You’ve watched your beautiful garlic plants grow for months, and the time nears for harvest. But how do you know when to harvest garlic? And once you harvest, how do you cure and store it?
In this episode of the Beginner’s Garden Podcast and in the post below, I show you what to do when your garlic nears harvest time. Click to listen or continue reading below.
When is Garlic Ready to Harvest?
When garlic nears maturity, the bottom leaves will start dying and falling off. When about half of your leaves have turned from yellow to brown, you will be ready to harvest.
Why not harvest when all of the leaves turn brown? If you wait for all of the leaves to die, the cloves will begin to separate. You can still eat them, but they won’t store well.
For me, in the southeastern US, I harvest garlic in early June. But you may find your garlic ready before or after, depending on where you live.
How to Harvest Garlic
I prefer to harvest garlic on a cloudy day so it can get to the shade as quickly as possible to help with storage life. I like to harvest when the soil is moist but not saturated. This way, I can easily dig up the garlic from soft soil, but it’s not a muddy mess. Depending on the weather, I try to time the harvest a few days after a good rain.
When it comes to the harvesting process itself, don’t pull the garlic by the stems, they will break and need to stay intact throughout the curing process.You’ll want to use a trowel and dig around the garlic without puncturing any part of the bulb. (If you do nick the bulb, set that one aside to use in cooking within the week.) As the soil breaks up, the garlic will more easily come out of the ground and you’ll be able to pull it up. Just shake off the dirt and lay it down. Then, transfer it to a shady location as quickly as possible.
Below is a visual explanation of how I harvest my garlic and when I know they are ready:
How to Cure Garlic From the Garden
Curing garlic prepares it for long-term storage. The curing (or drying) process usually takes 3-4 weeks, though it may take longer if you live in a humid area. You can leave or trim the roots at this point, though I usually leave them. Don’t cut off the leaves at all, and don’t wash them! The little bit of dirt remaining on the plants will dry and brush off easily later.
Next, you need to hang your garlic somewhere. I like to use an old chain link fence. Basically, I thread each bulb through the fence and leave them to hang with plenty of room for air flow. You can use chicken wire or gather them into bunches and hang them. You can also lay them out in a single layer if you can help them to get air flow underneath them.
Below you’ll find a closer look of my curing process:
As the garlic cures, you will want to keep them separated with lots of air circulation to ensure proper drying. I keep mine in my garage, but any shaded and cool location will work.
I also think having a fan blowing on them is really helpful. One year I skipped the fan, and my garlic didn’t last as long in storage.
How do you know when the curing process is over? Through this process, the leaves will start to shrivel and turn brown. If you feel the neck right above the bulb you’ll notice that all you feel are dried leaves. When I think my garlic is completely cured, I will cut one at the neck to make sure they are completely dry.
Steps to Prepare Garlic for Long-term Storage
When the garlic is completely dry, you can trim the roots and gently brush off the rest of the dirt. Be careful not to brush off the casing around the cloves; it needs to stay intact for long-term storage. I clip off each bulb and put them in a ventilated basket in my pantry. You can braid garlic and they’re very pretty, but it was a lot of work and not worth it to me. You could also hang them or store them in a ventilated bag like onions come in. The key is a cool location and as much ventilation as possible.
Remember to save your best and biggest bulbs to plant in your garden for next year. You’ll want one clove per bulb. Do a little math to make sure you save enough.
How Long Can You Store Garlic after Harvest?
I’ve been able to store my garlic, in a good season, for 12 months. This depends on the variety, though. Soft neck varieties store longer than hard neck varieties, but even within soft neck varieties there is a range of what to expect. You can check online to see what you could expect from your specific variety.
While the garlic remains in storage, you may notice that it starts losing vigor. When brown spots appear, I usually just cut them off and use the rest of the clove, but I know my time is almost up on my stored garlic. Last year, when they started browning earlier than usual (because I didn’t use a fan during curing, I assume), I put the remaining cloves in my dehydrator. Then I ground them in an old coffee grinder to make delicious homemade garlic powder.
Once you understand the basics of timing your garlic harvest properly and curing and storing the bulbs, your kitchen will provide you with delicious garlic for months. But be sure to save the best bulbs to replant in the fall for next season’s harvest!
Garlic Planting Cheat Sheet
Garlic is the easiest and most rewarding plant you can grow! All you have to know is some basics:
- WHEN to plant
- WHAT KIND to plant
- WHERE to purchase
- WHERE NOT to purchase
- The simplest WAY to plant, whether you have a raised bed, a plot of land, or container. This step is SUPER EASY!
Enter your e-mail address, and I'll send you the cheat sheet immediately!
Plus, I'll send you my "In the Garden E-mail" on Fridays, periodic updates on garden resources relevant to you, and get access to my entire bank of free garden downloads!