Growing garlic is a fairly easy, hassle-free gardening activity, but when it comes to harvesting garlic, timing is everything. So, how do you know when the time is right? Our quick guide to harvesting and using garlic will give you tips on how to tell, and what to do once you’ve pulled this edible allium out of the ground so that it keeps well for all your future culinary creations.
Harvest ready signs for garlic can be read from the leaves of this bulbous plant. The experts say to harvest when the lower leaves of the plant turn brown, but six or seven of the top leaves are still green. Dependant on your climate, this usually happens in late July or early August if the crop was planted during the previous the autumn. If you wait to harvest until all the leaves are brown, the cloves will be overripe, resulting in loose garlic heads that wont keep very well. Harvesting too early will cause the bulb to be too tight, also diminishing its shelf life.
Garlic should be harvested in a similar manner to potatoes, by loosening the soil around the base of the plant carefully with a hand fork or small garden fork. Refrain from using a large garden fork or shovel for this task, as you run the risk of stabbing the cloves. Your entire harvest should occur within 3-7 days, and all bulbs should be cured straight after harvest.
Garlic heads should be handled like eggs once you have pulled them out of the ground with their leaves intact. Quickly move them out of the sun to avoid cooking them, and lay them on a tarp of rack very gently to avoid bruising or cuts. Carefully brush any dirt or sand off the bulbs and roots. A well ventilated shed or shady outdoor spot are ideal curing spots. If you lay the garlic on a tarp, make sure to turn it daily to ensure that the entire bulb dries. The curing stage will last for about 2 to 4 weeks dependant on the humidity in your area, after which the bulbs will be ready for hanging.
After the curing stage the garlic can be hung for about a week before it is ready to be cut off the stalk or braided. It can be bunched in groups of 4-6 stalks and hung inside your house or any dry indoor space.
Braiding and Storing
Once you’re garlic is fully cured, its time to decided whether you want to braid and hang it, or box store it. Braided garlic is a beautiful decoration or gift, but storing garlic in boxes is easier and quicker. Tough neck or stiff neck garlic is ideal for braiding, as the stems don’t break when twisted into the braid. Include about 12 to 16 heads of garlic per braid –learn how with this great online tutorial. If you are box storing your garlic, cut the stems off at 1 inch above the bulb, trim the roots and store them in shallow box or netted bag (like the ones used for potatoes or onions).
If you keep your garlic at 60 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit and low humidity, it should keep until your next harvest!