Creative Vegetable Gardener:Eat garlic all year round! Harvesting and drying garlic for storage


Garlic is one of the easiest vegetables to grow in your garden, especially if you live in a colder climate. And drying garlic the right way means you can store it for many months of use in delicious recipes throughout the fall and winter.

In fact, if you store enough of it you can easily eat your own garlic all year round and never have to buy any from the grocery store ever again!

The last two weeks in July is an exciting time in my garden because it’s garlic harvest time! Depending on where you live, your harvest time may be a little earlier or later in the season.

You don’t want to harvest your garlic too early – that could result in immature bulbs. But, you also don’t want to wait too long or you might compromise the storage life of the bulb.

In this article you’ll learn how to know the best time to harvest your garlic, techniques for protecting the bulbs while harvesting, and how to cure your garlic for a longer storage life.

harvesting and drying garlic

When to Harvest Garlic

Before we talk about harvesting your garlic plants, I want to make sure you know that you can also harvest the garlic scapes about a month before, usually early to mid-June in most Northern US climates.

The scapes are the flower stalks the plant produces in order to reproduce. I encourage you to remove the garlic scapes for two reasons.

#1: You can use them to make a delicious garlic scape pesto. We always have a jar of it sitting in our fridge to use in wraps, on eggs, and with pasta.

#2: Many people believe that removing the garlic scape encourages the plant to put more energy into growing a bigger bulb instead of flowering and scattering seed.

There are really no downsides to harvesting the garlic scapes, so make sure you put that on your early summer garden to-do list. You can read more about harvesting scapes and grab my favorite garlic scape pesto recipe.

Now let’s move on to harvesting the actual garlic bulbs.

garlic ready to harvest

Depending on where you garden, around the end of June and beginning of July you’ll notice the leaves of the plant starting to turn yellow and brown and die back. This is your signal that the garlic will be ready to harvest soon.

At this point, keep checking the plant every week until you see that several of the lower leaves (three-ish) closest to the ground have turned brown. This means it’s time for the garlic harvest!

Below, I’ll walk you through the steps of harvesting and you’ll learn all about drying garlic for longer storage. There are a few things you can do to make sure it cures well for long-term storage.

This is especially important if you grow a lot like I do! We plant about 220 each fall and our goal is always to eat our own garlic for as many months of the year as possible. I rarely buy garlic from the grocery store.

This article is also accompanied by a video showing me harvesting and drying garlic in my home garden.

garlic harvest in garden

10 Steps for Harvesting & Drying Garlic

Step 1 

In the section above you learned how to know when it’s time to harvest your garlic. In most gardens, it’s not recommended to attempt to pull the garlic plants from the ground with your hands. This often results in the plant breaking off where it meets the ground, which means you’ve left the bulb in the garden bed.

Garlic is best dried with the leaves on, so you don’t want to snap off the plant from the bulb by accident. Instead, use a garden fork to loosen the bulbs before harvesting and then gently pull them from the soil.

 Tools for Garlic Harvest

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Step 2

If you’re growing several varieties of garlic in your garden you may want to keep them separate so you can evaluate them for things like taste, storage life, and spiciness. Harvest one variety at a time and make a separate pile for each type.

Step 3

Did you know you can save your own seed for planting in the fall? After harvesting your garlic and before hanging it to cure I like to set aside the biggest bulbs of each type, label them, and dry them separately.

If you set aside garlic you can use it for seed this year.

Garlic Harvest Directions

Step 4

If you break into a bulb right after harvesting you’ll notice the “paper” around each clove is still pretty moist. Drying garlic helps dry out the paper, which makes for a longer storage life and much easier peeling.

The best place to cure your garlic is somewhere dark and dry with air circulation. A covered porch, garage, or shed is an ideal place.

Step 5

Most people, including me, hang their garlic to dry. Another option is to spread it out on a wire rack, screen, or other non-solid surface that allows air circulation.

I tie my garlic in bundles of 10 plants with garden twine. I leave one end long so I can hang the bundle from my garage rafters.

How to Harvest Garlic

Step 6

If you’re keeping track of each variety, you can label each bundle (I use flagging tape.) The bundles I want to save for seed I also mark with the word “seed” so I remember to put them aside for planting. 

Garlic Harvest How To

Step 7

Take the bundles to your drying area and hang them up.  I use my garage, so I loop the longer end of twine over the rafter and tie a knot. I usually hang the garlic bundles I’m saving for seed in a separate area so I can easily keep track of them.

Curing Garlic

Step 8

Let the garlic dry for about 6-8 weeks. You can test the dryness level by cutting a bulb down and trying to peel the paper. It should feel like the garlic you buy from the grocery store with very little moisture in the paper.

When they’re completely dry, cut them down and remove the stalks and roots (I use my Felco hand pruners for this step). You’ll need to find something to hold the bulbs for the winter. I use wax produce boxes, but a crate, cardboard box, or something else that allows some air circulation will work as well.

Storing Garlic

Step 9

If you’re trying to keep your garlic for fall and winter eating, you’ll want to transport the boxes to the coolest possible place that doesn’t freeze. Garlic stores best in 33-38 degrees F, which is pretty darn cold!

I store mine in a dark closet in my basement. I’ve found that the cooler I can keep them the longer they last in storage. My garlic usually starts sprouting a bit the following March or April.

Step 10

Enjoy using your garlic in any and every recipe! At our house, pretty much every meal we make starts with onions and garlic in a pan with olive oil. We have a joke at our house that a recipe that calls for one garlic clove translates to one garlic bulb.

harvesting garlic to cure

Can You Eat Freshly Harvested Garlic?

Feel free to start eating your garlic right after harvesting. You’ll notice when you break into the bulb that the paper that surrounds the bulb and each clove is still pretty moist. This is because you haven’t given it a chance to dry yet.

That’s okay! There’s nothing wrong with eating garlic that’s not cured. It still tastes wonderfully fresh and is fun to cook with.

If you’ve only grown a few bulbs in your garden you can still hang some to dry if you want. Or if you think you’ll use them pretty quickly you can just cut off the bulbs from the plant and store them in a bowl in your kitchen.

garlic ready for drying

The Best Varieties for Harvesting and Storing Garlic

I’ve successfully stored garlic for almost an entire year in my basement. The trick to keeping garlic for a long time is to grow a variety that says it’s good for storage.

I have a guide that helps you figure out which garlic varieties are best for your situation. Softneck types tend to store better than hardneck types, but the cloves are usually pretty small, which I don’t like.

So, I grow mostly hardneck varieties because of the clove size and they store fine for me. If you live in a cold climate like mine, I recommend growing a porcelain variety. That’s the majority of what I grow and store at my house.

You can read more about choosing garlic varieties and where to purchase seed. 

Growing, harvesting and drying garlic for year round eating is one of the most rewarding activities I undertake in my own garden each season. It’s such a fun challenge to try to grow all you need of as many vegetables as possible. And it’s a great practice in self-sufficiency.

You’ll feel a wonderful sense of satisfaction when you eat your own organically grown garlic all winter long and never have to buy garlic from the grocery store!.

 



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