garlic harvest: digging, curing, storing–and eventually planting more

IT’S MY FAVORITE HARVEST MOMENT OF ALL: The garlic is in, and the barn smells like it. Seventy-five big, fat heads of ‘German Extra Hardy,’ a hardneck variety also sold as ‘German Stiffneck’ and beloved by Northeast growers in particular, are up and out and under cover. Want to grow garlic for year-round use? Some links below may help, and remember: Save the biggest cloves from the biggest heads you harvest as your “seed” for fall replanting. Such methodical selection over time will yield a strain as zaftig as mine, above. A dairy farmer wouldn’t breed from his weakest cow, now, would he?

  1. Judy says:

    This is what I love about following your blog, – timely reminders. I was wondering as I walked by my garlic last week if it was time yet and now I think it is. Part of the leaves are brown, but not all. Will (carefully) dig one or two this weekend and then I’l know for sure! Thanks, Margaret.

  2. kristi says:

    So hard to save the biggest heads for next year, when I really want to tie a ribbon around them and give them as gifts to impress my friends. :)

  3. If you wanted to develop a better coleus, would you do it by taking cuttings from your best plants? You wouldn’t get very far, because those cuttings are clones of the mother plant. And ‘mother’ probably isn’t the best word because the ‘children’ you produce are genetically identical to their ‘mother’. There’s no mixing of genes like the dairy farmer gets by turning the prize bull in with his best cows. There’s no genetic variation to give you the opportunity to make a choice and select the better offspring and improve the strain. If you want a better coleus (or cow), you need to cross breed to produce some variation. Then collect seeds, grow them out and select the interesting variations.

    Just like coleus cuttings, garlic is vegetatively propagated. The cloves you plant are genetically identical to the ‘mother’ plants they came from. Choosing the best cloves doesn’t change their genetics. You don’t improve your strain or make it better adapted to your particular location. You’re not breeding garlic. You’re cloning it.

    The reason you chose to plant the biggest cloves from the biggest bulbs is that big cloves make big bulbs. They have the reserves stored up to get well established in fall, get through the winter, regrow in spring, and produce big bulbs at harvest the next summer.

    Do a little googling on garlic genetics. It’s amazingly narrow. Many varieties with different names are essentially genetically identical.

    One genetic strategy you might try is to plant several varieties. Each year at harvest, analyze which variety did best. Choose for replanting mostly the best bulbs of the variety that performed best. But also replant some of the best bulbs of other varieties. Maybe next year, growing conditions or pest or disease pressures might favor one of the varieties that didn’t do so great this year. Over the years, the relative space you devote to each may grow or shrink.

    Maintaining that kind of diversity is your insurance that you’ll always have garlic. And who wants to contemplate the alternative?

  4. Danielle says:

    I saw the pineapple lilies you wrote about the other day and didn’t know what they were. Thanks for the knowledge…I’m going to pick a couple of them up.

  5. elizabeth says:

    “■I’m more optimistic about the convenience of making a log or small brick of chopped garlic—not unlike my parsley logs—and slicing off just what I need for a recipe.”
    Did you try this and will you be doing it again with garlic?

  6. maricela says:

    i pull my garlic and lost the stems, my garlic does not have the paper cover on them, the leaves had turned brown and were dry, so u pull them out, so i don’t know if i can still use them for cooking. Does anyone know if the y are eatable or not?

    1. margaret says:

      Yes, the garlic is edible at any stage (even the leaves), but there won’t be much bulb underground yet. It needs to grow through the summer, until the leaves start to brown down by themselves.
      Then it needs to be dug carefully (not pulled). The story here explains it in detail. In most areas July or August or so is harvest time.

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