Last September, October, or November, you planted garlic cloves and watched them grow steadily and patiently through winter and summer. It’s now summer, and you may be right if you feel the time is ripe for harvesting.
Unlike other vegetables you might have planted in spring and got your harvest in fall, garlic needs between 7 and 9 months to mature, depending on what type you grow. And if you are reading this, you must have gotten the planting right. But in case you feel you could’ve done something better, read this garlic planting guide.
How to Plant Garlic
Growing garlic is easy as long as you get the right timing to plant garlic, nurture healthy crops, and know when to harvest garlic. With garlic, fall planting is highly recommended for two main reasons:
- Fall-planted garlic allows the bulbs to establish strong root systems before the ground freezes.
- It also allows the bulbs to produce green leaves by early spring so they’ll be ready to sprout as soon as the snow melts.
Fall plantings should be ready for harvest in the mid to late summer. Here is a simple guide to planting garlic
Choosing and Preparing the Planting Site
Choose a site that receives 6-8 hours of direct sunlight daily—preparing your garlic bed. Both soft-neck varieties and hard-neck garlic varieties prefer rich, well-drained soil. Remove any weeds and mix in a blend of compost and organic fertilizer into your raised beds. To grow strong and healthy garlic, heavily mulch your raised beds, especially when working with heavy soil.
Planting Garlic Cloves
Plant garlic cloves from a local grocery nursery or order from a garlic seed company. Do not plant cloves bought from the grocery store. Store-bought garlic cloves may be unsuitable for your area.
Break apart the bulb into individual cloves. Select the largest and healthiest ones for planting. Place the garlic cloves in the ground at about 2 inches deep with the tip facing up. Position the cloves 2-4 inches apart. Plant garlic in rows spaced 10-14 inches apart.
When growing garlic, mulch it heavily to allow proper overwintering. Watch out for the scapes if you are not growing soft neck varieties. The scape is a flowering stalk that shoots from hard-neck garlic varieties. You must cut them off as soon as they emerge to increase bulb size. Finally, side-dress your garlic plants in early spring with nitrogen-heavy fertilizer like blood meal, compost manure, or store-bought fertilizer.
Fertilize again in response to the lengthening daylight just as the bulbs swell. Ensure your garlic beds remain weed-free and water every 3-5 days as you wait to harvest garlic. Harvest from fall plantings is often between late June to August, depending on when you planted, the climate in your area, and the type of garlic you grew.
How to Know When Your Garlic is Ready for Harvest
As a serious farmer, you cannot afford to harvest garlic too late or too early. Harvesting garlic too early can yield tiny bulbs, whereas waiting to harvest too late in the season can lead to rotten or overripe bulbs.
Garlic harvests should start when the foliage starts to turn brown. Harvest garlic when the top leaves begin to wither before all the leaves die.
Waiting to harvest garlic after all the leaves have died predisposes your bulbs to rot. On the flip side, garlic matures when some of its leaves are still green, and it doesn’t push itself above the soil, making it even harder to know. Luckily, there’s a trick you can use to know the right time: by looking at the number of leaves left on the garlic plant.
Remember that every garlic leaf above the ground represents a protective layer of ‘paper’ wrapped around the garlic bulb. So, for instance, if a garlic plant has ten leaves, it means ten layers are wrapping the bulb.
While garlic plants grow various leaves, a sure-fire way of knowing they are harvest-ready is when half the leaves are green, and half are brown and dead. Then, usually, the leaves start drying from the bottom.
Be careful not to wait for all the garlic plant leaves to die before you harvest. If you do, the protective ‘paper’ around the bulb rotates, and the cloves are more exposed to soil elements, including worms. As a result, your garlic bulbs will not store well.
If you planted hard-neck garlic, there’s another trick you can use to tell when it’s time to harvest. About week 4 or 6 before maturing, the garlic plant will produce scapes you can harvest and use in your recipes. After this harvest, count for four weeks and check the bulb size.
Important note: Even when the leaves start dying, you should continue watering the garlic plants until about 50% of the leaves are dead. At this point, don’t water them for a week to give the soil time to dry and keep the roots from rotting. Also, it’ll be easier to harvest when the soil is crumbly and loose than when it’s wet and compact.
Before you start your garlic harvest, the first thing you should do is to sample. Lift a bulb to see if it is ready for harvest.
The First Step is Doing a Pre-check
You do this by lightly digging the soil around a garlic bulb with a garden fork. (it could be one or a couple of random bulbs in your garden). As you do this, ensure you don’t damage the cloves or wrappers. Also, it would be best to do it without removing it from the ground.
