It’s mid to late July here in southern Ontario and in our zone 5a garden this is when we start to think about pulling up that garlic we planted in the fall. Garlic is a staple in our family – we simply adore this aromatic wonder. I’m one of those people who doubles or triples the amounts called for in recipes.
For example, a recipe with one clove… what!?!?! No good recipe only has ONE clove of garlic (in my humble opinion of course) and is in desperate need of 3-4 times that amount! Call it an garlic education if you will…
If you are interested in the materia medica (medicinal properties etc.) information about garlic check out this post here.
When to Harvest Garlic
There are some things to look out for – signs that will tell you when it’s time to harvest your garlic bounty. However these tips and signs are weather dependent and need to be modified based on the kind of summer you are having. Dry years will be very different than wet years, as will hot vs. cold temperatures.
In general each leaf on a garlic plant represents a layer of papery wrapping around the garlic cloves. If you harvest too soon the garlic may be immature (smaller) and the wrappers may not be fully developed. On the flip side, if you wait too long all of the wrapper could rot away leaving your cloves exposed and at risk of mildew, mold and disease. Plus you need some wrappers around your cloves so your garlic will store well.
The general rule of thumb is to harvest once the lower leaves have started to brown/yellow. You want to ensure you harvest your garlic with at least half of your leave still green and intact. I have read sources that say to look for 3-4 brown leaves and the remaining green.
Sounds easy right? Well there are always exceptions to rules aren’t there?
The exceptions almost always arise due to weather conditions. Last year we were in a severe drought and this year we are drowning in rain and cold weather. Both of these circumstances caused us to harvest our garlic early. During droughts and dry years the leaves will die back faster which will result in an early harvest. During a wet year (like what we’re experiencing this year), leaving them in the ground too long could result in rot. So once again we harvested early.
So basically watching your plants is a far better indicator to harvestability (is that a word?) than a calendar.
Some Helpful Tips
- Ideally should stop watering your garlic 1-2 weeks prior to your planned harvesting day. This will encourage the lower leaves to dry up.
- This may be impossible to do if you are having a wet summer though
- Always use a shovel or garden fork to harvest your garlic. Pulling it directly from the ground could result in bruising and damage to the cloves which means it will not store well.
- If you use a shovel make sure you don’t hit or cut the garlic with the blade
- Ensure you don’t leave your harvested bounty in the heat of the sun for too long as this will blanch and possibly burn your bulbs.
Drying and Curing Your Garlic
If you have a spot to hang and dry your garlic outside I definitely suggest that you do because it can get quite messy. However if you are like us and do not currently have a suitable place outside to hang our garlic, then make sure you gently dust off as much soil as you can before bringing them inside. Resist the urge to wash them off!
Where to Hang/Dry Your Garlic
If you have a relatively dry barn and/or garage these make great spots for hanging your garlic. Unfortunately our garage leaks like crazy (landlord is finally coming to fix the roof!) plus we’re having an incredibly wet summer so outside was not an option for us. If you are able to, run a fan where you are hanging/drying your garlic to help promote air flow.
We opted for the next best bet which was our basement. Basements can make good drying areas as well, but you will likely need to control the humidity. Hydro costs might be a concern, but if you want the best of your garlic harvest run that fan and dehumidifier for the duration of the drying process.
How to Hang/Dry Your Garlic
Hanging is your best option for drying your garlic, but you need to work with what you have. As you can see we took advantage of every spot we had after we ran out of room to hang the garlic. The key to good drying is low humidity and adequate airflow around your bulbs. So if you can’t hang your garlic then lying them off the ends of tables (or treadmills… ha ha) also works. We also took advantage of our laundry drying rack for this year’s harvest.
Your garlic will be heavy so we divided them in groups of 4-6 bulbs for hanging. This ensure they won’t fall from the rafters due to their weight and also allows for good airflow.
You will be drying your garlic until all of the leaves have turned yellow. Depending on where you hang them, temperature and humidity this could take anywhere from 2-4 weeks. Two weeks seems to be the most common.
After the Garlic is Dried
Once all of the leaves have dried back it will be time to clean off and store your garlic. If your plants are especially dirty you can remove a layer of the wrapper leaving you with a beautiful white bulb. If they are just a bit dirty you can use an old dry toothbrush to brush off any remaining dirt.
Using scissors trim the roots and yellow leaves off leaving a bit of the stem (for hardneck garlic). If you are able to grow softneck in your garden you can braid the leaves.
If you plan on growing garlic next year you will want to save the largest cloves for planting in the fall. Each clove represents a new garlic bulb so if you want 200 plants next year you will need to save 200 of the largest cloves.
If your garlic is dried and cured well it will store at room temperature (away from steam or humidity) for 6-8 months easily. We grow hardneck garlic in our garden (softneck requires a much warmer climate) so even though we can’t braid it, we do like to create our own version of bundles/braids and hang them in our kitchen. A beautiful bunch of garlic hanging in a kitchen is always a great conversation starter.
Check out the video below for the technique we use for hanging our hardneck garlic (it’s near the middle end of the video).
Alternatively you can store them in old onion bags or mesh bags. While you can store them in the fridge flavour will be greatly compromised (reduction in flavour) so I recommend against it. Small bowls with holes (like colanders), paper bags or wire baskets also make good garlic storage spots. Just ensure you keep them away from humidity and wild temperature fluctuations.
Thanks for joining me! I hope you have a fruitful and successful garlic harvest.
P.S. Pin for future reference and to share the garlic love 😉