WHEN SHOULD WE HARVEST HARDNECK GARLIC? TIMING IS EVERYTHING!
Updated: Mar 22
WHEN SHOULD WE HARVEST GARLIC? Garlic bulbs grow underground, so it's not necessarily easy to tell when the bulb has matured. TIMING IS EVERYTHING. Like fortune-telling, it’s all in reading the leaves. This guide provides suggestions for you so you can get the timing right for your garlic harvest! If garlic bulbs are kept in the ground too long, some of the outer wrappers around the head will probably be disintegrating. Don't let this happen. Each of the flat garlic leaves above ground, corresponds to a wrapper around the garlic bulb.
When to harvest garlic depends on the type of garlic you are growing and the climate you live in. In general, garlic is ready to harvest in the late summer or early fall. However, if you live in a warm climate, you may be able to harvest garlic as early as the spring. By following these tips, you can harvest garlic successfully and enjoy its delicious flavor for many months to come.
Here are some tips for harvesting garlic:
Check the leaves. The leaves of garlic bulbs will start to turn yellow and die back when the bulbs are ready to harvest.
Gently dig the garlic bulbs up. Gently pull the garlic bulbs up from the ground, being careful not to damage the roots.
Leave the bulbs away from direct sunlight to dry and cure for a few weeks. This will help to cure the garlic and make it last longer.
Store the garlic in a cool, dry place. Garlic bulbs can be stored in a cool, dry place for several months.
Here are some common problems when harvesting garlic:
Harvesting too early. If you harvest garlic too early, the bulbs will not be mature and will not store well.
Harvesting too late. If you harvest garlic too late, the bulbs will be tough and will not store well.
Not curing the garlic properly. If the garlic is not cured properly, it will not store well and may rot.
Timing is Everything.
When harvesting garlic, timing is very important. If you wait too long to harvest, the delicate wrappers that cover the garlic bulbs will disintegrate. If you harvest too soon, your garlic bulbs might not reach their full potential size. Since the crop is hidden underground, how do you know when this edible Allium is ready for harvest? Like tarot and fortune-telling, it’s all in reading the leaves. On a hardneck garlic plant, leaves are on both sides of the stem. Each leaf corresponds to a thin, papery skin around the bulb that's growing underground; the lower leaves are the outside layer.
If you harvest your garlic at the right time, there should be several layers of bulb wrappers remaining, the bulbs should be plump, the bulb should be mature, free from mold, decay, shattered cloves, and from damage caused by dirt or staining. The bulbs should be free from sunburn, sunscald, cuts, sprouts, tops, roots, disease, insects, and mechanical damage. Each bulb should be fairly well enclosed in its outer sheath. The minimum diameter of each bulb shall be not less than 1-1/2 inches. (Source: USDA Standards for Grades of Garlic).
Don't Make This Common Mistake.
Folks that are growing garlic for the first time, sometimes believe that if they keep the garlic in the ground for as long as possible, they'll harvest even larger bulbs. Unfortunately, this idea is wrong. With hardneck garlic, waiting until late fall to harvest will result in garlic bulbs that are overripe. Each leaf on the hardneck garlic plant corresponds to a layer of "wrapping paper" that protects the bulb and cloves. By waiting until fall to harvest, likely all of the leaves will have turned brown. Because the delicate and important wrappings have begun to disintegrate, the individual cloves will begin to separate from one another, and the resulting "unwrapped" bulb won’t store as long. (Counterpoint: Harvesting too early can also diminish the garlic's storage life in storage, and may prevent the bulbs and cloves from reaching their full potential.)
Harvesting Garlic Scapes.
In late spring or early summer, hardneck garlic produces curled garlic scapes, which are immature flower buds on succulent stems. The end of the scape has the appearance of a plumb bob. Removing the scape allows the plant to put more energy and resources into the bulb, resulting in increased bulb size! Clip or snap off the scape before they push up vertically. Allowing the Garlic Scapes to grow, will stunt the growth of hardneck garlic bulbs by redirecting energy into the production of seeds (bulbils). Garlic scapes, if not removed will continue to grow, while your garlic is curing. Garlic scapes are a delicious big-flavor vegetable that can be refrigerated, frozen, (or blanched, then frozen), dried and used to make a delicious white-bean-nut-parmesan cheese pesto.
