garlic harvest and curing: i did something right

garlic-in-handI MENTION GARLIC HARVEST IN this month’s chores, but each year I need to remind myself of all the finer details: when to dig, exactly; how long to cure; where to store. So shall we have a quick review (and a look at the largest heads I ever grew, thanks to following my own advice carefully and feeding when the shoots were up and growing in spring)?

I used to get confused and wait to harvest the bulbs until the topgrowth was all brown, the way you let daffodils and tulips and other bulbs fully “ripen” before removing the foliage.

In fact, prime harvest time is when some lower leaves have gone brown but about a half-dozen up top are still green. For me that was a week or so ago; depending on the year, it can be July or August. Carefully dig one or two heads, and check to see that the cloves are wrapped nicely in papery tissue; that the heads are really ready. To get them out of the ground without damaging the cloves, loosen the soil around the perimeter of the planting carefully (not unlike you’d do with potatoes) before reaching in to dislodge the crop. Don’t just pull on each stem, because you want to cure the heads with their stems and foliage intact for best results.

With your hands, gently brush off the extra soil but do not wash the heads or dislodge the papery covering.

Plan to lay the heads on screening or hang then in a dry but not sunny spot, such as a porch or garage, where they will need several weeks of thorough drying (and as much as two months, if the season is a bit humid). A dank shed or basement is not the right place; think airy and dry. I often put mine on a heavy framed screen on top of a spare garden cart, and wheel them outside (in the bright shade–not baking in the sun, which will damage the bulbs) each dry day.

Once cured, cut the stalks down to an inch above the bulbs, and trim the roots. More soil will fall away; again, do not wash the bulbs. Store the cured heads in net bags in a cool, dry spot; Ronniger’s, the potato and garlic experts, state the ideal range as 35-50 degrees. In my imperfect cellar it lasts about four months (six to eight is possible in a better spot), so I freeze part of my harvest to have garlic year round. Here’s how to do that, either after curing or around the New Year or so.

If you harvested your own garlic, save the best heads with the biggest cloves for replanting about a month before frost is in the ground (I plant in mid-October). This simple tactic is the basis of the breeding tactic called selection–would a dairy farmer breed from his runt or another weakling cow?

I grow ‘German Extra-Hardy’ (also called ‘German Stiffneck’) for its good performance here and big cloves. Otherwise, order bulbs now. Prepare a sunny spot, when the time comes, plant each clove about 2 inches deep (4 deep in the very coldest zones) and 6 inches apart in the row, with 8-12 inches between rows. Green growth will happen this fall, which is great; don’t panic. It’s a hardy thing. And remember: you get the biggest heads by keeping the garlic well-weeded and when you feed in spring, a lesson I learned by finally listening to myself.

August 8, 2009


  1. Tasha says

    hi Margaret ,
    do you have tips on knowing when the garlic is done curing – tips to look for?
    sorry if I missed it from another post or in this article!
    thank you.

    • says

      Hi, Tasha. If you have a spot with low humidity and about 80 degrees (the perfect situation, with good air circulation — even if you have to use fans) it would take about 2 weeks for the skins to feel papery. I often leave them a bit longer because our summers here are humid, typically, so it takes a bit longer. You’re not trying to dry the bulb, just to make sure the protective wrappers or skins and necks are dry.

  2. Shabnam says

    Lovely looking Garlic! the way to store them for a long time(me Gramma used to do it) is to store them in airtight containers with all the airspace between bulbs filled with fresh ash(stuff you just took out of the grate – could be wood or coke, just very dry ash.

  3. Suzanne says

    Just digging up my garlic now. Have been advised to do this because it has a lot of rust and is looking very unhappy. As I am digging up the bulbs they are also very soggy and some have rotted due to the huge amount of rain we have had recently. I’m worried that if I don’t get the soggy out layers they will rot even more. What do you think?

    • says

      Sounds like the weather backfired on you, since of course the bulbs want to sort of dry off before the end of their time in the ground. Sorry. This happened to me one year, and since some of the bulbs wouldn’t cure well (and therefor wouldn’t store well) I peeled and froze those cloves, like this (but earlier than in that story). You’ll have to use your judgment when you get them lifted and sort them according to their condition. I assume you read this story on harvest/curing.

  4. Gay ayyagari says

    Mother nature’s way of telling us the hard neck garlic is ready to be dug out of the ground–the scape points straight up. I always leave a couple of scapes on the garlic and watch for them to point up!

  5. Judy from Kansas says

    I’ve had great success with garlic the last three years by following your advice, Margaret, but this year I am going to be away for the months of Sept. and Oct. Do you think I would be better off planting late August or wait till about Halloween? I’m in 5b like you, but we’ve had two record breaking years of heat and drought so I’m worried that August – without any watering – would be too hot for them.

  6. patsy olive says

    Hi Margaret, this is my first time on planting garlic. Wish me luck, I live in Texas where it
    gets hot here in summer.

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