Posts Tagged ‘Harvest’

Growing Hardneck Garlic, Part 4

Harvesting and Curing

Judging when garlic is ready can be a bit tricky. Generally in early summer, the lower leaves will start yellowing on the garlic plant. When 1/3 of the leaves are brown, it’s time to harvest. Depending on the weather, harvest time can vary each season. Pull it up too early and the bulbs will be immature and shrivel when cured. Pulled up too late, the wrappers are deteriorated and the cloves begin to separate. Both too early or too late harvest will reduce the storage life of the bulbs. Remember, each leaf is a wrapper. A brown leaf is one less protective layer around the bulb, so be sure to harvest before all the leaves are brown.

Because of the heavy rains this spring, it was hard to tell when the bulbs were ready. The leaves didn’t fully died back. I got a lot of leaf tips and center midribs turning brown on most of the plants. So I pulled up the plants as they showed any kind of browning on 1/3 of the leaves.

To harvest, I use a small hand spade around the bulb and pop it out of the ground while gently pulling up the plant. Don’t pull the plants up without loosening the soil around and under the bulb first. it can damage the bulb and shorten the storage life.

Brush any loose soil from the bulbs. I gently drag the roots and bulbs through the grass to clean them up. They don’t have to be spotless, just knock the loose stuff off. Don’t wash the bulbs and make sure to leave the plants whole.

Loosen the soil around the roots and gently pull out of the ground

Loosen the soil around the roots and gently pull out of the ground

You can eat some now if you want, but the bulbs need to be cured if you plan to store it.
Find a cool, dry place with good air circulation to store the entire plant while it cures. I use the basement but it can be done in a garage, shed or outdoors in a covered area. Just make sure it’s sheltered from the sun and weather and safe from critters. Lay the plants out in a single layer. Leaving the leaves and roots attached helps draw out the moisture. This should take about 6 weeks.

When the plant leaves, stem and bulb wrappers are crispy dry, they’re cured. Trim back the roots to about 1/2 inch and cut the stem about 2 inches above the bulb. Clean up the bulbs by removing a wrapper layer or two.

Now is the time to sort the bulbs. Discard any bulbs that show signs of decay or mold. Choose the largest bulbs and set aside for the planting in the fall. The bulbs with the good tight wrappers with no exposed cloves on the bottom will keep the longest. Any other bulbs with exposed cloves are still good but need to be used first. Store in a cool dry place that has some humidity (not the refrigerator). Hardneck garlic should keep about 6 to 10 months if properly stored. Some varieties will keep a bit longer.

The variety I grow will keep for 10 months to a year. Unfortunately, I have no idea what the name of the variety is. It was sold under the name Rocambole, which is a type of hardneck that has many varieties. Rocamboles are not known to be a long storage type, most lasting only 5 or 6 months. So I have no idea what I have, but I am determined to keep it going.

I almost lost this variety once when I broke my leg and didn’t plant that autumn. I figured I’d just buy fresh bulbs the next year. When I called to order the following season, the sales guy said they no longer carry that variety and suggested another. I told him my story and how I was sad to lose it. He asked if I had any bulbs left from the previous year and what condition it were in. I had a bunch of bulbs. They were getting a bit spongy but still viable with a green shoot in the middle of the cloves. He suggested I plant it and see what happens. This garlic was a year and a half old by that point. Fingers crossed, I planted as many cloves that I had that looked like it has any kind of life left. The following spring, the bulbs were small but it grew. It took 3 years to get the bulb size back to where it belonged, but it worked. I now save a few bulbs from the previous year for planting stock just in case of any failure of the current crop.

If you’re planting your first crop of garlic this fall, it’s not too early to start planning. There are plenty of places to buy garlic on the internet, but they often sell-out fast. Get your order in by the end of August and the garlic will be shipped at planting time.

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