Now comes the time you’ve been waiting for all year. You finally get to see the fruits of your labor. It’s really exciting to pull a great big beautiful garlic bulb from the ground! It almost makes all the hard work of weeding well worth it.
Knowing when to harvest your garlic is important. For us, it’s generally been mid to late July. Some varieties however have been ready as early as the first week of July. You can tell when the garlic is ready to harvest when about half of the leaves have turned brown. If you harvest too early, the cloves will not have developed fully and will not fill the skins and the bulbs will not store well. If you harvest too late, the bulbs will start to split and the cloves will come out of their skins. If you’re unsure whether your garlic is ready you can always dig one out and take a look at it.
We have found the following of the varieties that we’ve grown to be ones to watch for early maturity; Romanian Red, Purple Glazer, Siberian, German Porcelain, and German Red. Sometimes it seems to vary from one year to another so we're sure to keep a close eye on things as harvest nears.
You can dig your garlic out with a shovel or a thick tined pitchfork or potato digging fork. We’ve found that we prefer to use a shovel as we’ve damaged too many bulbs using the pitchfork and a shovel seems to work much better in our heavy soil. When you first start digging out your bulbs be sure that you dig in far enough away from the bulb that the bulb won’t be damaged when you lift it. We have damaged many a beautiful bulb during harvest because we underestimated it’s size and dug too close to it. It's almost enough to make you cry when that happens!
While you’re harvesting your garlic be sure to handle it as gently as possible so as not to bruise it and be sure to keep it out of hot direct sunlight so it doesn’t sunburn. We gently remove as much dirt as we can in the field and then put the bulbs in large buckets that we keep covered with a sheet until we get them out of the field and into the shade.
Here’s Mike returning from the field with some garlic in his buckets. He looks tired but happy doesn’t he?
There is a debate on whether washing garlic bulbs leads to storage diseases and problems or not. We prefer to rinse our garlic with cool water as soon as it’s harvested and we’ve not had any problems with storage to date. We’ve found that with our heavy soil the garlic actually dries better if we remove the clumps of dirt before we hang it and it’s much easier to wash it now than to try to remove the dried soil later. (we learned that the hard way the first year when we didn't wash it) We also remove the outer layer of skin if it’s torn. You have to be careful not to remove too many layers of the outer skin though as it protects the bulb and keeps it from drying out and shortening its storage life. If you have very loose soil it may not be necessary to wash your garlic when it's harvested but if you’ve got heavy soil like we do, don’t be afraid to try washing it.
Now is a good time to mention another little disaster we had early on in our garlic growing adventure. If you’re growing more than one variety of garlic you will need to come up with a system to keep each of them separate and identified. If you have a number of people helping you with harvest it’s very easy for a group of garlic to lose it’s identity in the process. And it’s just too sad to stand there looking at a couple piles of big beautiful garlic and not know which is which. Of course it was the biggest ones that would have been great to replant the following year too. Oh well, the good news is that they were still very tasty to eat even without a name on them!
The plan that we’ve come up with to prevent identity loss from happening to our garlic ever again is keeping the name stakes from the field with the group of garlic as it moves through our washing, sorting, and hanging areas. We also will allow only one variety of garlic at a time to move through each of those processes.
After our garlic is washed we like to sort it into sizes and make a count of each size of each variety before we hang it. We like to keep track of the sizes of our garlic because it gives us some real data to compare to previous years to show whether we’re increasing bulb size and to help keep track of the performance of each variety over the years. It also allows us to choose the biggest and best of each variety to set aside for use as seed for next years crop. We divide our garlic into the following groups by variety: >2 inches, 2 to 2.5 inches, 2.5 to 3 inches, 3 to 3.5 inches, 3.5 to 4 inches, and 4 inches and over. The measurements refer to the diameter of the garlic bulb at its widest point.
Once we have the garlic sorted by size and variety it’s time to hang it up to dry. We hang our garlic in groups of up to 10 for drying. Thanks again to our horses, we have an endless supply of baler twine from their hay bales so we make use of it for hanging our garlic in our drying building. With some of the biggest bulbs we do not put more than 5 in a group to maximize drying. You want them to have lots of room for air to circulate so don’t crowd them too much. If any bulbs have become damaged in the harvest process by being cut with the shovel or bruised in processing we do not hang them with the rest of our garlic to dry. Damaged garlic could present an opportunity for rot or disease and we don’t want it anywhere near our good garlic. Damaged garlic is set aside to be eaten right away. Garlic doesn’t need to be dried to enjoy it.
We do not trim the roots or the tops of the plants off our garlic bulbs when we hang it to dry. Some people will trim the roots and the tops before drying and dry their garlic on screen shelves or in mesh bags but it’s our unscientific opinion that the garlic seems to have a better storage life if you leave them on during the drying process.
