Quite literally the longest crop, Garlic may seem like an advanced grower’s plant, but really, it’s quite easy to grow, despite the time. In this article, we learn when to harvest the Garlic, what clues to look for that it is ready, how to harvest Garlic, and how to cure and treat it for a long time storage.
Because of the length of time, it takes to grow over multiple seasons people feel that garlic is only something for advanced growers and while it’s true that with more time more things can go wrong.
Garlic is actually fairly easy to grow, provided you do it right. But before we get to harvesting here if you’ll just indulge me for a moment I’ll explain how we got this garlic to this point in the first place in the fastest tutorial the internet has ever seen.
Fastest tutorial for growing Garlic
Garlic is a cool climate crop whose individual cloves are planted in the fall of temperate regions six to eight weeks before that first autumn frost date.
It may or may not sprout before the cold hits but the bulbs stay buried about an inch or two deep under a thick mulch layer in a semi-dormant state all winter.
As spring hits garlic sprouts quite quickly and has grown much like any other crop through to early summer when it’s harvested, all in garlic is a 9 -10 month crop. Requiring very little maintenance but a lot of patience.
That was fast, I can’t help but feel though guys that there was one more thing I needed to show you to help you max out your garlic harvest.
How to max out your garlic harvest
One last thing before we get going on the harvest here let’s rewind a couple of months back to late spring so that we can look at one key trick that all northern garlic growers must know.
Most northern U.S. and Canadian garlic growers grow the Hardneck varieties.
As such during the home stretch of development in late spring, early summer you’ll see specialized shoots forming at the top of the plants. These are called garlic scapes.
Garlic scapes are actually the early forms of the flowering stock and flower buds of garlic. Needless to say, like all flowering structures they’re a massive drain on the plant’s resources.
To maximize your bulb production you have to prune them off. By cutting the scapes off you’re telling the plant to forget flowering and to put all of its energy back into bulb production.
Pruning these scapes off can literally be one of those difference makers between small bulbs and large ones and really who likes small bulbs.
I cut the scapes when they start to curl about a week or so after they first appear. Cut them back to where they meet that top set of leaves no more, super easy, should only take a few minutes, but don’t throw them away, not only are they edible they are delicious.
Definitely cut those scapes off early they’re the garlic equivalent of tomato suckers and hey while we’re talking about max harvest there are a couple more things you can do to really swell up those garlic bulbs to biggie size.
- Give these guys adequate spacing at least four inches apart when you’re first planting them.
- Mulch them heavily to moderate the temperatures and hold in that moisture.
- Eliminate all possible weeds forever and always. Garlic is a loner. It hates competition and it will literally shrink itself in size if it gets crowded. Be diligent about the weeding, it can really affect the yield.
- Water thoroughly about one to two weeks right before you know you’re gonna harvest.
That’s great but how do you know when it’s time to harvest.
When to harvest garlic
If you recall before I mentioned that the garlic was giving me the visual clues that it was time to dig it up and what are those clues you ask, it’s all in the leaves, in fact, it’s when the foliage begins to fail, specifically the lower leaves.
Once those lower leaves dry out and turn yellow or brown you pretty much know the garlic is ready. I aim for about half the foliage brown and half the foliage still green and if you’re ever in doubt simply dig up a test bulb to check it out and see.
Things to take care of when the garlic is ready for harvesting
Now there are two things that I do when I know that the garlic is ready for harvesting
- I’ll stop watering. Harvesting is infinitely easier in a dry loose soil and curing the garlic for storage is way better when you’re starting with a dry product. Stop watering at least one week before your harvest day and try not to harvest on a rainy wet day.
- I’ll bend the stalks in half. This does two things for me. First, it constantly reminds me not to water that garlic and I need to harvest it soon and Second, there’s a theory that valuable nutrients from the stock travel back down to the bulb making your harvest even bigger. Either way it’s not necessary but i’ve always done it this way. If you are going to bend them you want to do it about 48 hours before the harvest.
Okay, so we’ve confirmed that the garlic is ready to harvest.
How to Harvest and Cure Garlic
Let’s start digging and I do mean digging you don’t want to be pulling on these guys as stems, you don’t want to yank them out of the ground like you would when you’re harvesting garlic’s cousin the onion.
Garlic grows significantly deeper than onions especially the bald part and the stems easily snap off. We want good stems to not only help dry the garlic during the curing stage but also need the protected sheaths to stay intact.
Digging them out is super easy especially if you let that soil dry out a bit. Once you do a couple you’ll really get the hang of it and you’ll figure out how much effort and how much pull that it actually takes.
Once you have the bulbs all dug up, stalks intact, tie them off in bundles of five or ten. Leave everything as-is and set it aside in a covered dry area to hang for two to four weeks.
This is the curing process that’s necessary for the garlic bulbs to develop that protective papery sheath that they need for long-term storage.
You can brush off any clumps of loose dirt but don’t wash the bulbs and don’t let them get wet. Hang them upside down out of the direct sun and away from any temperature extremes.
Once the tops and roots have completely dried out cut the stems to two to three inches long and trim the roots right off. There might still be a dirty outer papery layer, you can remove that as well and what you’re left with is a perfectly clean magnificent bulb of garlic.
Where and how to store garlic
Store your garlic in a cool dry dark place. For maximum longevity keep the humidity under 60 percent little to no light, good air circulation, and temperatures between 50 and 60 degrees Fahrenheit
At cooler temps, garlic’s going to be tempted to start sprouting and when the temperatures are too warm the bulbs simply shrivel up and dry out.
Keep the bulbs intact for maximum shelf life and under these parameters garlic will easily last for five to six months without needing any attention.
Beyond that, you can actually peel and freeze the garlic or mince and process it for extended life.
Keep the biggest bulbs back for replanting which is only eight to ten weeks away for some of us and use any of the broken or separated clothes first as they’ll have the shortest lifespans.
Okay, we’ve covered a lot in this article right from the beginning but let’s narrow our focus and just recap the harvesting and storage part of growing your own garlic.
Garlic planted the previous fall is likely going to be ready for harvest early to mid-summer.
Look for the lower two to three leaves to really dry out and turn brown. Try to harvest your garlic when the soil is dry on a nice no rainy day.
Dig up the bulbs with a small shovel rather than pulling on the stems. Once harvested dry your garlic by hanging it in a covered well-ventilated area, you know such as a shed or garage for about two to four weeks.
After fully cured clean the garlic by removing most of the stem, all of the roots, and the outermost dirty paper layer.
Store that garlic in a dark cool place for up to half a year. But get ready for planting again in just a couple of months.
Growing garlic is definitely an investment, it’s an investment of time. Both literally and the fact that you’re designating and tying up a bed for the better part of a year.
However it’s very easy to grow with virtually no pester diseases and with a lot of what’s available being imported from overseas grown in who knows what and sprayed with chemicals that I can’t even pronounce, growing your own garlic never looked more appealing.
Hey thanks so much for reading guys I appreciate the support more than you know and if you’re getting value from this article please share them to spread the word and help your fellow gardener to grow better. Happy Gardening!