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Stepping Through the Seasons - Part 2

Harvesting – there are two schools of thought as to when is the right time to harvest.  Watching the leaves – when the leaves start browning from the bottom up.  One recommendation is when 2-3 leaves have turned brown.  It is important to remember that for every leaf that turns brown, a wrapper has gone from the bulb.  If harvesting is left too late then bulbs begin to dry out and split open under the ground.  This will reduce storage time.  Another recommendation is to take note of when you plant your garlic and harvest it nine months from that date.  Both of these methods have been followed.   Should you follow the first method and it is an unusually wet season then the leaves may not begin to turn due to a lot of moisture.  

Meanwhile the bulb is maturing in the ground regardless of how dry or wet the season is.  By taking note of the time you planted your garlic and taking into consideration the weather that season will help you determine when to harvest.  Some growers use both methods.  If in doubt, check your garlic as to maturity by digging one.  A garden fork is a good tool for loosening the soil from around the plant.  Place tines of the fork 4-5” from the plant and lift gently to loosen further.

Place fork tines 4-5” from plant/lifting gently


Do not pull plant roughly from the soil; this can damage the neck, which affects storage.   With fork under plant grasp top of bulb and pull gently

 Shake gently to remove excess soil and place carefully to one side.  

A healthy harvested bulb, undamaged.  

It is important that at all times TLC is used when handling garlic during all stages of the operation.  If garlic is bruised or damaged in any way it will not keep as long as it should.  Gather plants and remove to drying location.

A new grower with first harvest


Example of a tool for sizing

Sizing/ Drying – a popular method of drying garlic is to hang it.  It should be hung out of the sun.  It can be hung under a porch, in a shed or a garage.  As long as air can circulate around the plants.  The plants can be hung in groups of 8-10 and allowed to dry for 7-10 days.  For those of you who are market growers it may be beneficial for you to size your garlic prior to hanging it.

Groups – small, medium and large.  By grouping them this way you have your sizes organized.  It has been researched that a medium clove is the preferred planting stock.  The small and large you can sell and once you have allowed sufficient amount of medium for planting then the balance can be sold also.


Hanging garlic in garage – allows for good circulation of air

Garlic hung in groups according to size – also garlic braids ready for sale

Should the weather be rainy and or humid during the drying cycle it is recommend you use a fan to circulate the air.  Mold can develop should the bulbs not dry properly.  You also may find that more than 10 days is needed for the plants to dry sufficiently.

Cleaning – cleaning garlic is best done by hand.  Again there are different methods for cleaning.  Some growers wash their garlic as soon as it has been harvested.  They apply a gentle stream of water to clean soil etc from the bulb, and then the plants are then hung to dry.  It is imperative that should you choose to wash your garlic to clean it you do it prior to hanging it to dry.  No moisture should be allowed to touch your garlic once it has dried else your garlic will not store and will even begin to mold.  Another method is to carefully remove one wrapper, at most, two.  Remember every wrapper you remove is one less protecting the bulb.  The second method may not produce “lily white” bulbs but they will be sufficiently clean for your own use or for market and they will store well.

Garlic Sales - garlic is usually sold loose, in packages of a certain quantity or in braids.  Braids are very popular.  Hardneck garlic is braided differently than Softneck.  Braid of hardneck garlic.

Storage – garlic needs to be stored where it is dry and out of direct sun.  It should never be stored in the fridge or where dampness is present.  It can be stored in a paper bag (porous), never in plastic, an onion bag than can be hung or by the braid.  There is no set place.  Each home is different as to moisture content.  As long as the garlic is kept dry and above freezing, quality garlic has been dried properly should last for months.

After Harvest – once the harvest is complete, remove any mulch from the rows and place in between.  Time to plant a green manure.  Buckwheat is an excellent crop to plant as it is fast growing and will germinate and grow to maturity in the short span between harvesting and replanting.  It helps to replenish the nutrients lost to previous crop.  Sown by hand and raked into the soil.  It will need watering immediately after sowing is no rain is imminent.  Once grown, watch for white flowers turning slightly red, and then dig into the soil before it sets seed.

 Note the white flowers on the buckwheat – time to dig in

The new garlic crop can be planted into buckwheat residue.  Once this is done then other soil amendments can be added to the soil.  (see soil preparation).

 Winter rest  


  Your garlic is resting, a good time to catch up on some reading and doing some planning.


Recommended Reading

Growing Great Garlic

The Complete Book of Garlic

Organic Field Crop Handbook

Garlic News – connecting the Canadian Garlic Network, published quarterly

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