The garlic is then hung for three or four weeks to dry. We are fortunate that we have an old corn crib/grain elevator building that we use for garlic drying. It provides great ventilation and keeps the garlic dry and protected from the sun’s rays. On particularly hot humid summer days we have also used a barn fan to circulate air through the hanging garlic but it’s normally quite breezy at our farm so that’s generally not necessary. Wherever you choose to hang your garlic just be sure it’s not in direct sunlight, that it will keep your garlic dry, and that it has good ventilation and you’ll do just fine. You can tell when the garlic is adequately dried and cured by the outside skin. It should be papery and peel easily.
We then take one last walk through the field to pick up any garlic bulbs that may have been dropped or overlooked during harvest. If there are any, they could sprout and come up as volunteers during the next season which will confuse you as you work so hard to keep the varieties straight. It’s also a good idea to pick them up to reduce the chances of introducing disease from rotting garlic in the field. We try to keep our field as clean as possible so we’ll never need to learn how to deal with any diseases.
Now we get to sit back and relax for awhile while our garlic is drying. This is also the time that we work the aged horse manure into the field and we plant a green manure cover crop such as rye. We can then just forget about the garlic field until it’s time to get it ready for planting in October. By now we’re ready for a good rest and ready to enjoy some summer fun.
After the garlic has dried for three or four weeks we take it down, cut the roots off leaving about ¼ inch or so and cut the stalks about 2 inches above the bulb, put the garlic in mesh bags and start sharing it with friends and family. We leave the garlic that we’ll be using for seed hanging in the corn crib until it’s needed for planting in the fall.
Some varieties naturally store longer than others, but most should be able to store at ordinary room temperature for at least six months after it comes out of the ground. Other varieties will store for almost a year. Garlic needs to be stored in a cool place away from direct sunlight. Garlic also needs to "breathe" and allowing the correct air circulation will extend its shelf life. Garlic can be kept in something as simple as a mesh bag or brown paper bag. An excellent way to store garlic is in a special garlic keeper designed with holes to allow the air to circulate.
We store our garlic in an open garlic basket on the kitchen counter or in mesh bags kept hanging in our basement and we usually have fresh garlic available until the next harvest is ready. Just don't put your garlic somewhere warm like on top of the counter above the dishwasher; we accidentally did that one year and it didn't last very long at all.
Never keep your garlic in your refrigerator. It will sprout and become bitter and it is likely to go soft and moldy. The same problem is likely to occur if garlic is stored in a sealed plastic container. If you don't use that much garlic and you know that the bulb will be sitting there for a long time, it is better to freeze it or store it by one of the many methods described below. If garlic begins to sprout or go soft then it is past its prime. Throw it out.
Important:Never store raw garlic in oil at room temperature - this can lead to botulism and possible death.
Processing and storing garlic:
Here are some suggestions we’ve heard of over the years and have made note of for storing garlic. The only one that we have personally tried is the last one – the garlic in butter – it works great for making easy garlic bread whenever you want it. But the others sounded like interesting ideas so we thought we'd pass them along.
What some people do in order to make their garlic last is slice it into thin slices and then dry the garlic slices in a food dehydrator. The dried sliced garlic can be reconstituted by adding it to the recipe of your choice. You may also grind or crush the dried slices to make garlic powder if you’d like.
We've also heard of pureeing garlic using a food processor, adding oil , (1 part garlic to 2 parts oil) and freezing it in a container or in ice cube trays. That makes it easy to pop out the garlic as you need it.
Freezing raw, unprotected garlic changes its flavor and texture. A suggested method to minimize that is storing peeled garlic cloves in oil and keeping them in the freezer if you wish to freeze your garlic.
If you prefer to keep your garlic in the refrigerator, submerge the garlic cloves in wine instead of oil. Dr. George York, University of California at Davis has suggested the following method for acidifying garlic in order to make it safe: Cover peeled garlic cloves with vinegar and soak the cloves for 12 to 24 hours. Drain off the vinegar. It may be reused as garlic-flavored vinegar. Cover the garlic cloves with oil. Refrigerate the garlic/oil and use within 3 months.
Here's the one that we have personally tried and like. Mix freshly minced garlic with butter (about 5-6 cloves per stick of butter or more if you like it really garlicy), shape the mixture into a log, roll it in wax paper and freeze, tightly sealed into a freezer bag. You can then cut off pieces as needed to add to a soup or sauce, or use for sautéing, use it to flavor meat or fish or our favorite use - use it to make a quick easy garlic bread. Just make sure that you use it before the butter goes rancid.
Questions? Suggestions? Please email us by using the form on the bottom of the "About Us" page. You may also email us directly at: karenandmike @wegrowgarlic.com (be sure to remove the space between our names and "@" before you send)