How to Harvest and Store Garlic

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Many gardeners choose to grow garlic because it’s hardy, easy to care for, and, although it takes some time to grow, mature bulbs can be stored for months. Also, different parts of the garlic plant can be harvested throughout the growing season.

Knowing when and how to harvest is essential for achieving a large yield, and learning how to dry and store garlic properly means you’ll enjoy this spicy vegetable all year long.

Collecting Scapes

Scapes are a portion of the plant that is characterized by small, curling tendrils that eventually form flowers and seeds. Most gardeners cut these off so that energy isn’t directed into producing a flower and instead into making larger bulbs and cloves. The trimmed scapes, however, have a mild garlic flavor and can be used in any dish.

Knowing when to collect the scapes can be a bit tricky. As they grow, they’ll begin to curve and, eventually, will loop over once. Generally, once they’ve achieved this loop, they can be harvested.

Trim scapes with a sharp knife, cutting at the point where the scape meets the top leaf. You may want to wait for a dry day with lots of sun and not too much humidity. This will help the cuts heal and will lessen the stress done to the plant.

Fresh scapes should be eaten within about a week. However, they can also be chopped and frozen for more extended storage.

When to Harvest

Because garlic grows underground, it can be challenging to tell when it’s mature. Usually, it can be uprooted about nine months after planting, but this can be a vague estimate, especially for those new gardeners.

Luckily, there are a few key signs to watch out for.

It may be a good idea to leave a scape or two on some of your plants. The scape will eventually straighten and form a flower, and this is a very good indicator that the bulbs have matured.

Another way to tell that it is ready is by looking at the leaves. As the plant ages, the leaves will begin to wither. This signifies that the bulb’s peel, which is simply an extension of the leaf, is also drying out. When the bottom three or so leaves have browned and died, then it is ready. The top leaves will also look a bit yellow at this point.

Waiting until the right moment to harvest ensures that the bulbs and cloves will be as large as possible. However, it’s important not to wait too long, as the cloves will continue to grow and may split through the skin. Split skins make it incredibly difficult to dry and store properly.

You can always uproot one test plant to tell whether the other plants are ready. The bulb should be large and full, and the peel of the bulb should be slightly dry, with a papery texture.

You can also learn more about the different garlic growth stages here.

The Best Method for Harvesting

It’s best to harvest on a dry day when the soil has dried out as well. You may want to stop watering for a period of days before harvesting. This will ensure that little moisture comes into contact with the skin. Moisture can make storage of the cloves difficult and can lead to mold.

For bigger gardens, use a pitchfork to loosen the soil around the bulbs. In smaller gardens or pots, you can use a gardening fork. Reach as far as possible into the soil and grasp the garlic by the stalk or top of the bulb, and gently work it free from the soil. Hardneck varieties can be pulled up by the stem’s base, but softneck varieties must be pulled up by the bulb.

Brush away any loose soil. Don’t wash the clove, as this can cause mold and future storage issues. You can help eliminate excess soil by leaving the bulbs in a shady spot to dry directly after harvesting. The soil should dry enough that it can be gently shaken off.

Drying the Cloves

Cloves needs to be dried thoroughly so that they are sealed inside their own dried peels. This ensures that you can store the garlic for between five months and a year, depending on your garlic variety.

Choose a dry, dark space to cure your cloves. The area should be about medium room temperature, and there should be good air circulation. A basement or shed often works well, but a pantry can work too. You can use a dehumidifier to remove any excess moisture, which can inhibit the drying process.

There are two options for drying your bulbs. You can bunch several cloves together, tying their stalks, and then hang the bunches. Or, you can lay the them out on a well-ventilated surface, such as a wire rack. Most people choose the wire rack method, as it offers a bit more airflow.

It will take about three to four weeks for the garlic to dry thoroughly. You can tell when the it is dry by looking at the peel. It will be completely dry, with the familiar papery garlic skin texture. You can also cut a bulb away from its stem, about an inch from the bulb. If there is any green visible in the cut stem, the garlic is not yet cured and should be left for another week or so.

Once it has thoroughly dried, you can cut the bulbs away from the stems and trim off the roots. This is also a good opportunity to eliminate any remaining soil by brushing it away from the bulb. The first layer of peel may also come off, but be sure not to damage any other layers.

You will also want to check for any bulbs that seem bruised, soft, or moldy. Discard these bulbs, but don’t throw them away unless the entire bulb is bad. Damaged bulbs won’t store well, and, if left with the other garlic bulbs, they can spread mold. However, any bad spots can be trimmed away from the fresh garlic, and it can be used within a week.

Storing Cloves

There are various ways to store your cloves, but you should follow a few simple rules to ensure that your garlic lasts as long as possible.

Place the cloves in a dry, dark area with adequate ventilation. A pantry or cupboard works well. You can store the bulbs in a paper bag or a container with holes in it, such as a mesh basket. Air temperature between 32 and 50 degrees Fahrenheit is ideal, so you may want to consider storing the garlic in a shed or garage.

Successfully harvesting, drying, and storing garlic means that you’ll be able to enjoy cloves in your recipes all the time. In addition, the larger bulbs can be kept for planting the following season, so you can continue growing garlic for as long as you like.

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About the author: Carley Miller is a horticultural expert at TheGreenPinky. She previously owned a landscaping business for 25 years and worked at a local garden center for 10 years.

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