If you didn’t read or don’t feel like reading my post about garlic self sufficiency , I will quickly recap: I am attempting to grow my family’s entire consumption of garlic, about 70 heads per annum to be specific. I have really enjoyed the magnitude of this project, the sheer volume of garlic you can grow in 40 square feet of ground is staggering! It took me a full hour to pull up all 83 garlic plants and another full hour to wash the mud off them. The sheer weight of lugging arm loads of garlic out of the garden was shocking (but satisfying too). When I loaded all the garlic into a tub to take in side for the night, I couldn’t even lift it! Back to lugging arm loads of garlic, into the house this time.
I have been thinking about harvesting garlic all week and really I probably could have done it last week but the rain kept me in side, watching from my living room window as each day the garlic leaves got a little yellower. You know its time to think about harvesting garlic when the leaves start to yellow and die back, once garlic plants are looking about half dead, garlic bulbs are probably ready for harvest. Do not wait until the whole garlic plant is totally dead or the bulb will also be totally dead, discentragrating and not edible. If you feel like getting technical you can count off the leaf accesses, to make sure half of them are yellowed.
Garlic has shallow roots and digging around to see what kind of bulb has formed has never worked out for me, I always manage to break the roots or ruin the bulb. Instead I choose a likely candidate and pull up a testers. To find out if garlic is ready, peel back the outer layers surrounding the bulb, hopefully you will see defined cloves have formed, young uncured garlic has many more protective layers than fully aged garlic you get from the store, you may really have to dig in to the bulb to find those cloves, if there is any doubt in your mind keep peeling back until you see the internal stem.
If you didn’t find cloves, keep checking back every week. If you took out a bulb too soon and its one big clove with no segments you can use immature garlic for cooking, it tastes just fine but doesn’t store well, so use it up as soon as you can.
A sunny day is ideal for harvesting garlic, it’s a muddy task and if its not raining I can keep the garlic mess outside, you would be astonished at how much dirt thoese little roots hold if you let them in your house uncleaned.
I have damaged too many garlic bulbs by digging them up, the stalks of hard neck garlic are so tough compared to the roots, I pulled up the garlic out of the ground without any digging, I only grew hard neck red garlic this year. Everything I have read about garlic says not to rinse the bulbs or clip the roots before curing but realistically I don’t have a space in my tiny city house to let the mud dry and fall off garlic naturally, so I do exactly what you are not suppose to do and cut off the roots and rise off the dirt as soon as I harvest it. Perhaps a garlic connoisseur could tell the difference between my unorthodox garlic and garlic that was cured properly, all filthy and rooty but my taste buds are not that sophisticated. The first time I grew garlic I did let it cure “properly” and I spent the whole winter vacuuming up a never ending pile of garlic dirt. For now my very clean rootless garlic is spread out all over the place and with little to no dirt clean up, I will tackle curing tomorrow.