Last fall, I planted four different types of garlic in my garden: French Rocambole, Persian Star, Music and Polish hardneck. I spread it out over two raised beds and then planted a few extra in my ornamental gardens. I think it was a tweet from Niki that led me to request a garlic list from Al Picketts at Eureka Garlic, a grower based in Prince Edward Island. Now that it’s time to harvest said garlic, I thought Al would be the perfect person to provide a few garlic-harvesting tips.
How to tell when your garlic is ready
Al uses a calendar to determine when to pull his own crops – for example, he always harvests Turbans on July 25. But because we all live in different gardening zones and various climates, in general, he says to look for two dead, dry leaves with a third leaf that is starting to die. “The first leaf may be hard to see as it could be eaten up already by the soil bacteria,” he explains. “When it is time to harvest there will still be plenty of green leaves but don’t let this stop you. The reason for harvesting at the right time is because the bulb is wrapped with leaves. When a leaf dies, the soil bacteria eat it. This leaf will disappear not only above ground but also below.”
How to harvest garlic
The best way to remove a bulb depends on the type of garlic you’ve planted, says Al. For Turbans, Artichokes and Silverskins, he recommends a fork, spade or garlic undercutter. Hardneck types, like Rocambole, Porcelain, Purple Stripe, Purple Stripe Marbled and Purple Stripe Glazed are tougher and can probably be pulled, he says.
I usually take my trowel and well away from the bulb, I try to lift the soil from beneath it. Then I’m able to gently pull it out. I gently remove excess dirt, being careful not to bruise the bulb – bruising can shorten the storage life of the garlic.
“To help ensure the soil is less packed and less dry, I use barley straw as a mulch put on in late October or early November so the garlic grows up through it in the spring,” advises Al.
What if you pull garlic too early?
“The only problem with early harvesting that comes to mind is the sacrifice in bulb size and, when it comes to garlic, size matters,” explains Al. This is because the garlic bulb goes through a rapid growth stage just before it is ready for harvesting so a few days could make a significant difference in bulb size.
How do you dry garlic?
Curing garlic basically means drying it out. Because he has a much larger operation than a typical home gardener, Al cures his garlic by tying it in bunches of 20 bulbs with twine, and hanging it to a horizontal rope. He recommends lots of air flow to dry out the garlic, but the air should be cool and the space should be out of direct sunlight. I made a drying rack out of screen stapled to a scrap wood frame. I have it raised on bricks in my garage so air flows underneath.