Harvesting Garlic

Harvested and cleaned garlic in basket
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Growing garlic takes a fair amount of space in the garden and a good amount of patience. It is an unusual plant in the vegetable garden, because you have to wait almost a year after planting, to start enjoying it. But if you've grown it well, you could have fresh garlic all winter.

When to Harvest Your Garlic Bulbs

Once the tops of your garlic plants start to die back, you know it’s time to harvest.

Most of us plant our garlic in the fall and then sit back and wait. Growing garlic is an act of faith. As with most root vegetable, you won’t know how things are going until the moment of truth. At least potatoes let you peek around the edges and sneak a few baby potatoes early, and onions and radishes have the decency to poke their shoulders above ground

To harvest your garlic, start preparing a few weeks early. When you see the leaves starting to decline, stop watering. Of course, this is impossible if it rains, but do the best you can. This dry spell will help to cure the garlic.

When to dig your garlic is a judgment call, but basically it’s ready to dig when the lower leaves start to brown. About the only way to be sure is to actually dig a few bulbs and slice them in half. If the cloves fill out the skins, it’s time.

Harvesting too soon will result in smaller cloves that don’t store well.

However leaving the bulbs in the ground too long causes the cloves to burst out of their skins, making them unstorable and open to disease.

Not all garlic varieties mature at the same time. Artichoke garlic matures first, then Rocamboles, Purple Stripes, Porcelains, and finally, Silverskins.

How to Harvest Garlic

Always dig your garlic, never try and pull it out of the ground.

You may have planted a small clove, but the bulb is now several inches deep with a strong root system.

A garden fork works better than a shovel. The fork helps you loosen the soil and shake free the bulbs. You can use a shovel, but you might be tempted to get too close to the cloves and accidentally slice through it. A sliced bulb can still be used, but it can’t be stored. Even with a fork, start digging several inches away from the plant and gradually loosen the soil around the bulb. Don't underestimate the strength of the roots, to hold the garlic in place.

How to Cure or Dry Fresh Garlic for Use and Storing

  • Brush off any soil clinging to the bulbs. Do not wash them off or get the bulbs wet. Leave the stalks and roots on the bulbs, while they dry.
  • Allow the bulbs to cure, or dry, for three to four weeks in either a well-ventilated room or a dry, shady spot outside. Sunlight can change the flavor of fresh garlic.
  • Once the tops and roots have dried they can be cut off, unless you plan on braiding your garlic.
  • You can also further clean the bulbs by removing the outer skins. Just be careful not to expose any of the cloves.

How to Store Garlic

Keep your garlic in a cool (32-40 degrees F) dark place where it will still get some air circulation.

Braiding and hanging garlic is a good way to keep it, but don’t hang it in the kitchen, where it will be in bright light. You could also store your garlic in a mesh bag or dish.

Softneck varieties of garlic can be stored for 6-8 months. Check periodically to make sure it is not going soft or sprouting.

Hardneck varieties may dry out, sprout or go soft within 2-4 months. Keeping hardnecks at 32 degrees F sometimes helps them survive for up to 7 months without deteriorating.

Saving Seed Cloves of Your Garlic to Plant Next Fall

If you're a beginning seed saver, there is nothing easier than saving garlic. Simply put aside a few of your largest, healthiest bulbs to plant next season. Don't cinch and save the smaller bulbs; small bulbs result in small cloves. Store bulbs for replanting at room temperature, with a fairly high humidity, so they don't dry out.

Growing Garlic

If you didn't get your garlic planted last fall, don't miss out this year. Be sure to order your garlic bulbs early. Here are some tips for growing your own garlic.