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Garlic Signals

A Quick Guide to Harvesting, Curing, and Cleaning Garlic

Garlic can be rewarding to grow, but how do you know when to harvest? Listed here is the signals to watch for to ensure you get the biggest bulbs that will have enough wrappers for maximum storage.

Garlic Bulb Growth:

Garlic bulbs undergo a gradual growing process. From planting individual cloves, turning into green garlic in the spring, to developing into mature bulbs. The time it takes from planting to harvest will be dependent on your location, weather, and the time you planted. Typically the time it takes for garlic to mature into full bulbs will be 8-10 months, with the typical time being 9 months across the majority of the United States. Most gardeners will harvest garlic late June to early July.

Signs Garlic harvest is near:

To determine if your garlic bulbs are ready for harvest, keep an eye out for the following signs:

  1. Leaves dying at the bottom: The leaves will start to turn brown, drying and start lying on the ground at the bottom of the plant. Watch for 40% to 50% of the leaves to fall to the ground. Each leaf will indicate a wrapper around the bulb. The remaining green leaves will be a wrapper that will still be intact around the garlic. Harvesting too early may result in underdeveloped bulbs, while waiting too long can lead to cloves splitting and reduced storage life.

  2. Stiff Stem (scape) in hardneck varieties: The garlic stem, or scape, will become stiff and start to curl. Once the scape has turned into a complete circle, remove the scape. Leaving the scape on the plant will cause energy to the flower rather than putting the energy into bulb growth and final development. If the scape is left on the plant it will again turn straight and produce a flower. The scape can be used as a mild garlic substitute (or made into a wonderful pesto) once it is removed.

  3. Bulb Size: If you are still not sure about when to harvest you can check bulb size by gently removing the dirt from the base of the plant without disturbing the roots or removing the garlic from the ground. Garlic bulbs should be plump and filled out. If garlic is not ready for harvest the soil can be replaced to allow for more growth.

Harvesting Garlic Bulbs:

Dig each bulb out carefully, careful to not break the stalk (leaves) from the bulb. If you wait to long to harvest the garlic will begin to split in the ground which will reduce storage life of the garlic. All varieties of garlic will store differently, hardnecks will typically store 4-6 month, while softnecks can store 6-10+ months when properly cured.

  1. Loosening Soil: Use a garden fork or shovel to gently loosen the soil around the garlic bulbs, taking care not to damage them. Insert the tool a few inches away from the bulbs to avoid accidental cuts or punctures.

  2. Lifting Bulbs: Grab garlic stem close to the base and lift the bulbs out of the ground. Avoid pulling the plants solely by the stem, as this can detach the bulbs from the stalk. Once your garlic is harvested, move it out of the sun as quickly as possible, and place it into a dry, shady, well ventilated space to cure.

  3. Curing: Gently remove as much dirt as possible without washing garlic, as water can encourage bulb rot. Tie garlic in bundles of 6- 10 bulbs, or lay garlic flat on racks, to allow air flow around the bulbs. Allow garlic to dry or "cure" for 3-6 weeks before cleaning the garlic. Don't forget to label your garlic if you have multiple varieties!

  4. Cleaning and Storage: Once the bulbs are cured, trim off the roots and stems. The outer wrapper should come off easily when running your hands over the outside of the bulb. Leave as many wrappers on the garlic as possible for optimal storage. Place garlic in mesh bags, such as an old orange or onion bag, so that garlic can con continue to breathe. DO NOT store garlic in plastic or in the refrigerator. Keep it out of direct sunlight and away from heat, rather store in a cool dark space such as a pantry or basement for long term storage.

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