Tips for Harvesting Garlic in 9 Simple Steps
You can choose any variety of garlic to plant for harvesting. Whatever type or taste you prefer is possible. Planting garlic is easy. You can utilize a small garden space or grow it on large scale. You must remember not to try to pull the bulbs of the ground by the above ground stems. If you can remember that, and make sure to cure the garlic after it is harvested by leaving the leaves on then you are golden. Make sure to weed frequently around the garlic and you should be able to grow some delicious peeled garlic bulbs for your friends and family.
- Garlic Varieties
There are many varieties of garlic that can be planted and are great for making tasty dishes and improving health. They include; stiffneck, softneck and great head just to name a couple. What is most important is to get the largest bulbs possible stored before the next season’s planting. The choice of which type of garlic to use is largely a personal taste question.
- Soil Choice
Garlic is capable of growing under a variety of soil conditions. The best time to get your garlic ready for planting is a few weeks before the ground freezes or right before the cold season. Most garlic is planted during the fall. You can still plant garlic other seasons, but the bulbs you harvest will likely be much smaller. You really need a cold period for the best healthiest growth. It give the garlic time and the right temperature to grow strong root systems. You want the soil conditions to be rich with minerals and nutrients. One of the best ways to ensure that you have optimal soil conditions is to mulch the soil and add green manure to the soil. Composted manure is a very popular soil choice. Mulching conserves water, moderates soil temperature and oxygenation, and inhibits weeds from growing. Most varieties of manure for mulching are easily obtainable through local sources in most cities and states.
- Seed Selection
One way to grow and harvest garlic is seed selection. You want to make sure you choose seeds from known sources and realize that as you use these seeds through multiple growing seasons their yields will improve over time. Garlic is very adaptable. It will grow better as it adapts to your soil and weather conditions. However, this process can takes years to perfect and we do not recommend trying to grow garlic starting with seeds unless you are an expert farmer already. The best method is to use cloves from an existing garlic plant.
Start by separating the bulbs of garlic into individual cloves. You may use the garlic from your previous harvest or from another farm or garden. Avoid planting garlic from a supermarket or a grocery store if possible. Most of the garlic at stores is treated to make the shelf life longer. This is not ideal for a garden or farm. Each clove will develop into a full garlic bulb that is why you need to separate each clove. Do not remove the dry husk. Leave it on.
- Planting Garlic
Once you have chosen when you are going to plant (preferably the fall), obtained your garlic cloves for planting, and prepared the soil, you are ready to plant. You can configure your garden in single or double rows. The choice really depends on the amount of space you have. You just need to make sure that there is at least 4” to 8” spaces between each plant for them to grow properly. If you space the plants closer together the bulbs will likely be much smaller. We recommend 8” space for maximum yield per bulb. We like them big! In your well mulched soil, poke holes with your finger at the chosen spacing (8” apart) about two inches deep. Make sure the soil is loose and well drained. You will want to put one clove with the point facing upward in to the hole. Cover the clove with a generous amount of mulched soil to help protect the roots throughout the entire winter. After a while, shoots will start to grow from the ground.
Once you have planted taking care of the garden is easy. It takes a few minutes a day for weeding and watering. In the early days of June set aside some time for cutting off the flower buds. Do not let them sprout because they will dilute the nutrients and the flavor of the garlic.
- Harvest Preparations
During the growing season you will need to water the garden often. If you live in a climate with little or no rainfall make sure to water your plants manually or they will likely die. You want to make sure to maintain an even amount of moisture throughout the entire season. Also, it must be noted that watering must cease entirely during the last few weeks of the growing season. It is also best if the location you chose to plant your garden is very sunny not shady. This of course makes it more difficult to not let the soil dry out. For garlic plants that are grown in summer it must be noted that this is not ideal time. In warmer climates the garlic will likely need time to adapt to the conditions for it to yield well.
It takes a bit of experience to know when to stop watering garlic, but it is essential that you stop giving the garlic garden any water 2-3 weeks before you harvest it. You know it is time for the garlic harvest when the leaves start to turn brown from bottom going upward. This will help you determine when the water must stop. Keep your eyes peeled and observe the leaves.