When To Harvest Garlic (For Use as Food).
When harvesting garlic, wait until the bottom three leaves of the plant have turned brown and begin to droop downward and the remaining leaves are still green and vibrant. Dig a bulb or two for observation and inspection. Because each leaf on the garlic plant corresponds to a thin, papery layer around the bulb that's growing underground; the lower leaves are the outside layer. When the bottom three leaves have turned brown and dried, then you know that the outside layers of the bulb are also dry and papery. Each leaf that browns is one fewer potential wrapper to protect the bulb. (Harvesting too soon can also diminish the bulbs’ shelf life in storage, and may limit the bulbs from reaching full size.) If you wait for all the leaves to go brown, you will sadly see the overripe bulbs whose cloves are starting to separate from one another, and the resulting "unwrapped" heads won’t store as long.
When To Harvest Garlic (For Use as Your Own Seed for Planting)
After interviewing a few long-time garlic growers, we found an interesting and common theme. "If you plan to use the cloves from your harvest, as seed, you may want to wait a little longer to harvest the hardneck garlic." This advice seems to be contrary to the other writings and suggestions in this article. Though the suggestion of waiting a little longer may just have credible merit. Keeping the garlic in the ground for an extra week or two allows the cloves to potentially put on a little extra size. The extra girth potentially results in more stored energy in the clove, and could, potentially produce larger bulbs and cloves for next year's harvest. Even if some or all of the protective layers disintegrate, apparently that is perfectly okay. As a matter of fact, the bulb with disintegrated protective layers makes it much easier to separate the bulb into individual cloves prior to planting. And, because the garlic will not be stored, the protective layers are no longer necessary.
The garlic plant includes a mature bulb, that is several inches deep, and has a strong root system. Try Not to Pull and Extract Bulbs Out of the Ground Unless Your Soil is Very Fluffy and Loose. Such rough handling could damage that thin, paper-like protective layer that surrounds the garlic head. Instead, loosen the soil around it with a garden fork, spade, or shovel, and dig the garlic bulbs up carefully, taking care not to slice through them. Once loosened, you can gently lift the bulb out. Keep the shovel or fork well away from the bulb, then shake or gently rub any loose soil or dirt by hand.
To cure garlic, leave the roots, stem, and leaves in place. Either hang or lay the garlic in a well-vented area (not in full sun) to cure it. The curing process is important. Garlic should be cured or dried prior to storing it for later use. Brush off any soil remnants clinging to the bulbs. You may have the desire to use water and wash the garlic, but refrain from washing them off or getting the bulbs wet. Allow the bulbs to cure for 3 to 4 weeks in either a well-ventilated room or a dry, shady spot outside. Sunlight can change the flavor of fresh garlic. After three weeks of curing, use heavy-duty scissors or pruning shears to cut off all but about 2 inches o,f stem. After removing excess soil from the root ball, clip the roots. You can also further clean the bulbs by removing just the outer skin. Don't remove too many of the delicate papery layers and be careful not to expose any of the cloves.
Keep your garlic in a dark, cool (32 to 40 degrees Fahrenheit) place where it will still get some air circulation. Don’t hang it in the kitchen where it will be exposed to bright light. Hardneck varieties may dry out, sprout, or go soft within 2 to 5 months. Storing hardnecks right at freezing temperature sometimes helps them survive for up to 7 months without deteriorating.
Jere Folgert is the owner of GroEat Garlic Farm in Bozeman, Montana. GroEat Farm is a small, sustainable family farm located in the beautiful Hyalite Foothills, in the shadows of the Gallatin Mountain Range. The hardneck varieties that they grow on their farm flourish, due to the combination of the cold winters, temperate summers, moist spring, and the dynamic alluvial soils, washed down from the Gallatin Range.