If the bulb appears too small for your liking, you should return the soil, give it a light pat and wait a little longer. You can come back after a few days to confirm the size. And if it’s big enough this time, the wrappers are tight, cloves are well-formed, and they are ready for harvest.
You should loosen the soil around the bulb using a trowel at this stage. After, pull the garlic plant out of the ground from the base of the stem. Next, you can brush off the excess dirt that’s loosely attached.
You might be tempted to get your garlic bulbs as clean as those in the grocery store, but you resist the urge. Washing garlic bulbs or removing the wrappers after a harvest can compromise how well the bulbs store.
Why? When you wash garlic, the bulbs retain moisture, which can cause fungal infections. This process also takes unnecessary time when you should be striving for efficiency in your process.
Moreover, garlic bulbs naturally clean themselves. You see, dirt only sticks to the outermost protective layer. This layer usually shreds and falls off naturally to reveal a cleaner wrapping layer.
Using and Storing Garlic
If you intend to eat the garlic immediately, trim the roots and leaves, so they are tidy when you bring them to your kitchen. It would be best to store garlic bulbs at room temperature in a dark and dry spot with lots of air circulation. Putting them in a wire basket in the cupboard or pantry will work fine.
Do not store the bulbs in a cold room or your refrigerator. Moisture and light are garlic’s enemies. Instead of increasing its storage life, the garlic will get moldy or start sprouting—store garlic in a cool place with ample air circulation to last longer.
You can use the garlic in 3 weeks or between 7 and 10 days after breaking a garlic head. When harvesting, keep an eye out for garlic bulbs that are cosmetically damaged but are edible. Use these first as they’ll not store well even with the right conditions.
If you’d like to prep garlic for longer storage, leave the roots and leaves intact and follow the instructions in this guide’s ‘How to Cure and Store Garlic’ section.
When Garlic Matures
The golden rule of thumb is that Turban and Asiatic garlic types mature earlier (in some climates, this happens in May), while Silverskin garlic types mature later (usually in July or August).
Often, there are between 6 and 8-week differences between the early and late harvest times. So, if you are going for early-maturing garlic types, be aware that they are smaller than those that take longer to mature.
Here’s a quick example to help paint a better picture of the harvest times. When you plant Siciliano and Ajo Rojo in Southern California in October, you will harvest the garlic bulbs two weeks apart. The harvest season may be in late May or early June for those in warmer climates. However, this could be in late July or early August if your region is colder.
Garlic type Harvest Time:
May to June
July to August
Marbled Purple Stripe
June to July
June to July
July to August
May to June
Glazed Purple Stripe
June to July
Bear in mind that the actual time you’ll harvest depends on your area’s soil conditions and the prevailing weather. So if you grow Asiatic garlic this time and harvest in late May, it doesn’t mean this will be the case in the next season.
Because there aren’t any specified harvesting times, we started by giving you tricks to know when your garlic is ready for harvest. So now, let’s proceed to cure and store of garlic.
How to Cure and Store Garlic
Apart from harvesting, learning how to cure and preserve garlic is also crucial.
Now, you cannot tuck the cloves away for the next planting season after harvesting. Instead, you have to cure them. Using is a process of removing moisture to improve the shelf life of the bulbs. Moreover, curing calms the flavors and makes them more interesting and palatable.
That said, storing your garlic largely depends on how you intend to use it. For example, you could braid the leaves, hang them from a rafter, and freeze or dehydrate them.
Below is a complete guide to everything you need to know.
While you can use the bulbs you’ve harvested in your recipes, the flavor and odor will be quite pungent. So if that’s not something you can stomach, you should cure garlic bulbs first.
Curing is done immediately after you harvest garlic from your garden. This is done to get rid of excess moisture to improve the storage life of garlic. In the process, the flavors improve as well. Consequently, you can comfortably eat garlic raw or cooked.
Layer your garlic plants on a screen or tray to start the curing process. Ensure the roots, leaves, and stalks are intact so that all energies are concentrated on drying the bulb.
Place your tray in a warm and dry spot shaded by direct sunlight but with enough air circulation. You can leave them here for a couple of weeks but return after every 24 hours to turn them. How long this process takes depends on how much moisture is in the plant tissue. When every green leaf has turned brown, and the stems aren’t plaint, you can consider the bulbs successfully cured.
Prepping and Cleaning the Bulbs
After curing, you need to clean the bulbs before storage. The process is easy but can be time-consuming because of the accuracy required.
With scissors, you should trim the roots very close to the ends of every bulb. And with a soft brush, wipe away the remaining dirt on the bulb. Be gentle as you do this to avoid damaging the bulb wrappers.
