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Rocambole - How To Grow Elephant Garlic?

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Rocambole is a variety of onion with which there is much confusion. The plant we call rocambole actually has nothing in common with the European garlic rocambole, but is an elephant garlic of impressive size. It is one of the most exotic relatives of garlic and onions. Its mild flavor makes it easier to use in culinary experiments than "our" garlic. Huge cloves, delicate taste and aroma, high yields attract many gardeners. But you can't get a good harvest without a special "leek" approach to its cultivation.

Rocambole - how to grow elephant garlic?
Rocambole - how to grow elephant garlic? © Forest and Kim Starr

Muddling the name "rockambole"

Cracking what a rockambole is is not easy. Over the years of its positioning and sale as a giant garlic, there has been so much confusion that both in our country and in the West, a half dozen different plants are called rocambole.

The giant "garlic" that has spread in our country as rocambole is a large powerful onion with a bulb divided into large cloves and a taste and aroma reminiscent of garlic or a mixture of garlic and leeks.

In the West rocambole garlic (rocambole garlic) is called "true-flavored" garlic - very stinging and aromatic, poorly preserved, with light purple but small heads. It is a variety of true garlic (Allium sativum var. ophioscorodon, a relative of white-purple garlic).

Just rocambole (rocambole), a French food star, forgotten and revived in Finland, is coiffle onion (Allium scorodoprasum), an interesting species of onion with small onion bulbs that separate into cloves.

The Rocambole is also called Sand Leek (Sand Leek), or Korean dark-skinned (purple-skinned) garlic (Korean pickled-peel garlic). Its egg-shaped bulbs are up to 5 cm in diameter even in some varieties, but it is difficult to call them gigantic.

Allium ampeloprasum is a very different kind of onion with a slight garlic flavor and aroma. It is not a member of the garlic genus, but it is the very same as our "rockambole" - giant garlic, snake garlic, Spanish onion, Egyptian onion, Gulliver's garlic.

All three plant species continue to be confused and falsely synonymized, even managing to substitute elephant onions for Suvorov onions, grape onions, anzur and large-fruited varieties of garlic...

Elephant Garlic, or our "rockambole"

Elephant Garlic (Elephant Garlic), or Elephant Giant Garlic (Elephant Giant Garlic) - Allium ampeloprasum is a large perennial species of edible onion. Its above-ground parts, indeed, resemble leeks. Very large bulbs weighing 200 g and at least 10 cm in diameter, with light "paper" shells are divided into 4-6 very large cloves. In our garlic "rocambole" they are flat, linear, large, gradually tapering, surprisingly more than 1 cm wide, with a bluish-cold color and rough edges. The leaves end about mid-stem height, emphasizing the tall inflorescence.

The elephant onion vegetates for 120 days, sometimes only 100-110 days.

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The elephant garlic is not propagated by seeds: they may not form at all or remain sterile. But one bulb forms at least 10 (up to 40) offspring with a very tough, bright, orangeish coat outside - under the outer scales and on the base. When propagated by cotyledons, this onion forms divided bulbs in the first year. When seeded with offspring, one-toothed bulbs grow in the first year and regular bulbs in the second year.

The inflorescences of 'rockambole' are similar to leeks and anzura bows, with a rapidly drooping sheath and a stunningly decorative rounded inflorescence with light purple bell-shaped flowers sitting on very long pedicels. Stamens and stamen are short.

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Rocambole - how to grow elephant garlic?
Rocambole inflorescences with a rapidly drooping sheath and a decorative rounded inflorescence with light purple bell-shaped flowers. © bj leek

How to distinguish elephant garlic from its relatives?

The elephant onion differs from garlic, edible and ornamental onions in several characteristics by which it should be recognized when buying:

  • the average weight of the heads is 200-300 g, under ideal conditions several times larger (a good harvest is considered to weigh from 300 g), even one-toothed never weighs less than 50 g (while large genuine garlic is limited to a maximum of 150 g, grape onions to 100 g, and varieties of hairy onions to 50 g);
  • even babies are massive - they should weigh at least 2-5 g, but the main reference point is the orange color of the shell and high germination;
  • the number of cloves is small, from 4 to 8, most often - 5-6 (the division in 2 cloves gives a substitution for Anzuri or Suvorov onions);
  • Aroma is weak, delicately giving garlic - not sharp and not irritating, with a subtle onion overtones;
  • taste only slightly sharp, unexpectedly mild and delicate, with a faint hint of onion, garlicky;
  • tooths are easy to chew raw (only grape onions taste delicate, but with talcum taste).

