Garlic when to harvest

Any Gardener Can Grow Garlic – Part 2  
  by Paul Pospisil

It is our pleasure to make available this article on harvesting garlic by the latePaul Pospisil, publisher and editor of The Garlic News. Paul and his wife, Mary Lou, have been conducting organic garlic growing trials in Ontario since 1990.

The Three Harvests of Garlic

With garlic, there are three harvests or crops you can use:

    Marylou bundles scapes
    for market

  • The first harvest is in early spring, when garlic plants are about a foot tall. You can either cut some greens or pull some complete plants as scallions and use them in your cooking as a source of fresh garlic.
  • The second harvest is the scapes. Around mid June, hardneck garlic varieties send up a round stalk or scape. When the scapes curl, snap them off. This enables the plants to put their energy into bulb formation. The scapes are delicious and should not be discarded but used in place of garlic bulbs. They contain loads of garlic oil and have the same health benefits as the bulbs. Scapes can be refrigerated in plastic bags for about 3 months.
  • The main harvest is when the underground bulbs are dug, cured and stored for fall and winter use. This is the most critical harvest requiring meticulous care to give you top quality, keeping garlic. Careless harvesting can ruin a fine crop of garlic.

Harvest preparations start a month ahead of the actual date that the bulbs are lifted and activity doesn’t finish until two weeks later when the cured garlic is put away in storage. After scape removal, the underground bulbs start to swell and grow quickly over the next month. Little special care is needed as the plant is transferring energy from the leaves to the bulbs. In the event of a very dry year, watering may be needed for the latter part of June. However, stop watering around the first of July to let the bulbs mature.

Garlic is ready to be dug between the first week of July through to mid August, depending on variety and strain.

Paul and Marylou checking
the garlic for harvesting

When to Dig the Bulbs

Exactly when to dig the bulbs is a little tricky. Lifting them too early will give undersize bulbs that don’t store well, and a few days too late will result in bulbs lacking the protective wrappers around the cloves. I’ve found that you have only about 3-7 days in which to harvest successfully.

Watch the Greens

The green leaves start to die from the bottom up. When the bottom 3 or 4 leaves are dead and the top 5 or 6 are still green, its time to lift the bulbs. If you’re not sure, dig a bulb or two and check. A mature bulb is fully swelled, well sized and has some partially decomposed wrappers.

Pick a dry day for harvesting.

Handle Garlic Like Eggs

Garlic is very fragile and should not be bumped, bounced or dropped. Manual harvesting is recommended, as even the smallest bump will bruise the garlic, causing early decay and loss of quality. Carefully lift the bulbs with a garden fork and take them, greens and all, for cleaning and curing. Don’t leave garlic in the hot sun but move it quickly to a shady spot to avoid ‘cooking’.


If your soil is a sandy loam, any dirt can be gently brushed off. Clay soils tend to adhere to the bulbs and may need to be washed off with a gentle spray of fresh water. Trim roots to 1/4 ” and carefully remove any dirt from the roots.


Garlic needs about 2 weeks to cure in order to prepare it for winter storage. Either hang it in bundles of 10-12 or place on mesh racks in an airy, ventilated drying shed. Your carport or barn works well for this purpose. Ensure a good airflow and protection from direct sunlight. Cured garlic is then trimmed to remove stalks, placed in containers and taken to storage. It can also be braided for convenience of storage and use.


Best storage temperatures are low, 32-35 F, or room temperature, 60-70 F, at low humidity. Never store garlic in the refrigerator as temperatures of 40-50 F will start premature growth. I believe that garlic is best stored in braids, with some hanging in your kitchen where it is convenient to use. Extra braids go in your cold room or pantry. Different strains and varieties of garlic have different storage lives, varying from 6 months for ‘pickling’ garlic to as long as 11or 12 months for some of the softneck strains.

Garlic Braids

Garlic braids are a practical means of storing garlic. Braids can be simple bundles held together with string or more elaborate pigtail braids (used for softneck garlic) or string braids (for hardneck garlic). They may be decorated with dried grasses or flowers and ribbon to serve the dual purpose of a kitchen decoration. If you wish to braid garlic, do this before the garlic is completely cured, while the stems are still pliable. The braided garlic is then left in the drying shed to complete the curing process. Again, avoid bruising garlic during braiding by working on a soft surface.

