The garlic cloves you planted last fall have grown into plants three to four feet tall and the leaves on the stalk are beginning to brown. Wondering what to do next?
Read on, our tips will help you store up a great garlic harvest!
Above ground, each leaf on a garlic plant is counted as one papery wrapper around the maturing bulb. The wrappers protect the garlic bulb, keeping the aroma, flavour and cloves plump. It’s those wrappers that enable you to store garlic into the winter season. There is a challenge though – if you lift garlic too soon, the bulbs below ground may be undersized, and if you lift them too late, the papery wrappers may be too thin to protect the cloves.
Here’s how to tell when your garlic is ready for lifting:
The green leaves on the garlic plant begin to dry from the bottom and up the central stalk. When the leaves on the bottom half of the plant have browned and dried up, it’s time to lift the bulbs. The top half of the leaves on the plant should still be green, ensuring protective wrappers for the bulb.
Choose to lift garlic on a day when the soil is dry. If the soil is dry and sandy loam, it should easily brush away from the bulbs with the light touch of your hands. Moist soils will be heavier, tending to cling to the garlic bulb. Don’t wash away the dirt from the bulbs or remove the outer papery wrappers. Take extra care when lifting not to damage the papery wrappers that protect the garlic. A garlic bulb might not seem fragile, but it easily bruises. Handle your garlic harvest with care and avoid piercing, bumping, or dropping the bulbs. Bruising quickly reduces the quality and storage life of garlic.
When lifting, gently loosen the soil with your hands, digging down and around a bulb before fully lifting it from the soil. The bulb should be large and tight, with well-formed cloves.
Use a garden fork or shovel to lift the soil around and well underneath the bulbs so that they are untouched and intact. In fact, the whole plant should be intact when you lift the garlic bulbs. Avoid pulling on the stem or you may separate the garlic bulb from the stalk.
Take your harvest, bulbs and plants attached, to an airy, well-ventilated place out of the sun. The garage or garden shed works well for this purpose. Place garlic bulbs in a single layer on drying racks or screens and leave them to cure for about two weeks. Check on them every few days and turn them. The green leaves on the plant will eventually turn brown and dry up.
After two weeks, cut away the dried stalk, leaving 10 cm (4”) attached to the garlic bulb. Trim roots to 1-2 cm (0.5 – 1”) from the base of the bulb. Brush the roots with your fingers to release any remaining dirt and carefully remove the dirty outer layer of the papery garlic wrappers.
Store garlic bulbs in mesh produce bags, burlap sacks, or wire baskets at cool room temperatures 16-18°C (60-65°F). Good air circulation and dark or low light conditions will allow your garlic to keep 6-8 months or longer depending upon the variety.