A few other features that are characteristic of our garlic rockambole:

  • The stems of "rocambole" are several times more powerful than those of garlic;
  • it can self-sow, the offspring often crumble and give spontaneous sprouts;
  • The content of essential oils, phytoncides, vitamins, and other nutrients, as well as properties, especially preventive and immune-stimulating, significantly differ from garlic (elephant garlic is often compared by properties with leeks);
  • young herbs are no less valuable and edible.

This onion can be considered not only edible, but also ornamental - forming sprawling families and groups without digging.

Common conditions for the unusual garlic-"rockambole"

The elephant onion requires the same conditions as the leek, not the usual onion or garlic. It needs bright light, warm and level sites. "Rocambole should not be planted just after and before garlic, potatoes and onions. The best crops for crop rotation are cabbage, legumes, zucchini, pumpkins and cucumbers.

The soil for planting "rocambole" should be fertile, loose, worked to a depth of 30 cm, with a high content of mature organics. "Elephant garlic" does not tolerate poor, dense, damp, extremely acidic or calcareous soil. The optimal pH value is 6.5 to 7.5. Before planting, it is desirable to introduce mature manure or compost into the soil (at least 2-3 months before planting, 20-50 kg of organics per square meter).

Rocambole - how to grow elephant garlic?
The soil for planting "rockambole" should be fertile, loose, worked out to a depth of 30 cm. © A. Scott Blackburn

Timing and sowing rules

"Rockambole" is suitable for both winter and spring crops. Larger bulbs give the sowing in the fall, but it is more reliable to grow elephant garlic as a spring crop because of sensitivity to unstable temperatures and lack of snow.

Sowing terms are similar to the usual "garlic". "Rocambole" is planted:

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  • early spring when the soil warms up (a month storage temperature is reduced to 1-5 degrees, a week - take elephant garlic to the light);
  • in autumn in early to mid October.

The babies need to scarify a hard shell. Preferably, the cloves and one-tooters should be soaked in a weak solution of manganese one day before planting. Seeding depth should not exceed 4 cm for the offspring and 5-8 cm for the cloves, in rows with a distance of about 30 cm. The density of sowing is 1 clove or pupa per 15-20 cm for free growth of large plants.

Crocambole care

The elephant garlic does not suffer from droughts, but with a lack of moisture, it develops one-toothed and small heads. It needs consistently light soil moisture. The soil should not be allowed to dry out more than 5 cm, conducting systematic deep watering in dry periods. It is excellent to stabilize soil moisture by mulching with organic matter.

Feeding is critical for our rockambolic garlic. Preferably organic fertilizers in the form of mulch and before planting, but you can apply complex mineral fertilizers (2-3 feeding full mixtures or nitrogen fertilizers at the beginning of growth and phosphorus-potassium in the second half of the growing season, in standard doses).

"Rokambol" otherwise requires standard care - loosening and weeding. No flower stalks are broken out of it, because instead of growing a larger bulb after cutting the inflorescences, the elephant garlic just starts growing more babies.

Rocambole - how to grow elephant garlic?
Rockambole Harvest. © Forest and Kim Starr


Rockambole bulbs are harvested when the lower leaves dry out and the upper leaves turn yellow - tentatively in late July-August for winter planting, and in September for spring planting. Dig up carefully, if mechanically damaged, elephant garlic does not store well.

The harvest is dried together with adventitious roots and haulm in the shade and dryness with free access to air. You can then store both "clean" heads and elephant garlic in wreaths and braids.

"Rocambole" is one of the most storable types of edible onions. Usually the harvest is perfectly preserved until February-March - in ventilated paper or cloth bags, boxes, crates, at room temperature (20-25 degrees), with protection from light access.