Using Garlic

Garlic is for eating, for health and for flavour in cooking. Even if you make or buy garlic for decoration, remember to eat it. Fresh garlic has the best flavour and gets stronger with age. Crush or finely slice garlic to bring out the health-giving allicin compound before using. To reduce the sulphur odour, cook garlic and chew fresh parsley as a breath freshener.

A clove of garlic a day, on average, is a suitable amount to include in a healthy diet. This equates to about 45 garlic bulbs of Rocambole garlic or 4 braids worth per year. Garlic lovers or gourmands, of course, may wish to stock up on more!

Part One – Any Home Gardener Can Grow Garlic – by Paul Pospisil

Harvesting and storing garlic

Garlic bulbs are ready to harvest in late spring or summer, from seven to eight months after they are planted. The outward signs are the green leaves, which will begin to turn brown, and the flower stems – if present – which will begin to soften, although staying green. If you are not sure, just pull back the soil around one of your bulbs, if the clove ridges are clearly defined and the bulbs are a decent size, and some of the leaves have died back, then harvest them.

Don’t leave harvesting until the leaves die back completely as with onions, because by this time the bulbs will have started to split. Once the bulbs have split, they are still fine to eat, but won’t store for long. So eat these ones first.

Some cultivars with curled flower stems, are ready to harvest as the coil in the stem begins to straighten. Most hardneck cultivars though, should have their flower stems removed before this time, because growing a flower stem reduces the nutrients going to the bulb so that bulbs are smaller. But there is also some evidence to show that leaving the flower stem attached until after curing will lengthen storage times. So you may need to choose between bulb size and length of storage!

Garlic that has been planted in light soils can just be pulled out of the ground. If your soil is heavier and/or you have planted them more deeply, then the best way to get the bulbs out is to insert a fork under them and carefully lift the whole plant. Shake or brush off any excess dirt. Don’t bang them against each other or anything else as this will bruise them and shorten storage life. Some books and articles suggest drying the bulbs in the sun for a few days before curing. This may be OK in cool countries and climates, but in Australia our summers get too hot and the bulbs are likely to get sunburnt. The protective skins don’t fully develop until after curing. In dry areas, some growers place freshly dug bulbs in groups on top of the soil, to dry out and start the curing process. They are arranged so that the green leaves from one clump of bulbs, protect the next clump from the sun. However, even then some garlic bulbs can get sunburnt, and the dramatic rise and fall in temperature from day to night can harm the bulb, reducing storage times. If an appropriate space is available they are better cured under cover, where temperatures fluctuate less. Leave plants intact (don’t remove leaves, flower stalks or roots) and hang in bunches or place on racks in a dry airy position that doesn’t get too hot. An old window screen, resting on sawhorses or something similar, makes a good drying tray. Or hang them from the eaves, as long as they are out of the sun. Leave them for a minimum of two to three weeks but if you can leave them for two months then they are likely to store for longer. In more humid areas it is a good idea to cut the roots really short or remove them altogether as they can act as a wick absorbing moisture and carrying it to the bulb thus increasing the chance of fungal diseases. Also, keep an eye on the leaves and if they show any sign of going mouldy, cut them off immediately because this mould will spread to the bulb.

Curing is particularly important if the bulbs are not quite mature, as the bulb continues to absorb moisture and nutrients from the stem and leaves after harvest. If you haven’t already removed the flower stem, then harvest and dry hardneck garlics with the flower head and stem still attached. Bulbs with the leaves attached can also be plaited into strings and hung in a dry airy position. See for photographs that show you how to do this.


Once the bulbs are cured the skins will be papery and dry and the bulbs should feel firm and tightly packed. Check for any diseased, damaged or bruised bulbs and remove them. If the damage is only minor then just eat them. This is also a good time to select the bulbs you want to use for replanting. Choose the best and the healthiest, set them aside and store them separately from the bulbs to be consumed. This way they won’t get eaten by mistake. To allow for replanting,10 to 15 percent of the crop needs to be retained. The optimum storage temperature for bulbs for replanting is 10°C, with limits of 5°C and 18°C.

