Thursday, July 2, 2015

Garlic Harvest - Fall Planted

Growing garlic for nine months after planting is a bit like, know what. Go ahead and laugh or sigh, we all know that growing garlic isn't like having a baby. But the process - planting, caring, wondering, and anticipation sound vaguely familiar. 

Ready for Harvest
Our garlic was ready for harvest right on schedule for central Denver, late June.  It was planted last October. Garlic growing in the foothills or at higher elevation may need a few more weeks.  Let the plant tell you when it is ready - when 4 or 5 upper leaves are green, or when 60% of the leaves are still green.  Some people harvest when the bottom half of the plant is mostly brown and the upper is mostly green (what I do).  Plants start browning from the bottom up and from the tips inward.  After growing garlic a few seasons, you'll know your plants and when it's time.  It is better to error on too soon, rather than too late.  If the plants are completely brown or have been in the ground too long the bulb starts to separate (you'll see individual cloves) and it won't cure well or last as long. 

Some varieties like softneck silverskins are weak-necked so can fall over prior to harvest and they will look pretty brown, that's okay. The message is to know your garlic and how each variety grows. Often this information is written in the catalog description or plant tag if purchased from the garden center. 

Remove scapes two weeks prior to harvest
If you're growing hardneck garlic and forgot to remove the scapes two weeks prior to harvest you can still cut them off and use them in stir fries or in pesto.  No need to let them dry on the harvested plant.  Scapes are cut so the plant can focus larger growth on the bulb. Harvest garlic plants when they are dry - stop watering 4-5 days prior to harvest.  The exception is hardneck porcelain varieties, cut off watering 2-3 days prior. 

Use a garden trowel or fork to lift the bulb carefully from the ground.  Check out my Denver Post TV garlic video to see harvest in action.  

After harvest, get the plants out of the sun and into a basement or area where there's good air circulation. No need to wash or scrub them clean, use your hand to brush off any dirt (lightly).  Let the whole plant dry on newspaper or hang in bundles of 6 to 10. This will cure the bulbs and form the papery outer shell, just like onions.  In about 4-6 weeks cut off the brown dry leaves close to the top of the bulb. Cut the roots off too. Now it's okay to fully clean them with a soft brush (no water).  Store them in mesh bags in an area with humidity around 50%, a wine cellar is ideal if you have one.  Softneck types can store well up to nine or more months if well cured.  Hardnecks usually last three to five months, so use them first.  Bulbs that become soft or mushy are past their prime.

If you're wondering if can use fresh garlic right away in recipes or raw, heck yea! Just use the whole bulb within a few days (store in a glass bowl, never refrigerate garlic). Freshly harvested garlic is pretty mild tasting, it develops more kick and heat as it cures and ages.  

Drying in Bundles
Drying on Newspapers                                                                               

After Dry, Cut off Leaves and Roots                                                                                                            

Store in Mesh Bags


  1. Hi Betty, I took your garlic growing class at Paulino Gardens last fall. I have a question about harvesting. I live in Broomfield and it's been raining here just about every afternoon. Yesterday it poured and today was worse! I've know that I could harvest my garlic for a while, but have been waiting for it to dry like your handout states. As a last resort my husband and I covered the garlic with a gigantic tarp just now. The garlic will get zero sunlight until harvest is that the right thing to do? I have 1 row of softneck and several rows of hardneck. Hopeful I can harvest this weekend. The bottom leaves are brown I still have some green on the tops, but I feel like it's fading fast and I have read that letting it turn all brown is really bad. My scapes were wonderful and I don't want to ruin the bulbs. Any advice you can give would be truly appreciated!

    1. Hi Sheila - my hunch is that unless the rain has really soaked down from recent storms your garlic may be okay to harvest. Try removing one bulb to see just how wet the soil actually is. If it is soaking wet, then yes, it's best to wait until the soil dries out more. A tarp would be just fine for a few days, I've used plastic over my hoops to prevent rain when it was coming down by the inch in May and June. The cover won't hurt the bulbs (by lack of sun) at all and at this point that's all you are trying to keep dry. Keep me posted please and holler again with any questions!

    2. Hi Betty- The soil was drenched so I did end up leaving the tarp on overnight and then have had it just laying across the saw horses at the ready for the afternoon storms. So far I have managed to keep it dry since Thursday. I was just out checking the status. The good news is the bulbs that I checked are BEAUTIFUL! The bad news is that this is only my 2nd year of gardening and my soil where I planted this while I tried to mix in some leaves and chicken manure before planting is disappointingly quite clay like still. So the interesting thing is that my one row of softneck those bulbs are higher up and only the very bottom is still quite moist. Now all my hardneck those bulbs are much deeper in the soil so the first 1 to 2 inches of soil is pretty dry, but the majority of the soil directly around and under the bulbs is still fairly moist. I was thinking that perhaps I could harvest the softneck tomorrow. And, then the hardneck I was wondering if I could dig up around all of them gently and try to fluff up the soil to try to get them to dry out a bit more and perhaps harvest early next week. Thoughts?

  2. Sheila - so sorry for the late reply, I've been out of town for several days with only my I phone to check emails so couldn't easily respond from my blog. I'm hoping you've been able to harvest and I like your plan to dry them a bit more. On normal years (with much less rain), it's so much easier to just refrain from watering for a few days prior to harvest. Please let me know how it is going and if you got them out!