If you haven’t already harvested your garlic, it’s about time to do it! Garlic is usually harvested in the Northeast in late July, although this can change a bit depending on the weather (a warmer season means garlic will be harvested earlier, colder seasons may mean garlic needs to be harvested later). One of the best ways to tell if your garlic is ready to harvest is by looking at the leaves of the plant. Once the first or second set of the lowest leaves on the plant have turned brown, it is time to harvest.
With onions, we usually wait for all of the leaves to die before harvesting; with garlic, waiting too long can cause the bulbs to split, and split bulbs don’t store as well as the ones that are intact. If some of your bulbs have split, they’re still perfectly edible, just make sure you use those up first.
When harvesting your garlic, you should dig them up, instead of pulling them out by hand. Trying to pull them out can damage the stems, and you’ll want to keep them on for drying your garlic. Use any digging tool to carefully dig your garlic out, like a trowel, shovel, or digging fork. Since you can’t see the garlic bulb in the ground, start digging a little bit away from the plant, so you don’t stab and damage the bulb.
Once your garlic is harvested, don’t wash it! You can shake some dirt off or brush some off by hand, but washing it could damage the skin of the garlic, and you want the skin intact for the longest storage ability.
You can eat your garlic right away, but if you want to store some to eat throughout the winter, or to save next year’s seed, you’ll want to cure it. This just means drying them out so they store better. Garlic likes to dry in a dark, cool, and dry place. A porch, garage, or shed is a good place for this. You can use a basement, if it’s not too damp and there is good air circulation. You can simply spread them out on a table, or bunch a few heads together by tying a string around the stems (tightly, because the stems will get smaller as they dry). You can hang these off a rafter, or hang up a string to tie the bunches to.
Garlic can take two weeks to two months to cure. You’ll know they are done curing when the roots are shriveled and stiff, and the leaves are completely brown and dry. Now you can cut the stems off, and trim the roots if you want to (you don’t need to, it just makes the garlic a little bit easier to work with and looks a bit prettier). Store the garlic in a cool place, in a container with good air circulation (like a net bag, or tub without the lid on).
If you want to save some garlic for seed, remember the saying “Plant the best, eat the rest”. You want to save your biggest, healthiest heads of garlic for seed. This will help you get nice, big heads next year. If you notice any spots or damage on your garlic, eat those up first.
Whether you’re roasting it, canning it, or adding it to every single thing you cook, there’s nothing quite like the taste of your own homegrown garlic! Enjoy your harvest!