We’ve had an unseasonably hot and dry spring here in the PNW; something we are not accustomed to. The garden is like a full time job now, to be started when I get home from my other full time job! Each year the garden has been the subject of a different experiment; and each year I learn from what went well or what I would do differently and squirrel it away in my garden notebook SWEARING that next summer’s garden will be perfect! Well, I’m still waiting for that perfect garden BUT this year we decided to focus on things that grow well with little maintenance, produce a large amount of food per square foot, and stored or preserved well. To that end we have loads of berries, grapes, potatoes, tomatoes, beans, sunflowers, onions, and garlic (among many other things).
Although it’s earlier than normal, the garlic was showing signs of needing to come out. Sadly, there is a fairly small window of opportunity to harvest your garlic if you want a large, tight bulb that will store well.
I only grow hard neck varieties because only hard necks will produce a scape – and I LOVE scapes! – but sadly, they don’t store quite as long. However, I do find that if I store them in a mesh bag in the crisper drawer of the fridge after curing for a few weeks in my garden shed that they do stay fresh for about 5+ months. Once the heads look like they are starting to dry out I peel them and keep them in a jar of vinegar in my fridge – they will stay like this for the next 6 months or so until my next harvest! I’m also planning on dehydrating some for home grown garlic powder this year. I did, after all, plant about 85 heads of garlic (maybe i was a little overzealous).
The garlic will tell you when it’s time; each leaf on your garlic plant is a layer of wrapping around your cloves. These wrappers will protect your hard work and allow you to store the cloves longer. Once the leaves start to die back (from the bottom up) you’ll want to keep a close eye. I find that once the bottom 3-4 leaves are dead it’s a good time to check. Loosen the soil with your fingers and see how big the bulb is. If you are happy with the size and the head looks nice and tight (no cracks or separating) then stop watering your patch for at least a week to dry it out – you want your heads to be nice and dry before curing and the soil will be looser, allowing for easier head removal. I like to dig up my heads with a gardening spade and my dirty hands. Loosen the dirt around the head and get your spade under the base of the head. Loosen the head with your hand while prying the head upwards with the spade you’ll feel the roots come loose and the head pop free (this all sounds very graphic, doesn’t it? Eww!).
Once all your heads are up, move them to a dry place with good ventilation for 3ish weeks to cure (don’t bother cleaning the dirt off, you don’t want to risk damaging the protective wrapping) – I put mine in a garden shed resting on top of a length of galvanized mesh fencing so there is plenty of room for air to move around the heads. Once they are nice and dry you can brush off the loose dirt (gently, you want to keep the wrappers in tact) and cut off the stalks and put in a mesh bag – ideally these would be stored in a root cellar. I don’t have one but have found that if I keep them in my refrigerator crisper drawer they keep pretty well and last a good, long time.
Oh, and don’t forget to pick the largest heads for replanting next year! I pick the 8 largest heads and keep them separately in my pantry – these will go in the ground in October for next years harvest.
One thing I did do differently this year was that I cut the scapes earlier than I had in years passed. The last few years I waited until scapes made a complete circle before cutting, this year I cut them while they were a bit small and just curled downward. The idea behind this is that removing the scape tells the plant to send all of it’s energy into growing large heads instead of worrying about reproducing. I do think my heads were larger this year (although, truthfully, not by much) but my scape harvest was smaller. I suppose I will have to consider which is more important to me next summer.
Off to make a yummy dinner of crusty, rustic bread and roasted garlic. The smell of roasted garlic is killing me!