put the dirt in something that will let excess water drain through, but keep the dirt in the pot.

Separate the garlic bulb into individual cloves. Leave the white “papery” bit on – it helps protect the clove.

Figure out which end of a garlic clove goes up. If it has started to grow, it’s (obviously) the green bit. If it hasn’t, up is the more pointy end.

Poke a hole for each clove with your finger (or a pencil, if you are the more fastidious type) about as deep as the clove is long. Space them fairly evenly around the pot.

Push a clove into each hole. You want to get the top of the clove just at or below the surface of the soil. If the garlic already has green shoots, make sure those are above ground. Firm up the soil a bit by pressing it down gently.

Water gently but thoroughly, let drain, put the pot on your windowsill, and watch the garlic greens shoot up. They look a bit like grass, but taste much better.

Growing greens like this is “backwards gardening”. When we grow garlic outside, the goal is to get the plants in maximum sunlight, so that they will make lots of food, and store it in a large bulb. When growing greens, we’re encouraging the plant to take the energy from the stored bulb and put it out in the form of leaves. At the end of winter the cloves will be spent shrunk to little-fingernail size. At that point you can either compost them or plant them out, though they will take at least two full growing seasons to bulk up to a good-sized bulb again.

And what do you do with the greens? Once they reach 10 cm or so, you can snip off up to 1/3 of the length of the shoot, leaving the rest to keep growing. Use them like chives or green onion tops, sprinkled uncooked on a salad, soup, baked potatoes, toasted cheese, scrambled eggs anything that will be the better for a bit of fresh garlicky flavour.

And, for bonus points, they will keep your home vampire-free until spring. Guaranteed.



If your garlic starts putting out little

green shoots, pot it up and enjoy

fresh garlic greens all winter - a

treat you won't find at the grocery.

Photo by K. Pankowski

Volunteers at New Horizons have started planting up the extension to their magnificent pollinator garden, so stop by and have a look. They are also looking for more pavers, so if you happen to have a few extras lying around and would like to give them to a good cause, let one of the gardeners know.Neighbourhood Garden News

Did you know that the City of Victoria gives away composted leaves for home garden use? You can find the pile outside the City of Victoria Parks Depot gates, at the end of Nursery Road, which goes south off Park Boulevard, near Cook Street village. Bring your own containers and implements, and help yourself. There’s a catch: sometimes there aren’t any leaves, because the Parks Department puts out only what is surplus to its own needs. If you have to make complicated arrangements in order to collect your ‘brown gold’, call Parks first at 250-361-0060 to check availability.


Kathryn Pankowski is the James Bay Neighbourhood Association Neighbourhood Gardening Advocate: she can be reached at The JBNA would like to acknowledge the financial support of the City of Victoria for this initiative.