Harvesting Garlic

The crew harvesting garlic.  Credit Marilyn Rayne Squier

The crew harvesting garlic.
Credit Marilyn Rayne Squier

We’ve harvested about half our hardneck garlic in the past three days, a job that we always enjoy and find satisfying. I was surprised at how early the garlic was ready, given the late spring. Usually harvest is about three weeks after the first scapes are ready to pull, and we started pulling those on 5/10, so I should have been more ready. I know garlic maturity is day-length dependent, but temperature is also a factor. I just looked back at my post 6/6/12 Garlic harvest. Ha! I see I was surprised at the earliness of the harvest date last year too. Time to learn from that and not be surprised next year! Anyway, can’t argue with plants, so here we are, digging them up!

I checked for maturity on Tuesday, not expecting them to be ready. I look for two things:

  • The sixth leaf down is starting to brown on 50% of the crop. 
  • There are air spaces between the round stem and the cloves, visible when bulbs are cut horizontally.

Here’s our system:

  • If the soil is very dry, water the night before – Very hard soil can damage the bulbs
  • Plan 15 mins per bucket to dig garlic and 15 mins per bucket to hang it up. It’s important not to get left with garlic still in buckets at the end of the shift.
  • Carefully dig the garlic. Treat the bulbs like fragile, sun-sensitive eggs. Bruised bulbs won’t store well
  • Loosen them with digging forks, without stabbing them. Pulling on unloosened garlic damages necks, they won’t store well
  • Don’t bang, throw or drop the bulbs
  • If they have a lot of soil on the roots, use curled fingers to “brush” soil out
  • Try not to rub or pick at the skin. Bulbs need several layers of intact skin to store well.
  • Don’t wash the bulbs, no matter how dirty. They need to dry, not get wetter. Dirt will dry and drop off
  • Put the bulbs gently into buckets to shade the bulbs. Air above 90F can cook the bulbs, sun can scorch them
  • Take the buckets to the Allium Emporium and hang up the garlic.

The “Allium Emporium” is our pet name for the upstairs barn (an old, well ventilated tobacco barn) where we hang our garlic to dry. We hope one day to have a purpose-built ground level barn where we can wheel in the carts. Meanwhile we haul the garlic in buckets up a ladder, and later haul it down again in bags! Less than ideal, but workable.

Hanging up the garlic:

Hanging garlic in vertical netting. Credit Marilyn Rayne Squier

Hanging garlic in vertical netting.
Credit Marilyn Rayne Squier

  • Start immediately to the north east of the ladder, and concentrate the garlic hanging in a narrow stretch of the netting. We want to have the garlic arranged in date order, to make it easier to find dry garlic to trim when the time comes.
  • Start at knee height and work rows back and forth, taking 4-6 ft per person. Continue upwards as high as you can reach, before moving left to another section. The netting will stretch down with the weight of the garlic. Starting lower will cause garlic to pile up on the floor.
  • People hanging garlic need to work right next to each other. We want walls covered with garlic, and arranged consecutively each day. As well as simplifying trimming, this makes best use of the fans.
  • Take a garlic plant, bend over the top third of the leaves, and push the leafy part through a hole in the netting. The leaves should open up behind the netting. They shouldn’t be poking through to the front. This gives the garlic the best chance of drying nicely.
  • Any damaged bulbs are “Use First” quality and should be laid flat on the wood onion racks to dry.
  • Set fans to blow on the garlic. In our humid climate, fans are essential.

After two-four weeks, the garlic bulbs will have cured and be dry enough to store. We test by rubbing the necks between our fingers, sensing either a dry rustling, or a slightly damp, slippery or mushy feeling. Once they’re dry we trim the roots and tops off and sort for replanting , for storage and cull ones to use right away. And compost material, of course!

Other than harvesting garlic this week, we’ve been finishing up transplanting our warm weather crops (sweet potatoes and watermelon, and replacing casualties in the tomatoes, peppers, melons.) No casualties in the eggplant this year! The okra we had direct-sown, back before the cold wet weather and they all drowned, along with our first sowing of sweet corn, so we started some okra in a plug flat to pop in when the situation improved. Now we’re on to transplanting lettuce and leeks. We love leeks! Maybe I’ll write about them next time.

Meanwhile, the 17-year cicadas are in full force. The sound ramps up in the morning, but goes quiet in the evening. We now have clumsy flying adults landing on us and finished dead adults littering the paths. I’ve seen mating pairs, neatly end-to-end with overlapped wings, and found it is not too difficult to tell the males from the females if you look.

Today we have Tropical Storm Andrea, and have had about 3″ of rain so far. A tree has fallen on our road, so we have to remember to turn left put of the driveway, rather than right, and go the long way round.

One thought on “Harvesting Garlic

  1. Pingback: Slideshow on late fall, winter and early spring vegetables; Upcoming events; Know your weeds. | Sustainable Market Farming

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>