Probably the trickiest part of growing garlic is knowing when it’s time to harvest the bulbs. Standing in my garden in the heat of summer, it’s hard to remember how cold it was, on that day I planted the cloves, way back in November. Since then I haven’t had much to do, other than watch it grow. Garlic really is an easy, trouble free vegetable to grow.
Just be sure the bulbs receive a consistent supply of moisture during the warmer parts of the growing season. Generally, this means about 1 inch of water per week. Stop watering about 2 to 3 weeks before the garlic will be harvested, as it helps promote drying of the plants and curing of the bulbs. This is a natural process where the dry conditions help send a signal to the garlic plants for them to start the final stages of growth and begin to move towards dormancy.
Removing the garlic scapes is also necessary, to encourage larger bulbs.
Then comes the tricky bit… knowing when it’s time to harvest. While there are still green leaves on the plant, garlic will continue to grow. So you’ll want to leave the garlic growing for as long as possible to maximise the size of the bulb. But, leave them too long and the bulb will start to deteriorate and split open, making for poor storage.
The green leaves start to die from the bottom up. When the bottom 2 or 3 leaves are dead and the top 3 or 4 are still green, it’s time to lift the bulbs. Be sure to pick a dry day for harvesting and if heavy rain is imminent get them out of the ground before it arrives.
The bulbs are very soft at this stage and should be handled gently to avoid bruising. Carefully lift the bulbs with a garden fork and take them, greens and all, for cleaning and curing. Don’t leave garlic in the hot sun but move it quickly to a shady spot to avoid ‘cooking’.
Garlic needs to be cured before putting it into winter storage. This can take 3 – 4 weeks, although during a humid summer it can take much longer. I usually leave them 2-3 months to be sure. Gently brush off the soil and either hang in bundles of 10-12 or place on mesh racks in an airy, ventilated shed. I find our lumber barn is a great place, hanging it in bunches from the beams, where it gets good airflow, away from the sunlight. Once the bulbs are cured, I’ll trim the stalks, before placing in containers and putting in dark, dry storage for the winter, where they’ll store well for 8 – 10 months.
Of course, a few bulbs go directly to the kitchen. As I peel back the satiny white wrappers, to reveal the pearly bulbs, it’s easy to understand why hard-necked garlic is known as porcelain garlic. The tender bulbs are moist and crunchy. Just perfect for toasted garlic bread at the end of a day of harvesting. Ah, the taste of summer!