Getting garlic out of the ground is fairly simple.
The appearance of garlic scapes is a sign that the harvest is just a couple of weeks away, and you want to make sure that you do it at the right time. Too soon, and the bulbs will be undersized, with a thin outer covering; too late, and the bulbs will have started to break open. Garlic that is harvested too late won’t keep well.
Pay attention to your garlic patch as the plants start to turn brown—in my garden (southwestern Connecticut), this is usually the second or third week in July. I like to harvest when the plants are half green and half brown, but opinions vary on optimal harvest timing.
Above, a happy garlic bed in early July. The scapes have been cut off, and the bulbs underground are ripening. At right, the tops have started to turn brown, a sign that the plants are almost ready to harvest.
This year, I harvested a little earlier than optimum because it was a Sunday, and the weather was perfect, and I had the time to do it. With the workweek coming and rain in the forecast for the next several days, I didn’t want to wait.
I dug each bulb with a space, keeping it a couple of inches away from the plant, and shook the loose soil from the roots. Next, I spread the newly dug garlic out to dry in a shady, well-ventilated spot so the exterior of the bulbs would dry. Later that afternoon, I brushed off the loose soil with a whisk broom. Now the plants are drying further inside the house, draped over a clothes-drying rack near an open window.
Garlic fresh out of the ground needs a shady spot to dry. Above, a slatted wood pallet propped up on firewood serves as a rack. After a few hours, the soil on the bulbs, right, can be brushed off with a whisk broom.
After a couple of weeks, when the stems have lost all moisture, I trim the roots and tie the plants into bunches, with seven or so plants per bunch. Then I hang them from the ceiling beams to cure further. The garlic looks good there, and it’s convenient to the kitchen. When I need some, I just clip off a bulb.
Garlic can be used fresh, or anytime during the curing process. If I don’t use it up first, my cured garlic lasts at least until January.
Save the biggest bulbs for replanting
It’s always a temptation to take the biggest bulbs straight to the kitchen, but that temptation should be resisted. Save your best bulbs for replanting in the fall. If you are growing several varieties, save some of each.
Get more info on garlic:
• Video: How to Plant and Grow Garlic
• Garlic as an Herbal Medicine
• Making the Most of Garlic
• Using Baby Garlic (Green Garlic)
• Garlic Scapes
• Grow Your Own Garlic
• Cheap and Easy Winter Greens
• Plant Garlic as a Fall Crop
• Garlic Bulb Types
Get our latest tips, how-to articles, and instructional videos sent to your inbox.