Unless the bulbs are to be plaited or hung in bunches, all the leaves and stems are now cut off about 2 cm from the bulb. Leave only 1 cm of the roots. Don’t try to wash off dirt or separate the individual cloves as either of these actions will radically shorten the storage life. Store bulbs in shallow cardboard boxes, in slatted wooden boxes, on trays, in net slings, in stockings, or in plaits – in fact in any way that allows air circulation around each bulb. The room where they are stored must be dry, airy and not too cold or hot. Check bulbs every few weeks and remove any diseased ones. Properly stored, some cultivars will last for twelve months or longer.

The optimum temperature for long storage of commercial crops is 0°C. These bulbs are not suitable for planting though, as bulbs grown from cloves kept at very low temperatures tend to be rough, produce side shoots as they mature, or mature too early. For the home grower, storage temperatures around 10°C are ideal, but consistency of temperature is important too. Don’t keep the bulbs in a position where they get very hot or very cold. Enjoy eating your own home grown garlic and if you run out or can’t grow your own then look for Australian grown garlic. I never eat imported garlic as all imported garlic is treated with Methyl bromide before being allowed into Australia. For details on locating locally grown garlic go the Australian Garlic Industry Association website

Article and photographs copyright Penny Woodward

1 Freshly harvested white softneck garlic
2 Garlic left in the ground too long so that the bulbs have split.
3 Freshly harvested Korean Red garlic
4 Garlic hanging to cure in a dry, airy position out of direct sunlight.
5 A garlic crop after curing, and trimming to remove roots and leaves.

Harvesting and Curing Garlic

Are the bottom three to five leaves on your garlic brown, with a few green leaves toward the top? It’s time to harvest!

Here are some tips for working with your own garlic.


Pick a day when the soil is dry. Carefully loosen the soil and pull out the bulbs with the stalk attached. I gently knock most of the dirt off but I do not clean the bulbs until they have cured. Be careful not to bruise the bulbs.


Tie the top of the stalks with string in bundles of five to ten and hang them bulb down in a dark, dry and well-ventilated place for about three weeks. You can hang bundles from a sapling as shown in the pictures! Alternatively, lay them on a screen or an aerated shelf. When the whole stalk is brown and the bulb has formed several layers of papery skin, they are ready to clean up and store.


Snip off the stalk about an inch above the bulb, snip the roots off, then wipe off the dirt with your fingers or a soft brush, being careful not to remove too many layers of skin. Select out any bulbs that are quite small or have nicks in them to eat first!


Garlic stores best in a cold (33-38 degrees) and very dry place. Get more storage tips here.

Thinking ahead…

Replant your largest bulbs for next year’s garlic, or buy some garlic seed from us!

Gardening Tips Gardening curing garden garlic harvest seed storage

Ripe or Rotten: Garlic

Sometimes shopping in the produce section can be a much bigger hassle than you expected.

You look over all the fruits and veggies, but can’t seem to decipher which pieces are ripe and which are rotten. They all look similar, so you pick one up and ask yourself…

  • How can I pick the best produce?

  • Are those bruises just cosmetic or are they signs of decay?

  • What does ready-to-eat actually look like?

  • If they start to go bad, will I have to throw them all out?

By the end of this post, all of these questions will have been answered, and you will be a better produce picker!

Today’s produce section pick is GARLIC.

Technically, vegetables can’t “ripen” the way fruit does once picked off the vine. Once it’s picked, it begins to die. But there are signs that indicate the freshest stalks and those that aren’t so bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. With that being said, here are some ways to identify best of the bunch.

Garlic isn’t just a great source of fragrance and flavor. It’s a superfood for our bodies, as well. Even with its small size, garlic is equipped with mega tons of micronutrients like manganese, vitamin C, and calcium, among others. These make garlic great for overcoming cold and flu symptoms, building strong bones, aiding in digestion and detoxification, as well as helping our hormones function properly.

So, embrace the funky garlic breath and feel better with more garlic in your system.

