Here on the west coast, we usually get scapes in June and harvest bulbs in early July. However, a mild winter and hot, dry spring means an extra early start to everything this year.
Scapes are the lovely, curly tops of hard-neck garlic stems. You won't find them on the Italian soft-necks, the braid-able varieties.
These curls begin to form about three to four weeks before the bulbs are ready to be harvested. Removing the scape is said to put the energy back into the bulb, making for a bigger, plumper garlic bulb. However, do not fret if you missed some, for quite honestly, I have never noticed much difference in size whether I did or did not snap them off.
They are incredibly delicious though, so picking them is a great idea ; )
With your fingers, simply snap the curl off just above the last leaf. Do this when they are young and tender as they will get woody and fibrous if left too long.
Scapes can be sauteed, made into pesto or hummus, pickled, or added to stir fries. I like them best when simply roasted or BBQ'd with a bit of olive oil and Himalayan pink seasalt. Yum!
Keep an eye on those bottom leaves...
After scapes... Start checking your garlic regularly a few weeks after scapes form. When the bottom three leaves become yellow/brown, is time to consider lifting the garlic.
You can carefully push the soil aside and check your bulbs for size and readiness, if you wish, but there really is no way to make them bigger at this stage.. though you can leave them for a few more days to see if they size up a bit more.
Do not wait too long though, as each of the leaves on a garlic stem is a wrapping on the bulb. If too many dry up, your bulb will be exposed to the soil and bacteria, so will not keep/store.
Happy scape eating and garlic growing!