June 18, 2011 by wcobserver
James has stepped away from his political diatribe for this week and we are back in the garden. This time we will talk about one of my favorite garden treats: garlic. Garlic is a dynamic player in the garden as it is extremely healthy for you and provides many attributes as a natural pesticide. But more about that later. We planted our garlic in the fall and now it is time to harvest.
How do you know when your garlic is ready for harvest? When the tops of the garlic plant start to die off, you know it’s time to pluck it out of the dirt and toss it into the wok.
To harvest your garlic, start preparing a few weeks early. When you see the leaves start to turn brown or yellow, stop watering. This has worked out well since the rain seems to have stopped for the moment. This dry spell will help to cure the garlic. Curing and timing are both very important. Harvesting too soon will result in smaller cloves that don’t store well. Leave the bulbs in the ground too long and the cloves may be bursting out of their skins, and unable to be stored.
How do you harvest garlic? We have found it easy to dig the bulbs out by taking a fork, trowel, or other tool that allows you get below the garlic and pop it up from the bottom up.
Once harvested, you can either use your garlic fresh, or cure it for long-term storage. Many softneck varieties like Silverskin and Artichoke can last up to 6-8 months once cured. Whereas hardneck varieties like Rocambole, Porcelain, and Purple Stripe will only last 2-3 months.
To cure garlic, brush off any soil clinging to the bulbs. Leave the stalks and roots on the bulbs, while they dry. Allow the bulbs to dry for three to four weeks in either a well-ventilated room or a dry, shady spot outside. Sunlight can change the flavor of fresh garlic. Once the tops and roots have dried they can be cut off or braided together to have something to hang it from while you store it.
Once you have dried garlic, you will need to store the garlic in a cool, (60 degrees is ideal) dry, and dark place where it will still get some air circulation. Braiding and hanging garlic is a good way to store it. With some hardneck varieties it helps to store at colder temperatures, but unless you have a good, low-humidity cold storage, this may not be an option.
If you’re a beginning seed-saver, there is nothing easier than saving garlic. Simply put aside a few top-quality bulbs to plant next season. As with any seed, choose the seed (or bulb) that comes from the strongest and healthiest plants. Store bulbs you plan to use for replanting at room temperature, with a fairly high humidity, so they don’t dry out.