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When to harvest garlic

Garlic plantGarlic is on my list of crops so easy I barely post about them.  I'll mention curing in a month or so since that was our downfall last year --- we lost nearly a third of our crop due to improper drying.  Other than that, timing is the only concern.  Specifically, when do you harvest garlic?

If you harvest your garlic too early, the heads will be small, and some may not have divided themselves into cloves yet.  If you harvest your garlic too late, the outer wrapper layers will have rotted off and the garlic head won't store well.  We're looking for Goldilocks' "just right" stage, when the heads have achieved their full maturity but are still enfolded by several protective layers of paper.

A rule of thumb is to harvest when the lower leaves of the garlic plant start to die back but four to six living leaves remain.  Folks say that each living leaf equates to a wrapper layer still encasing the garlic head.  Depending on where you live and what type of garlic you're Young garlic head, cut in half to show the clovesgrowing, the magic date may arrive any time between June and August.

I planted so many beds of garlic this year that I can afford to harvest a few early to get a feel for what's going on underground.  Monday, I pulled the plant at the top of the page and cut open the bulb to see what's inside.  Notice the eight living leaves still on the plant, but only seemingly three or four protective layers around the head.  I could probably harvest the garlic now, but I'd rather let the plants grow for another week or two, testing at intervals to discover when the outer layers begin to rot off.

We've still got thirteen heads of garlic from last year to eat up, so I'm in no big hurry to harvest.  I do wonder, though --- what was I thinking to plant twice as much garlic as last year?  Christmas presents?  Fear of vampires?

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Yeah, presents for your poor old dad, whose garlic is doing nothing.
Comment by Errol Thu May 27 07:18:09 2010
I've read that it's hard to grow garlic once you're in the real South, so you shouldn't feel bad. I should have plenty to spare if all goes as planned!
Comment by anna Thu May 27 08:16:29 2010

Uhm, eat it?

Getting rid of unwanted visitors? ;-)

It's also supposed to have health benefits.

Comment by Roland_Smith Thu May 27 13:19:26 2010
We eat a lot of garlic, especially in the summer when pesto pasta is a weekly dish. But there apparently is a limit to how much we can eat. (I never knew! :-) )
Comment by anna Thu May 27 13:37:39 2010

Especially since you would have nothing to do with it when you were living with me, one who loves garlic!

Giving as Christmas or birthday presents sound wonderful to me!

Comment by Sheila Thu May 27 19:41:13 2010
Contest prize! Seeing as the squirrels ate most of mine after I planted it last fall I could use some. :)
Comment by Fostermamas Fri May 28 05:19:41 2010

Sheila --- I've discovered that I'll eat absolutely anything I grow on the farm. I don't know whether it just tastes better (which it does) or whether it's the pride of ownership, but it all goes straight down the gullet!

Fostermamas --- great idea!

Comment by anna Fri May 28 07:57:49 2010

I ended up pulling all of my garlic out of the ground yesterday. I pulled one up to test it, and the bulb was already big and gorgeous. I wasn't planning to pull them so soon, but we had to make room for a new shed so I went ahead and pulled up the bed where the shed is going to be. Most of them were mature, but I think a few were still a little too young.

I'm trying to cure them right now and so far so good. I hope this works out. We even ate one of the bulbs fresh and it was delicious.

Comment by Sara Fri May 28 14:03:09 2010

I'm going to test ours again next week, and I wouldn't be surprised if I pull it then. Be sure to give yours plenty of air circulation when you cure them.

Last year, we tasted ours both fresh and cured, and the cured has a lot more zing!

Comment by anna Fri May 28 18:17:24 2010
I mistakenly thought that you were supposed to harvest garlic in October when the tops had died off! I will need to pay more attention to my first crop this summer, now that I know I'll need to watch for the right harvest time!
Comment by Karen Thu May 26 14:03:52 2011
You wouldn't have been harvesting garlic heads in October, but cloves since the paper wrapping tends to rot away if you leave the garlic in the ground too long. Good luck!
Comment by anna Thu May 26 15:39:03 2011

I just read this week in the Farmer's Almanac that the first full moon in June is what Native Americans called the Garlic Moon, and it signifies that it's time to harvest the garlic. I have no idea WHICH Native Americans, east, west, north or south, however. :(

I just wait til the tops are 1/3-1/2 brown, then I check one. If it's not ready I wait a day or two and check again. Not very 'scientific', but it works and gets me a lot of yummy garlic. :)

Comment by Rhenda Sat Jun 18 12:39:18 2011
Your comment left me scratching my head. To the best of my knowledge, garlic originated in Asia and wouldn't have shown up in the Americas until after the Europeans arrived. While we do have several native, garlic-like plants, none of them are harvested in June the way garlic is. But I guess it would still be possible for Native Americans in the 1800s or 1900s to name June the garlic moon?
Comment by anna Sat Jun 18 15:36:55 2011
while I can't find any sources online that talk about a garlic moon, perhaps it was a particular tribe and they were referring to this native wild garlic/onion http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Allium_canadense
Comment by Rebecca Sat Jun 18 20:37:04 2011
Interesting! For some reason, the only garlic-like wild plants that were coming to mind were ramps, but this does seem like a candidate for the Garlic Moon. Also perhaps an intriguing plant to grow, although I can't seem to find much information on the internet.
Comment by anna Sun Jun 19 13:33:55 2011