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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.

garlic
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.

  1. Sharon says:

    Bless you for explaining this! I was experimenting with growing garlic, but with so-so success. I’m excited to try again. Now, can you explain how to properly cure potatoes? Mine get “spongy” rather quickly. What am I doing wrong? Much thanks for your wonderful blog.

  2. martina says:

    I forgot to plant garlic this year, don’t know how that happened. Thanks for the pointers. Did plant shallots and just harvested probably 60 bulbs. ooh la la

  3. Abby says:

    Can garlic be frozen? I frequently buy it minced in olive oil. Anything that can extend the joy that is year-round garlic would be helpful! I want to plant some this fall – thanks for the tip to order bulbs NOW.

  4. Janice says:

    Those look amazing! And they grew in all that rain! I’m betting you’ll get a couple of tomatoes to go with the garlic yet!

  5. Nancy says:

    Thanks for the garlic primer! I’ve been intending to try some in my new garden for two years but I didn’t know a thing about garlic (especially about choosing a variety), so now I’ll be able to proceed with confidence.

  6. Cold Frames says:

    Great advice on the garlic. Unfortunately, I’m guilty of giving people good advice and then failing to follow it myself!

    But what I did do this year, was to plant the garlic through weed control fabric, which was well worth the effort, given the very long growing season. So I have a garlic harvest and I haven’t had to do any weeding!

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, Cold Frames. Haven’t tried weed-control fabric, but sounds very simple. Thanks for the tip, and the good words. See you soon again I hope.

  7. Johanna says:

    Wonderful looking heads! I’ll have to remember the feeding hint next year, I always screw that up. Well, this year I screwed up and forgot to order any (I like to plant a number of different varieties every year, never remember to save it, either!). But I ordered eight kinds today, so I’ll be ready next summer. If I can grow some anywhere near that size of the head in your hand I’ll be a mighty happy camper.

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, Matron, all the way from your allotment in the UK. Nice to “meet” you and your garden (where I just learned a few things, thank you). Yes, I was impressed with myself garlic-wise, especially in a year when various other things have gone badly with all the rains. One victory, at least. See you soon again.

  8. Michele in Salem says:

    Hi Margaret! I am enjoying your blog so much! It’s so easy to follow and fun, I feel like I have a partner in gardening to keep me focused. Your garlic looks wonderful! I’ve grown it before but never with that kind of success that you’ve had. I just put “plant garlic” into my planner for October. We’ll see what happens!

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, Michele. Garlic is easy, and if you keep it weeded, water during the late spring and early summer when it’s really growing actively, and feed in spring…voila. Choosing the right variety is another help, and I finally have my go-to kind after much experimentation. Thanks for all your kind words, and do say hello again soon, yes?

  9. Vince says:

    Wow, your garlic came out great! this was my first year of growing “gourmet” garlic. All rocambole: Italian, German and Yugoslavian. Yours came out much bigger than mine, though some of mine did well! I may try again. :)

  10. Stef says:

    Oh yay! I ordered some garlic for delivery next month & planting in fall — I’m really excited to try growing it, but was nervous. Thanks so much for this post, it’s really reassuring

    [Also, just read your tweet re: tomatoes. I have a ton of green fruit on three Rutgers plants, but they will NOT NOT NOT turn red! I am worried that they’ll either never blush for me, or they’ll go red and end up being rotten inside *anyway* (like seemingly everyone else’s here in the NE).

    Basically, I’m spending a lot of time staring at them, explaining to friends and loved ones that I’m “making them ripen with the force of my gaze.” So far though … no dice.]

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, Stef. Most of the tomatoes that finally started to ripen were fine inside, not all black and disgusting, which was quite to my surprise. So maybe we will have a little harvest if not a real one. What a year. Glad you ordered garlic; you will so enjoy growing it, and fresh garlic is a different animal. See you soon again.

  11. Karen in DE says:

    Margaret –

    I have an “allotment” that is mine only from last frost to first frost, so no perennials or vegetables for winter harvesting.

    I would like to do garlic and am considering planting it interspersed with my perennial flower beds. Do you know if that will work?

    Love your blog!

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, Karen. It will not tolerate competition (it will live, but not make big bulbs). That’s the problem; you really want to give garlic its own spot and keep it weed-free (and the garlic would consider your perennials to be “weeds” strange as that sounds). It wants full sun, a space that’s kept clear, to be fed and watered while actively growing. Is there somewhere sunny that you can clear a narrow row?

  12. april says:

    Margaret, I planted the tops…and got garlic. So can you plant the tops and the bottoms and get the same thing? My garlic is very small, I don’t know the variety because my aunt gave it to me from her yard.

