The term “seed garlic” can be a little confusing–you might expect your “seed garlic” to come in a small envelop package, just like vegetable seeds. But modern garlic doesn’t often set seed the way most of our garden vegetables do. Over hundreds of years of domestication, garlic has almost entirely lost the ability to reproduce by flowering and setting seed. Even with the help of a human hand to perform this type of reproduction, seed viability is low.
Instead, most garlic is propagated through clove division. Each individual clove will yield a new plant. Thus, when we refer to “seed garlic,” we’re actually talking about a whole bulb of garlic composed of multiple cloves for planting.
Here’s the key point to remember: the bulb size of the new plant is directly related to the size of the original clove. The biggest, best garlic bulbs will come from the biggest, best cloves, which in turn, come from the biggest, best bulbs of the prior year’s harvest. When garlic farmers sort their crop, they save back the biggest, best bulbs to plant or sell as seed. The smaller bulbs, sometimes called “culinary garlic,” are sold at market for fresh eating. Since seed garlic is literally the cream of the crop, gardeners and farmers can expect to pay a premium for those big, beautiful bulbs.