Speaking of damage, this is a great time to remove damaged or smaller bulbs from the group. Though they may be intact right now, they’ll not last for a long time. As such, they should be the first to be used.
Trimming their stem 3 and 6 inches from the top would be best for hard-neck garlic varieties. Make sure you leave enough of the stem to wick away moisture that might have remained from the curing process. This stem also makes opening the bulb simpler. And if you want to hang the bulbs, the stem will be handy.
The above is true for soft-neck garlic. But in their case, the braiding process should be completed before curing.
If you are content with the results from the variety you planted, you can save some for the next planting season. Pick the plumpest, largest, and best-looking bulbs to use as seed stock. This way, their genes will pass down to the next generation yielding bigger and even better bulbs.
How to Store Garlic
Even after curing your garlic, you have proper storage. The spot you choose should be dark, and dry, have good air circulation, and be between 55 and 60 degrees Fahrenheit.
As we mentioned, you shouldn’t store your bulbs in a refrigerator. The combination of moisture and light creates a conducive environment for mold growth and for garlic to sprout.
You can store cured bulbs in a wire basket, open wicker, egg cartons, horticultural boxes, an open paper bag, or netting. Alternatively, you can prefer the below storage methods.
Dehydrating for Salts and Powder
Dehydrating garlic gives you the longest storage. Any halved pieces can be packed as is or ground for flavoring salt and garlic powder.
Dried pieces, flavored salts, and powder can be used in various flavoring ingredients and foods like casseroles, stir-fries marinades, dry rubs, grilled meats, roasted veggies, soups, sauces, stews, or one-pot meals.
Below is What You Can Do
Peel the garlic cloves and cut them lengthwise in half. Layer them on drying trays, ensuring the cut sides face up.
· Dry the cuts at 140 degrees Fahrenheit for two hours, then turn them for a quick finish at 130 degrees Fahrenheit. When completely dry, the garlic pieces will be crisp.
· Remove them from the drying trays and put them on a wire rack to cool before you package them.
· Store the garlic halves in glass jars with air-tight lids in a dry and cool cupboard.
Tips: if you usually have a surplus harvest, you can purchase a dehydrator. It is economical and can dry other foods, including vegetables, herbs, fruits, and berries.
For ground garlic, put the dry garlic in a mortar and grind them into powder. If you are working with many garlic cloves, this process can be tedious and time-consuming. Consider using a spice mill or a coffee grinder to save some time.
From powdered garlic, it’s easy to make garlic salt. Add sea salt to the powder in a 4:1 ratio and stir until it blends completely.
Note: the flavored salt, powder, and dehydrated halves should be stored in air-tight containers and placed in a cool, dry spot away from direct sunlight. In the right conditions, they can last for four years.
Freezing is another great option to consider. However, it’s important to note that the texture and color of garlic might change after freezing. But on the bright side, the cloves still pack many flavors and can be used in making soups, stews, sauces, dressings, stir-fries, and casseroles.
Below are some ways you can freeze garlic:
Peel and cut the cloves into pieces. Put the tiny pieces of garlic into a freezer bag and push it to the bottom before rolling it into a stick and sealing it. When it’s solid, you can chop, grate or break it as much as you need.
Freeze entire bulbs with the paper tunics and then pack them into containers or freezer bags. Later you can remove cloves as you need them.
Peel and blend your cloves in a blender. Add some olive oil to the garlic in a ratio of 1:1 and then freeze the mixture in small ice cube trays. Transfer the garlic cubes to containers or freezer bags for storage when ready. You can use each cube as you need it. In this state, the garlic can last for 12 months in your freezer.
If you decide to go down this route, you should be cautious.
To store your garlic in oils, peel the cloves, dip them in oil, and store them for a couple of months. After that, even though it’s in a refrigerator, chopped and whole cloves you store in oil should be discarded after four days to prevent the formation of toxins. And those that are left at room temperature should be poured out after only 2 hours.
How do toxins form in these conditions?
Garlic is a low-acid vegetable that has a pH between 5.3 and 6.3. When you add it to oil, you create the perfect conditions for the growth of Clostridium botulinum. This is the bacteria responsible for botulism.
To ensure you are safe, you should track the oil blends closely. Then, right after preparation, you should add the preparation date plus the discard date. And if you are unsure of the oil, discard it.
Bundling and Hanging
This process is easy and super effective. Hanging garlic from rafters or hooks provides ample air circulation for the bulbs and keeps them dormant and dry.
