I was a bit late harvesting my garlic this year.
I was expecting this flopping over (see photo below), as it happened last year too, after a spell of hot weather in mid-spring. I think it’s also a habit of that variety too (I think it’s Early Purple). Last year I had a lot of very small bulbs, but this year I had planted varieties I thought would do better, and I did for the most part get good sized, good quality bulbs even from those that had flopped and were almost entirely brown. However, I probably should have picked them earlier for ideal quality and storage.
To ensure you get maximum storage life from your garlic you should be familiar with these three separate steps: harvesting, curing, and storing garlic. I’ll deal with harvesting and curing in this post.
When to Harvest Garlic
I take my garlic advice from garlic guru and all-round source of great gardening advice, Penny Woodward. Her book entitled Garlic is the best resource for growing garlic in Australia, in my humble opinion. So, here is a summary of what Penny says on when to harvest and why:
- Garlic will be ready to harvest in spring or summer, depending on where you live and which variety you grow, and this will be seven-eight months after planting.
- Garlic is ready when leaves begin to turn brown and scapes soften. If you dig down to the bulbs you should see clearly defined cloves and decent sized bulbs, but the skin over the cloves should not have split apart revealing the individual cloves inside.
- You should dig out the bulbs once there are still about four to six green leaves left. The base of these leaves wrap around the bulbs and form the protective skin after you have dried and cured your bulbs. If you pick with fewer than four-six green leaves, you risk those layers of protective skin splitting before you have dried and cured your bulbs, which will mean a shorter storage life. You also leave the leaves on while curing (see below) as chemicals from the leaves are absorbed back into the bulb improving quality.
- There is some evidence that leaving scapes on contributes to longer storage life. So, in many varieties, this means choosing between size of bulb and storage life (and not eating the scapes, which I am a big fan of doing).
- Do not to water your garlic for a few days to a week before picking. If bulbs are wet, the dirt will stick to them and stain the outer papery layers, leaving the bulbs more prone to fungal attack, and less likely to store for as long as possible. Penny recommends that, if you must pick bulbs when wet, wash the dirt off them and then proceed with drying/curing.
I’ve posted two shots below – the plants a few months ago when still growing, and just last week when I finally got around to picking them, flopping over with not many green leaves left:
As it turned out, I was lucky and I only had three bulbs that had split. These split bulbs can still be eaten, they just won’t store for a long time.
How To Harvest
Use a trowel or hand fork to dig up from underneath the bulbs so you don’t rip the leaves from the bulb. You want to keep the leaves attached (see above section).
When you dig them out the roots may be solidly packed with soil, so I gently tap the roots with a trowel until the soil drops off, then I brush the bulbs with a soft brush to remove the soil from the bulbs. Penny says do not bang the bulbs against each other or anything else, or you can bruise them.
You can see above that there is still a decent amount of soil sticking to my bulbs after digging out. Below is what they look like after a brush with the soft brush:
I’ll give them a final brush after they have dried out a bit and hopefully I will have removed most the soil and can avoid fungal problems. I really should have let them dry out in the ground first. Next year.
Curing is the process of drying the bulbs to prepare them for storage. If you don’t cure/dry your garlic, it will be susceptible to rotting essentially. Penny Woodward’s advice on how to cure:
- Leave on leaves and scapes. Consider cutting back the roots if you live in a humid climate (not a problem in my cool temperate climate).
- Optional: plait.
- Hang in bunches of 10-15 in a dry, airy position that doesn’t get too hot.
- Leave for a minimum of 2-3 weeks but preferably up to 10-12 weeks for optimum storage life.
I don’t plait mine. One day I will try to read these instructions again and hope that my brain won’t implode. In the meantime I just tie them and hang them in this dry, shady, and airy spot near our back door:
Although having read that they shouldn’t get hot, I’m thinking I’ll now move them to a shed which stays pretty cool on hot days because it’s on the lower side of an east-facing retaining wall.
Last year I just left mine hanging here all year. According to my garlic guru, you should trim the leaves and roots and store them away. I wonder now whether I shortened the storage life of mine by omitting these steps. I’ll do a post on how to prepare them for storage once they are dried properly when I cross that bridge in a few weeks’/months’ time.