Harvesting Garlic

July 13, 2007

Today’s article will take a look at harvesting gourmet garlic, which is one of my favorite vegetables for growing in the home garden.

Garlic is easy to grow, avoided by almost all garden pests, and the gourmet garlic varieties are far tastier than the store bought cloves that you may be accustomed to.

gourmet garlic bulb.thumbnail Harvesting GarlicIn fact, the most challenging aspect of growing garlic for many gardeners is determining the proper time to harvest this generally care free crop. After reading this article you should have no problem harvesting your homegrown garlic bulbs.

When do I Harvest My Garlic Bulbs

There are a few things that make timing the garlic harvest both critical and difficult. First is the obvious; the bulbs grow underground so you can’t see them, and once you dig them up there’s no turning back. Also, there are many different varieties of gourmet garlic and they all tend to grow and mature over varying timeframes.

The reason that the timing of the harvest is so critical is because the bulbs don’t size up until very late in their development. Garlic plants recognize minute changes in day length and as soon as they determine that the days are growing shorter they shut down growth and begin storing energy and mass in the cloves.

So if you harvest your garlic too early you’ll be short changing yourself out of growing the largest sized bulbs possible. On the other hand if you wait too late you run the risk of the paper like clove wrappers splitting, and of the cloves themselves separating from each other.

Reading Garlic Leaves Before Harvesting

When harvesting potatoes and shallots you can use the dying and drying of the plants as a harvest indicator, but if you try that technique with garlic you will have waited too late. The general rule is to harvest the garlic bulbs when the plants have four or five green leaves remaining.

Again, that’s just a general rule, to be more precise you will want to dig up a bulb or two to check the size and status before digging the entire crop. And remember to follow this process with each variety of garlic that you grow in your vegetable garden as they may mature at different times.

It’s that simple and easy to determine when to harvest your homegrown garlic – pay attention to the plant’s leaves and test sample a couple of the bulbs to make sure that the cloves are fully mature and have reached a good size.

Warning: Garlic Digging in Progress

When harvesting the bulbs don’t just pull them out of the ground or you may wind up with a handful of the tops and be left to wonder where the missing garlic bulb is located. A better technique is to use a digging fork to loosen the soil, and then remove the garlic from the ground.

Be careful not to bruise the garlic cloves when digging or handling the freshly dug bulbs. And whatever you do, don’t leave the bulbs exposed to strong sunlight for any length of time. The bulbs will sunburn in short order if they were left lying around in direct sunlight immediately after being dug up.

At this stage in the harvesting/curing process I don’t remove the leaves, stalks, or trim the roots from the bulbs, that will come a couple of weeks down the road. In the next article I’ll provide tips on the important practice of curing garlic that’s been freshly harvested from the home garden.





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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Opal: Vegan Momma July 13, 2007 at 7:49 pm

I usually hang mine up to dry or put them in my dehydrator the rest I store in a cool/dry place. I love garlic it has numerous health benefits. It helps boost your immune system, and intestinal parasites hate the stuff.

Jo Nielsen June 29, 2008 at 1:22 pm

I have been growing garlic for years and have had great success and a beautiful harvest. However, this year I decided to grow soft neck and hard neck garlic. I plant in November for my zone 8, southeren AZ zone. The soft neck I harvested in May and it is beautiful. The hardneck I harvested when the tops dried out and the outer leaves turned brown, early June. I let it dry for 3 weeks in a dry shaded area. I cut the tops and the roots off yesterday and the cloves are moldy. What did I do wrong?

Farmer O July 7, 2011 at 10:36 pm

Thanks and good info for the newbie! My garlic is just getting ready for harvest. It is Silver Rose Softneck. You can see it at ChefsHaven.com

Patson July 28, 2011 at 12:03 am

Thanks 4 information about garlic. I want to plant crop 4 my first tym. Pliz assist me with more information about the plant.

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