You can tie hard neck bulbs into bundles of six or twelve. With soft-neck garlic, you should braid them immediately after harvesting them and before curing them. At this stage, the leaves will still be green, making braiding easier. To do it efficiently:
· Bundle 3 bulbs together where the stem meets the bulb with a piece of twine and then arrange them on a flat surface with their stems facing down
· You’ll have three plant stems – one on the right, another at the center, and another on the left
· Add the fourth bulb at the center and lay its stem beside the center stem
· Cross the stem on the right over the center stems like you would when braiding hair
· Add another bulb to the center and lay its stem at the center
· This time, cross the left stem over the center stems
· Keep repeating this process until it’s complete
· When you finish adding bulbs, braid the remaining stems to finish the braid
· Trim any loose tips into hanging loops
Like other storage alternatives, store the braided garlic in a dry, cool location with sufficient air circulation.
Pickling in Vinegar, Wine, or Brine
This is another effective way to improve your scape’s shelf life while maintaining and enhancing its flavor. The resulting nutty and mild taste is perfect for antipasto platters or salads.
Add peeled and cleaned cloves to pickle garlic into a sterilized jar and then process it in a hot water bath for some time. As we pointed out earlier, garlic is considered a low-acid vegetable. Therefore, you must use a pickling recipe with high acid to prevent bacteria growth. If you are unsure of the acidity, store the canned pickles in a refrigerator.
You should add preparation and discard dates to the jars to keep track of everything.
Alternatively, you could make a refrigerator pickled with vinegar or wine. All you need to do is add cleaned and peeled cloves into a jar and then top up with dry white or red wine or vinegar. To improve the crunch, you can add some bay leaves. If you want, you can add some pickling spices like celery seed, cumin, chili flakes, peppercorns, mustard seed, berries, and bay leaves.
Refrigerator pickles store for four months in the fridge if they remain submerged in your liquid of choice.
Saving Some Garlic Seed
Garlic cloves can be saved as seeds for the next year’s crop. To achieve this, pick the healthiest looking – the most mature and plump bulbs and store them in open bags or baskets in a well-aerated spot with moderate humidity until planting season.
The Bottom Line
The fact that you got a good harvest is good news, and you should be happy about it. In this piece, you’ve learned when and how to harvest. We’ve outlined some of the do’s and don’ts when harvesting and have even gone deeper to highlight how you can ensure your garlic lasts long.
Being your first harvest, you might be strict about doing things and forget to have fun with the process. But provided you get the conditions right for harvest and storage, everything in between is easy, and you can have fun. Finally, remember to store some garlic for your next planting season. This is a good step towards being self-sufficient.
People Also Ask
What Happens When I Pull My Garlic Too Early?
Harvesting your garlic crop too early will lead to a poor garlic harvest. The chances are high that the bulbs will yield tiny cloves that aren’t fully developed yet. In addition, the protective papers around the bulb may be fewer and too thin, meaning they’ll disintegrate faster, leaving the bulb susceptible to damage and reducing the store life.
What Happens if I Leave My Garlic Too Long in the Ground?
If you leave the garlic too long, the bulbs will over-ripen. The individual cloves might even start to separate and form shoots. Though the cloves are still edible in this form, their storage is significantly reduced. In such cases, you might have to use the garlic immediately.
Should I Let the Garlic Plant Flower?
Well, this depends on what you want. Hardneck varieties produce flower stalks called garlic scapes in early spring. If you aim to harvest garlic seeds, you should let the scapes grow. If your goal is to grow bigger bulbs, you should consider cutting the garlic scapes.
Otherwise, letting the garlic scapes blossom causes the plant to divert its energies to flowering, stunting the growth of your bulbs. The best part is that fresh garlic scapes are edible. They can be eaten raw or cooked. If you don’t trim these, they’ll blossom.
Can I Use the Garlic Right After Harvesting?
Yes, you can. Freshly harvested garlic can be consumed when cooked or raw. You can also eat it before curing it. It’s good practice to separate your harvest into groups that you can consume in about three weeks. Any garlic bulbs that will be used later than this should be cured.
When to Harvest Your Spring Garlic
Spring garlic is also known as baby garlic or green garlic. This is garlic that you plant in the fall, but you’d like to harvest before maturity. Green garlic bulbs aren’t separate yet. However, they are rich in flavor, just like scallion leaves. You can harvest green garlic in early spring when the leaves are tender and green. Some farmers grow green garlic as their primary crop, while others use the technique to thin out a densely planted garden.
How Many Garlic Bulbs Do You Get From One Plant?
Each garlic plant yields one head of garlic. Therefore, every bulb can have between 5 and 10 cloves depending on the type of garlic.
Why is My Garlic So Small?
Extreme weather conditions can stunt garlic plant growth, causing the bulb to be underdeveloped and small. Also, pests can cause stunting. You can also get small bulbs if you harvest your plants too early.