  13. Lynn says:

    Yay! Happy garlic time. Thanks for the great tips. This is our second year, and the problem seems to be no real good place to store it. Shed’s too hot, basement too damp, house too small to smell it up! I learned not to wait until all the leaves brown, since each leaf forms a layer of the papery covering, so they might come up “naked.” The local small farmer who gave me the first seed heads says they’re still good to eat and plant, but won’t keep long. I just posted about it, too.

    1. Margaret says:

      Hi, Lynn. Nice to see you. Yes, I didn’t realize that myslef until recently, good point. Important to harvest when 5 or 6 leaves are still green. Thanks, and good luck with your next crop!

  14. Karen in DE says:

    Thanks, Margaret – I will have to make that my plan for next year – there are several sunny areas in my yard that I can put dedicated rows or beds. I already converted a flower bed into an asparagus bed.

  15. robert anderson says:

    Margaret is it true that garlic will quickly adapt to your own microclimate and after a few years of saving the best bulbs, you’ll actually have your own private strain? I’ve heard this but maybe it’s one of those gardening myths?

    1. Margaret says:

      @Robert: I feel like that’s true (and I have read it as you have). I have done better each year and perhaps it’s a combination of better care and also the garlic being selected gradually for the best of the best. Good point.

  16. Mary says:

    Margaret – you didn’t mention a mulch for our newly planted garlic in the fall. What do you use? I used shredded leaves last year and they stayed a little wet in the spring. Do you use a mulch in the fall?

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, Mary. I usually just put the chopped straw back that was there last season, or a little composted stable bedding (a wood chip/shaving product from nearby dairies and horse farms if anything. I think the leaves might lat down too much, you are right. See you soon!

  17. Simon says:

    Have just harvested about 40 bulbs of garlic.
    The weather here in the UK is very changeable.
    The bulbs are drying in the afternoon sun on the outside dinning tables.
    Where do you think is the best place to store them when dry?
    I will be keeping 3 of the best bulbs for next year.
    Woo-Woo way to go

    1. Margaret says:

      @Simon: I was cutting down the stems of my cured bulbs yesterday, trimming the dried roots, and so on. Wonderfully satisfying! I hang my bulbs in mesh bags (that flower bulbs came in, or that the vegetable market sometimes has from buying bulk onions) in my basement. Store the cured heads in net bags in a cool, dry spot; Ronniger’s, the potato and garlic experts here in the US, state the ideal range as 35-50 degrees. My basement is in the 40s in winter, and in fall maybe 50. I have never had it last longer than about four months (they say six to eight is possible).

  18. Simon says:

    Thanks for the advice Margaret
    I am going to store my garlic like I store onions.
    I use my wife’s old tights. Cut off each leg, put a bulb of garlic in, knot it just above the bulb, drop another bulb in and again knot. Carry on until leg full. Hang up and then when you want a bulb cut off just above the below the knot.
    Am just about to prepare the beds where the garlic came from.
    Am going to plant Radicchio,spinach and radish. But first I will leave the seeds to soak in a cup of warm water until tommorrow. Then sow directly in the veg. patch.
    I also had some Autumn seed potatoes chitting in the plate warmer, nice and dark. These are now ready and I plant these as well today.

    Woo-Woo

  19. Randy says:

    Margaret,

    When we made our garden we were so enthusiastic about the flowers we didn’t save room for any vegetables and I regret that now. I think I’ll give planting garlic a try. Seems to me it’s small enough that you can just about tuck it away into any small space to let it grow. We don’t require a lot of food so I suppose you could do that with several things. Thanks for the inspiration!

  20. renee says:

    Margaret-
    Last weekend I received my bulb order from Fedco. I planted my German White garlic cloves according to directions from their website:
    “Plant cloves 5-6″ deep and 4-6″ apart, mid to late October, to
    early November, before the ground freezes.”
    Did I do things right for Maine but wrong for me here in the mid-Hudson valley?
    Help!

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, Renee. It will be fine. I wait another couple of weeks here to plant (until mid- or late October or so) but no harm in earlier. These are tough creatures!

  21. Margo says:

    Margaret,

    Could you offer more details regarding fertilizing your garlic bed in spring? What fertilizer to use and when to apply in spring? Thanks.

    1. Margaret says:

      Hi, Margo. I use an all-natural organic fertilizer (made of meals and composts and so on — the popular brand in my region is Espoma, for example) that’s rated for bulbs and/or the vegetable garden. I follow package directions and “top dress” or “side dress” the granules near the garlic sprouts as they are really starting to grow.

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