The Garlic Harvest is Over!
Don’t forget to save some for next year’s crop
The garlic is in! Last fall we planted about 100 cloves of garlic with cloves saved from the 2012 harvest using the best and biggest of the bulbs. Paydirt!
Garlic is one of the easiest plants to grow. In the fall, we plant no later than Columbus day, prepare a bed by turning in plenty of compost into the soil and raking it level. Planting from there is simple: jab a finger sized hole in the ground, push a clove of garlic in so the pointy end is up and covered by about 1.5 inches of dirt, and wait for garlic in the summer. We use a six inch by six inch grid pattern to maximize the space though this may be tight for some. There are a mess of different garlic varieties you can plant from mild to “hot” in taste.
Garlic bulbs for planting can purchased at your local farmers market, Territorial Seeds, The Garlic Store, or do a google search. Seed garlic starts to become available in late August and sells out fast so don’t wait too long.
In our zone 5a climate, garlic is ready to start growing way before we are ready. At the first January thaw the leaves start popping our of the ground letting us know the cloves have taken root. The problem is we are in January and we’ll soon have more cold weather. Every year we’ve planted garlic, we’ve had to cover it with straw in January to protect it for the rest of the winter. We cover it with a layer deep enough to cover the sprouts and a bit more. This works well providing a layer of mulch to suppress weeds in spring as well.
If you’ve planted hard neck garlic as we do, you’ll see the flower stalk beginning to show sometime in mid May to early June, which is about 7 months into the plants development. Left alone it will grow up and begin to curl around on itself before heading skyward again. This is called the scape and is the first edible part of the plant. We make scape pesto using either all scapes in place of basil or a combination of scape/basil. You can also use it in stir fries or soups/stocks. If you don’t cut the scape from the plant it will straighten and form the flower head, which will bloom. Removing the scape allows the plant to put its energy into making a bigger bulb.
So how do you know when the garlic is ready to harvest? About one-third of the leaves will turn brown or yellowed. Try to harvest when the ground is dried out well, it’ll be less messy and it makes the garlic cure faster because you aren’t trying to dry off the moist earth as well as the first few layers of skin. When the garlic is ready I take a garden fork and push it in the dirt just a few inches away from the bulb and pry it out of the ground. Every few days I’ll go out and rotate the bulbs and rub the garlic skins to remove the layer or two allowing air to dry a few more layers. After a two or three weeks I’ll trim the root hairs.
After about 4 to 6 weeks, depending on the temperature, humidity, and drying conditions the garlic is ready. Just cut the stalks off and store in a cool, dark place.
To be honest, I have no idea why I plant so much garlic. Out of the 100 cloves planted in 2011 for the 2012 season we ended up composting about eight bulbs, and it’s a sin to waste such great garlic. What we do is give much of it away and dehydrate a mess of it. Dehydrating is easy to do by slicing the peeled garlic cloves to about 1/16 inch thin and putting them in the dehydrator for a few hours. You may want to keep the windows open and a fan blowing because the house will smell like garlic for a while.
Once dehydrated we store it in sealed glass canning jars and use it for soups or stews. A friend grinds his up for garlic powder. That which is not dehydrated goes into the cellar for storage, which in our case is not perfect conditions, it will store for several months. We also use it to make pesto when the basil is ready for harvest making two portion baggies to freeze for later use.