It is important to note that when the leaves turn brown, the bulbs lose their covers. For this reason, it is important not to let the cloves split underneath the ground. Another way to know when to harvest garlic is by marking the date you originally planted and then harvest the garlic exactly 9 months later approximately. This can vary from garden to garden based upon the climate and soil conditions. But it can help you become more astute during that later months making sure you are aware of the plants progress. Stay observant and you will be fine. If you planted in the fall then look towards late summer for the approximate timing of your harvest.
- Harvesting Garlic
After waiting and being diligent and patient it is finally time to harvest. Harvest time is most rewarding part of the process. You finally get to see the fruits of your labor, and if you are a first time farmer or gardener then you get the chance to see if you planted in the right way.
Start by digging up a few plants and inspecting them. Clean away all of the dirt. In a mature bulb that is ready to be harvest the bumps will be prevalent. You want to make sure that there is no deterioration and the skin is intact. Use a flat shovel to loosen the ground around each of the plants before digging them out by hand. Do not pull hard. If the roots systems are very strong keep using the shovel or get a hand tool to loosen the ground further before attempting to remove the plant out of the soil. Also, it is important not to damage the bulb with your shovel of hand tool. If you pierce the bulb you will damage it and it will be unusable and have to be thrown away. Also, do not leave your garlic in the sun. It can get burned and ruined by too much sunlight. Sun can dramatically alter the taste of garlic for the worse, so as soon as possible get it into a shaded area after it is harvested.
Using a garden shovel to dig out the garlic might be tricky, as you may damage it without knowing and cut through it. Treat your garlic like it is an egg, and pull it from the soil gently. If it the neck gets hurt it will affect the amount of time you can store the garlic and it will not last as long as it should. Hold the garlic by the neck when taking it from the ground. Shaking the extra soil, place it gently on the ground. After this, remove the dry leaves in preparation for curing.
After you have dug out the garlic from the ground start by separating the bigger from the smaller and the medium bulbs. After garlic is harvested it has to be cured properly. Remove any and all chunks of dirt from the bulb. Do not wash or bruise it though. Make sure the dirt that is on the roots is removed. Again, without bruising. Leave the roots and leaves on the bulb. Both have a positive effect on the cloves and improve the flavor when left intact. Make sure you are doing all of this in a shaded area and not exposing the bulbs to repeated sunlight.
It is preferable to hang garlic when curing it. Attached a string from on point to another in a shaded area with good air circulation. You can hang a lot of plants per string. How many is dependent upon the size of the plants and their moisture level at the time of harvest. You want clean fresh air to constantly be circulating between the plants so make sure there is enough space between them for the air to flow freely. 80 degrees Fahrenheit is the ideal temperature for drying and curing garlic. Allow two weeks of drying time inspecting them periodically to make sure no pests are disturbing the plants. You want the skin to be very dry. You can use fans if needed.
Drying garlic bulbs may take some time for sufficient drying and proper storage. We say two weeks, but it can vary from climate-to-climate. The kind of weather will determine the amount of time that you use to dry your harvest. Be patient. If humid air dominates your climate then it is best to use a fan to circulate the air around the garlic. Mold can form around the garlic if the air does not circulate well. Drying of the bulbs will increase the flavor of garlic. The garlic bulbs will dry and the cloves harden. You may remove the most upper cloves dry covers and trim off the leaves and roots.
- Braiding Garlic
One popular method of curing and drying garlic is to braid it. Do not tie too many garlic bulbs together or tie them too tightly because they need good air circulation. Take about 9 bulbs and tie/braid together for proper drying. For the garlic to dry properly it is important to hang the braids in a place where there is sufficient air circulation for proper drying. You may choose to hang them in the garage or on a porch. They key is good air and shade.
- Storing the Harvest
For your garden harvest to last a while it is important to store the garlic in a place where there is no direct sunlight and the air is sufficiently circulating and fresh just like during the curing process. For the next season you may want to save some medium sized bulbs. Once you harvest your garlic you will want to eat it. The most important step to getting into the good stuff inside peeling garlic fast is key!