Thursday, July 21, 2011

Harvesting garlic

Oh garlic!  This week was garlic harvest time in our garden.  How do you know when it's time to harvest your garlic?  Different varieties mature at various rates.  For example, Artichoke varieties of garlic mature first, then Rocamboles, then Purple Stripes, then Porceleins, and finally Silverskins.  Knowing your variety is helpful, but if you don't, then in general when the tops of garlic start to die back the garlic is nearing it's time to be harvested. In early summer you have already (hopefully) snipped off the garlic scapes (skeins), in order to send energy down into production of the bulb.  When you start to see the tops of the garlic turning brown and wilting, try to stop watering in order to allow the bulbs to start to curing.  You can dig up one garlic bulb and cut it open to see if the cloves have fully formed - if they are still small, let the garlic remain in the ground a little longer.  However, you don't want them to stay in the ground too long or they may burst open and be susceptible to disease. 

To harvest, dig gently with a pitchfork to loosen the soil.  Brush off the soil, but don't wash the bulbs.  Let them cure out of directy sunlight and heat, with skins on to protect the cloves inside.  Leave the garlic tops long so that the bulbs can be hung in bunches over the winter in a cool dark place with good ventilation.  Garlic is traditionally often braided before it's hung for storage, though there is definitely a knack to getting those braids to look nice and even!  Soft neck varieties are easily stored for half a year, whereas hard neck varieties generally don't keep as long.  Keep a few of your largest healthiest bulbs for planting in the fall.  We usually plant in mid October, for an earlier crop the following summer.

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