Here in western NC June means its almost garlic harvesting time. How can you tell? The leaves are your best clue. The base of the leaves form the papery layers that wrap around the garlic head. As the season progresses, these leaves will gradually dry and fall over.
Different zones, weather conditions and varieties will change the harvesting dates. As a rule of thumb harvest when about half of the leaves are green and half are turning brown.
NOTE: if you are growing a hardneck variety (and sometimes Elephant Garlic) then you may have seen a flower stalk sprouting from the leaves (this is called a ‘scape’). Allowing your garlic to flower will reduce your bulb size, so it is best to snip these at 6-8″. They are edible and tasty – ferment, sautee or roast with veggies!
On a sunny day when the leaves look right, pull out one or two plants and see if the heads have reached full size. If they are still small and wrapped in many layers then they probably need more time. Give them another week and look again.
If there are too few layers and the bulbs are beginning to split then you have probably left them too long and need to pick the rest quickly.
You can dig garlic out with a shovel, pitchfork or potato digging fork. A shovel seems to work best in heavy soils. Be sure to dig in far enough away from the bulb so that it won’t be damaged when you lift it.
Once your garlic has been picked, don’t leave it laying on the ground. Too much sun can “burn” the garlic and cause it to lose flavor. Instead, brush off the dirt and let it cure outside in a shady dry place for a week.
There is some debate on whether washing garlic bulbs leads to storage diseases and problems or not. Some say rinsing makes it easier to use later and does no harm as long as it dries thoroughly afterward. Others say never do it.
Cut the stalks off 6″ or so above the bulb, unless you are going to braid them. Remove the outer layer of skin if it’s torn but don’t remove too many layers because it protects the bulb. It will last longer in storage with more layers.
You can put the cured heads in paper bags or hang them in a dark, cool, dry place. You can eat the bulbs anytime, fresh or dry. You might want to save a few of the best bulbs to use as seed for next fall’s planting.
L’amore che l’aglio!
Garlic Harvesting Guide
Hardneck Garlic: Harvest the scape in spring by snapping off the tendril at the point where it comes out of the plant stalk. Do not let the plant flower or it will reduce the bulb size. Pull bulbs when there are only 5 or 6 green leaves left on the plant. Don’t wait too long or the bulb will begin to split!
Softneck Garlic: Pull bulbs when there are 5 green leaves left. (Softneck garlic does not produce a scape.)
Elephant Garlic: Sometimes the plants make a flower stalk – snap that off if it appears. Pull bulbs when the edges of the leaves begin to brown but are still quite green.