When To Harvest Garlic

So you planted garlic in the garden and you let it grow all winter and all spring and now you are wondering when you should be harvesting garlic. If you dig it up too soon, the bulbs will be teeny and if you dig it too late, the bulbs will be split and no good for eating, so knowing when to harvest garlic is an important thing.

When Do You Harvest Garlic?

The easiest way to know when to harvest garlic is simply to look at the leaves. When the leaves are one-third brown, you’ll need to start testing the bulbs to see if they are the proper size. This is easy to do. Simply loosen the dirt above one or two garlic bulbs and get an idea of their size while still keeping them in the ground. If they look large enough, then you’re ready to make your garden garlic harvest. If they’re still

too small, then your garlic will need to grow a bit more.

You don’t want to wait too long, though. Once the leaves get to be one-half to two-thirds brown, you should harvest the garlic regardless of size. Putting off harvesting garlic until after the leaves are completely brown will only result in an inedible bulb.

Your garden garlic harvest will normally happen some time in July or August if you are in a climate that is ideal for garlic growth. In warmer climates, you can expect to be harvesting garlic as early as spring, though only certain garlic varieties will perform well in warm climates.

How to Harvest Garlic

Now that you know when to harvest garlic, you need to know how to harvest garlic. While it may seem like harvesting garlic is just a matter of digging the bulbs out of the ground, there are a few things to keep in mind.

Dig, don’t pull. When you are harvesting garlic, you need to dig it out of the ground. If you try to pull it out, you will only break the leaves off.

Be gentle. Freshly dug garlic bulbs will bruise easily and it is easy to accidentally slice a bulb open while digging if you aren’t careful. When harvesting garlic, lift each bulb individually from the ground. Place it in a container where it won’t get jostled too much.

Get the garlic out of the sun as soon as possible. Garlic will blanch and burn in the sun. Put the freshly dug unwashed bulbs in a dark, dry place as soon as possible.

Now you know when to harvest garlic and how to harvest garlic. Really, the only thing left to do is eat your garden garlic harvest.

How do you know when to harvest garlic bulbs and if they have matured to the right point for harvest?

Each leaf on the above-ground garlic plant represents one potential papery wrapper around the mature bulb. Having well developed, fully intact wrapper layers means that garlic will store longer and keep its wonderful aroma and flavour. The trick is to let the plants begin to die back, but harvest before all the leaves have turned brown.

The top-most, green leaves extend down, into the soil, around each garlic bulb. When the lower two thirds of leaves have dried up and turned brown, the garlic bulbs will be at their best. Because there are still green leaves, there is still quite a lot of moisture left in the bulbs. The process of allowing this moisture to reduce naturally is called “curing” and will increase the storage life of garlic bulbs by months.

Harvest garlic bulbs gently. Take time to loosen the soil above each bulb. Avoid piercing the bulbs by loosening the soil some distance from each one with a fork. Do not rely on simply pulling upwards on the stem, but rather pull gently and at the same time coax the bulb out of the soil with the other hand. All this fuss will be worth it if the bulb can be extracted without damaging the protective layers.

Once the bulbs are dug, lay the plants in a single layer somewhere that is dry, airy, and out of direct sunshine. Leave the plants (turning them every few days doesn’t hurt) like this for at least a week. The green leaves should dry up and turn brown on their own. This can take several weeks if a lot of moisture is present in the plants’ tissues, so play it by ear.

When the bulbs are cured, and no green is left showing on the upper leaves, the garlic will be ready for cleaning and storage. We prefer using a toothbrush to loosen and scrub away any soil still stuck to the bulbs, and trim the roots with scissors. This is the time to braid soft-neck garlic. For hard-neck garlic, trim the stem to within about three inches from the bulb. If the stem is pliant or seems to still have a moist core, it’s worth letting the garlic dry for another week. Garlic netting is the best way to store hardneck garlic bulbs, but they can also be tied in small bundles and hung for easy access in the kitchen.

Save the biggest, best looking bulbs for planting in September – or choose some new garlic varieties. Either way, plant lots of garlic. It’s one of the most economical garden crops.

More on How to Grow the Best Garlic.

Garlic Scape Pesto Recipe.

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