Harvest, curing and storage for homegrown garlic
Last fall, you may remember we covered best practices for fall garlic planting, why we plant in fall, plant spacing, mulching, and the common garlic types. And in that article, I promised we would revisit the subject around harvest time in early summer. When it comes to garlic and producing the highest quality product in your home garden, the harvest and postharvest technique are just as important, if not more so, as all the plant maintenance that came before.
Spring Growth under row cover.
When to harvest
Garlic cloves planted in October thru early November will start to send up shoots in late winter. Throughout the spring, garlic will produce lush green stalk with several tiers of keeled leaves. Green garlic, i.e. immature plants, can be harvested at any time during the spring before the bulb is fully formed. These look like thicker scallions or spring onion can be used similarly but have a more pungent garlic flavor.
Hardneck varieties like this pictured 'Music' cultivar approaches maturity (usually around Memorial Day) you will start to notice serpentine-like flower stalks and buds. These winding stems, known as scapes, are usually cut off at the leaf base to encourage the continued growth of the below-ground garlic bulb. But these tender stems and flower heads are both edible and delicious. Enjoy them grilled, pickled, or made into a pesto. Harvest scapes before they begin to straighten and become stiff.
Harvest mature garlic, June through early July depending on when the leaves begin to brown and at least four leaves are still partly green. Test dig when the lower 1/3 of the foliage is yellow. If the cloves have segmented, it is time to harvest. If they are not segmented, wait another week or two. Stop irrigation when tops start to dry. Protective paper-like bulb wrappers will begin to break down if the plants are left in the ground too long, and the bulb may start rotting.
Curing and storage
The curing process encourages the right amount of drying for the development of garlic’s protective outer layer, i.e. bulb wrapper. It’s important to take care when harvesting, use a digging fork to loosen soil and keep stalk and bulb intact. Lightly shake the soil from the roots and place the whole plant in a shady, well-ventilated area (shoot for 68-86° F). You can bundle and hang or place a few layers on trays—using fans can be helpful to ensure good air circulation. Curing is complete when the stems are dry, generally 2-4 weeks after digging. Once cured and dried, remove tops (leave 1” of the stem) and cut roots to 1⁄2” or you can experiment with braiding soft next varieties as a gift for friend and family.
At ambient curing temperature, garlic can store for 1-2 months before becoming shriveled. However, once curing is complete long-term shelf life, upwards of 9 months can be achieved with cold storage at 32° F with low RH (60 to 70%). If you’re saving a portion of your harvested bulbs for planting in the fall, store closer to 50 ° F to promote consistent sprouting in next year’s crop. Garlic cloves used for seed should be of the highest quality, with no disease infections, as these can spread to new fields and next year's crop.
Try new ways to prepare and enjoy your harvest, dried garlic, garlic infused salts and oils, pickled and fermented garlic (black garlic), garlic scapes and flowers in a floral arrangement
As always, embrace your love for garlic and the perfumed breath that follows!