We have been working through the heat to get our garlic harvest pulled out of the ground and safely in storage.
We have 7.5 one hundred foot beds of garlic, and in the heatwave I have been getting up with the sunrise, starting at about 6, and finishing up a bed at around 8.
This gives me about 75 lbs of bulbs clipped and safely tucked away in the attic to dry, and gets me back in the house in time to feed the kids and have a coffee.
Here are my top 3 tips for harvesting and curing garlic:
1. Begin your harvest when the garlic still has green leaves.
If you want your garlic to last until the next spring, it needs as many good leaf wrappers as you can give it. If it is left in the ground until the top is mostly or completely dead, you have missed an opportunity to provide it with that.
When the garlic plant begins to shed its upper growth, it is starting a new phase of its life cycle. It has used its leaves to grow the bulb and size it up nicely, and now that it can sense the approach of cooler fall and eventually winter conditions (sorry but its true-WINTER is COMING!), it begins the process of asexual reproduction.
If left in the ground, the bulb would swell and the bulb wrappers would decompose off, leaving just the cloves. These would separate naturally leaving 4-6 or more new plants to grow in the spring. These new plants would be clones of the original, which just means they are genetically identical.
By pulling the garlic out of the ground with at 4-6 green leaves still on the plant, you are ensuring that you have at least that many healthy and intact wrappers on the bulb(each leaf is actually also a bulb wrapper).
Harvest your garlic early. You are looking for between 2-4 dead leaves starting from the bottom of the plant. You will feel like you are so on top of your gardening and with garlic it is always better to do it early than late.
2. Clean and clip the garlic in the field.
When I started clipping off the stalk in the field, it was the key piece I needed to transition to the best garlic crop ever.
By removing the stalk right away, you save yourself all the extra and awkward handling (if you have every handled garlic you know what I mean!). You also save all the extra space you need in storage, and believe me it takes a LOT more space with the stalks on.
I also find it very easy to just rub off the field dirt and dead skins right in the field, immediately after pulling the plant. You never get it all off, but you clean it enough that the rest will just fall off in the drying and sorting process to come.
3. Dry your garlic in your attic.
Oh the attic. My love-hate relationship with this part of our house has been ongoing since we moved in. It isn't finished the way I would like it, and has storage boxes scattered about in a way that drives me crazy every time I see it! Also, mud wasps seem to love the way it heats up in the summer, so I am always dodging them when I venture up there.
When I first started drying my garlic up there, it followed a particularly hot and muggy summer here in maritime Nova Scotia, Canada. I was hanging my garlic inside my nursery greenhouse, like I had read I should do.
I had shade cloth over the plastic to keep the temperature from spiking to high, and the biggest fan you have ever seen to keep the air moving.
Despite all my efforts, the same patterns would repeat. The garlic would dry and get a little crispy during the day, and go moist and soggy during the night. This would repeat until the leaves turned brown and black, and black spots would appear on the bulbs.
In storage, I alway lost between 20-30 percent of the cloves to disease, but this particular year I lost about 80 percent. I was livid, and decided there that if I couldn't figure garlic out the next year I would stop growing it.
I cut my planting back drastically and poured over all the info I could get, and just thought about the problem for multiple sessions until the attic finally came to my mind. Dark, very dry, very HOT. Perfect.
I tried it the next year, and was blown away by the results. The garlic was bone dry in about 8 days, and I didn't loose ONE BULB to disease! In fact it kept perfectly until the next spring when the green garlic showed up, and in fact beyond that, so our family was never out of our own amazing garlic.
So if you have an attic in your house, clear a space, move a fan up there, and use it for drying garlic. If you don't have access to one, just find the closest imitation you can. The key is hot and DRY, with consistent low humidity throughout the drying period. If you have a barn or garage, perhaps the upper levels would work. I have neighbours who have great success using their woodshed for drying. There are many options that could work, just experiment.
So there you have it.
1. Begin harvest early.
2. Clean and clip in the field.
3. Dry in your attic or similar warm and DRY area.
Three tips to ensure you have the best garlic harvest ever, and you get your bulbs through the winter until you can harvest the fresh spring growth again. I hope you are never without your own garlic my friends, enjoy!