You’ve finally done it! You made the switch to flavorless garlic from the supermarket that is not grown locally and instead have planted a local variety in your garden.
Now it’s time to wait. Garlic grows underground so it can be painfully hard to know just when to harvest it.
Harvesting garlic involves a bit of science, plenty of observation, and a dash of intuition.
How to know when to harvest garlic? Start by monitoring the leaves above ground. Starting in mid-June they should turn yellow. Once three or four of these bottom leaves turn yellow, but the top leaves are still green, you know you are getting close. While you can’t control if it rains, stop hand watering your garlic. This will allow the cloves to begin drying out. Furthermore, it will leave the soil dry so it will be easier to remove the bulbs. After a few weeks of not watering your garlic, you can gently dig them out. The bulbs may be deeper thank you think so be careful to not slice them open. Never pull the garlic out as it can detach from the stem. Once out of the ground, remove any dirt and then leave the bulbs to dry in a cool, dark place. There should be proper airflow. After four weeks your garlic will be cured and ready to store. Depending on your variety, cured garlic will last for three to six months.
How do you know when your garlic is ready to harvest?
Garlic is planted in the fall and then after a period of dormancy in the winter, it starts to grow. First, you will see tall greenery emerge from the ground, followed in June by the emergence of garlic scapes.
While garlic scapes are edible and should be used, most people are keener on knowing when the garlic bulbs themselves are ready to harvest. Because they are underground, it can be difficult to tell.
The first sign is that the lower leaves of the scapes start to turn brown. This will happen in late spring to summer, depending on your region.
If this is your first time harvesting garlic, you may want to do a little bit of digging to be sure. Gently remove some of the dirt on top of the garlic bulbs but don’t disturb the roots underneath.
The garlic cloves should fill out the surrounding skin of the bulbs. If the skin looks loose, keep the garlic in for another week or two.
Unfortunately, timing is very important when harvesting garlic. While nothing bad will happen if you remove garlic too soon, it will be rather small.
However, if you harvest garlic too late, the cloves will have burst out of their skin, making it harder to store them. Furthermore, they will be more prone to diseases if left in the dirt for too long.
What happens if you don’t harvest garlic?
Garlic that isn’t harvested will end up being a part of your garden. The bulbs will split open and they will be susceptible to rot and disease. Mold can set in, as well.
Garlic left in the garden won’t grow the following year so don’t count on a sudden emergence of the crop.
How to harvest garlic?
Once your garlic leaves start to turn yellow, it’s time to prepare yourself for harvesting. Start by not watering your garlic.
While you can’t control the weather, do your best not to hand water your garlic. This way, the garlic will actually start to cure itself while still in the ground.
Expert gardeners have a lot of theories on when the best time to harvest garlic is. If you are just starting out, don’t be surprised if it takes a few seasons to get a better feel for your garlic.
One piece of wisdom is to wait until three or fours leaves have died back from your garlic plant. However, five or six green leaves should still remain.
It’s better to harvest garlic a bit before it is ready than too late. While you might have smaller cloves, at least they won’t turn to rot.
Dry soil is the best type for harvesting garlic as it can be a bit difficult to pull the bulbs out. Unlike onions, where you can simply grab hold of the stem and pull, garlic can require a bit of digging.
While a shovel will be ok, if you have a garden fork, it will work better. Your garlic will be a few inches under the soil so dig deeper around the bulb so that you don’t accidentally cut into it.
With your garden fork, loosen the soil and dig under the bulb. Then, gently remove the bulb, being sure to keep the stem attached to the bulb.
Gently shake off excess dirt from the garlic bulbs. If there are still large chunks of dirt, you can gently rub them off.
Before you store your garlic, you will need to cure it. Either place the bulbs and stems flat on a screen surface or hang them upside down.
You want there to be proper airflow for the garlic to dry and not rot. For those that have multiple garlic cloves, you can bundle six to eight of them together to dry upside down.
Keep the garlic this way for three to four weeks so it can properly cure. You should cure your garlic in a cool place that is out of direct sunlight or else the flavor can actually be altered.
After four weeks, your garlic should be dry, particularly the roots and tops. Cut the tops and roots off and remove the outer skin.
There are different layers to garlic, however, so don’t expose the inner cloves. There should still be a papery layer to protect them.
An alternative to cutting the stems is to braid the garlic for storage. You can do this if you have softneck varieties of garlic.
Once properly cured, you can now store your garlic. Place it in a cool, dark area that has proper circulation. The ideal temperature is between 32 and 40 degrees Fahrenheit.
Some common ways to store garlic is in a wooden box or a mesh bag. While you might be tempted to store garlic in your kitchen where you will be using it, if exposed to light, garlic will start to rot.
Garlic will keep for quite a while. If you have a softneck variety, with proper storage it will last six to eight months. For hardneck varieties, expect your garlic to keep for three to four months.
Should you wash garlic after harvesting?
No, you should never wash garlic after harvesting. Water will seep into the garlic and it will immediately start to rot.
Try your best to dry wash any dirt away. If there is still some dirt left on, this is ok as the inner cloves are protected by the outer papery layers.
Can you eat garlic immediately after harvesting?
Yes, you can definitely eat garlic after it is harvested. It will have the same great taste you are used to.
For those that regularly cook with garlic, take a few bulbs and place them right into storage. Since you will be using them in the next few weeks, there is no need to cure and dry them.
How to harvest garlic scapes?
While most people are only familiar with the bulb part of the garlic, you can actually eat the top part as well.
Take a look at your garlic plant. Around June you may notice a green curly part of the plant develop. This is the garlic scape.
If you don’t harvest these garlic scapes, they will keep growing and will flower, which then turns to seed. Even if you don’t want to eat the scapes, you should still cut them as it will make the garlic bulb grow larger.
Once your garlic scape starts to spiral, you can cut it off. Garlic scapes are tasty and can be used in soups, stews, and many recipes as they produce the same garlic flavor you are used to.
How do you plant more garlic the next year?
Once of the best parts of planting your own garlic is that every year you have a new supply of seeds. When it is time to plant garlic in the fall, simply take one of your cured garlic bulbs.
Pick the largest bulbs as these will yield more large bulbs. Small bulbs will simply result in more small garlic.
Open up the bulb and find the inner garlic cloves. Each clove will turn into a whole bulb the following year.
Garlic can be a bit of an art form when it comes to harvesting. Take the garlic out of the ground too early and it will be small; too late and it won’t store well.
Once some of your garlic leaves turn yellow, it’s time to stop watering and in a few weeks, you can dig up your garlic, cure it, and have a wonderful selection of garlic to sustain you for the next few months.