It seems like it was just yesterday, that we were planting garlic cloves in the fall. Now as we near the end of spring it’s almost time to harvest. We’ve had pretty exceptional conditions for garlic this year. It’s been very easy to appreciate the tall growth of lush green stocks planted densely in straight rows. Which adds a beautiful visual dimension to the garden space.
But as the temperatures rise, and the bulbs start to reach their maturity. It’s important to keep your eyes open for certain plant behaviors that signal the perfect time to harvest. Leaving bulbs in the ground for too long can lead to split skins and increased likelihood of postharvest losses due to moisture and decay. Unlike onions, you should harvest garlic when the leaves begin to brown, but at least 5-6 leaves are still green—roughly 60 percent of the plant. You can also test maturity by cutting a cross section of a fresh dug bulb. If the cloves don’t fill the wrapper completely then the crop still needs a little more time before harvest.
And while we’re likely another couple weeks out from our typical bulb harvest (mid-June to early July), our Hardneck varieties offer us another edible plant part that comes a few weeks early. You may have already started to notice serpentine-like flower stalks with buds emerging from the center stalk (late May to early June). These winding stems, known as “scapes,” are usually cut off at the leaf base to encourage 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.
To learn about the planting process for garlic, read our article here.