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For the largest garlic cloves, garlic seed which is actually just garlic cloves, should be planted in the fall, before the first hard freeze. Because of this, I like to think of planting garlic, as the beginning of a new growing year. In our neck of the woods, zone 8b outside Seattle, Columbus Day is usually the target date, or mid October.
For the best selection of garlic, it should be ordered online mid summer. Most places run out quickly of favorite varieties. Here is a page showing what Amazon currently has in stock: Garlic Seed
My absolute favorite variety is Music Garlic. Great flavor and huge cloves! Big cloves are key to being one of my favorites. I have grown varieties where the cloves are teeny tiny and it is no fun peeling them!
You can plant it later and it will do fine. In fact, you can plant it in early spring if you like. However, you will get much smaller garlic cloves as a result.
Around here, harvest time is usually late June to early July. So that makes it around 8-9 months for it to grow and be ready for harvest.
What’s the difference between these two types of garlic anyway? The neck refers to the stem that grows up out of the garlic bulb. On hardnecks this stem hardens as the plant develops. On softnecks, there is no stem, there are just leaves, that remain soft as the plant develops.
Pros: Hardneck garlic gives you scapes, so it is like a second harvest from the same plant. I love to make garlic scape pesto and freeze it for use all year around. They also have a more intense flavor than soft necks.
Con: Hardneck garlic doesn’t keep as long as soft neck garlic. I still prefer to grow it because of the scapes, and have been known to keep it until early spring before it begines to sprout. Once you see a few cloves beginning to sprout, freeze some peeled cloves. Just throw them in a mason jar and stick them in the freezer. When I need some, I just pull them out, put them in a bowl and pour some hot water from my electric tea kettle over them, and they are thawed out in just a few minutes.
Pros: One, they keep longer in storage than hard neck. Two, you can braid them, so that can look pretty cool in your kitchen!
Con: No Garlic Scapes!! Sad!!!
If you are growing hard neck garlic, the scapes are the flowering tendril that curls up out of the plant. Usually they can be harvested a few weeks up to a month before the garlic is ready for harvest. For me, that means mid to late June usually.
I just bring out a pair of scissors and snip them off. You want to be sure to harvest them while they are still tender. If left too long on the plant, they will get woody which makes them kind of tough and chewy, which is not good.
Usually, by the time you spot them shooting up out of the garlic, it is almost time to harvest them! So once you notice them, harvest them soon after!
If you don’t harvest them, your garlic cloves will be smaller than if you do. If you don’t snip them off, the plant will send more energy into making the flower, or seed, than it will into making bigger cloves of garlic! So if you are growing hardneck garlic, harvest them!
My first clue it is getting close to time to harvest the garlic, is usually when I have almost everything else planted in the veggie garden. I get those last warm season veggies planted at the end of May or early June. Than I start looking for the garlic scapes as I grow only hardneck garlic.
That is my first clue, when the scapes come in. Once they are in, I know that harvest time is approximately a month or so away.
For both garlic types, the real clue to watch for, is the browning of the lower leaves. When 3 or 4 of the lower most leaves on the plant, have begun to die off and go brown, that is your clue that it is time to harvest.
Once you have noticed the bottom leaves have turned brown, you have about a 2 week window in which you want to harvest. If you wait longer than that, the outer paper covering on the garlic bulb begins to break down, and the actual garlic cloves become exposed.
If this happens, the garlic can begin to rot under ground. If harvested without the paper wrapping, the cloves will not keep as well in storage.
Another thing to watch the timing on, is rain or watering. Ideally you don’t want the garlic to have a heavy watering right before harvesting. It can cause the cloves to swell and split the paper wrapping, which causes the same problems mentioned above.
This year, my pitchfork went missing before I harvested, so I used a shovel. But I prefer to use the pitch fork. You want to dig either tool in, far enough away from the plant where you are not going to hit the garlic bulb with it. Then lift gently.
Do not pull from the garlic stem or leaves straight up. This can damage the garlic cloves which will cause them to not keep for as long.
Once you have lifted the bulb with the shovel or pitchfork, pull the garlic up and give it a shake, to loosen all the extra soil from it. Continue on in this way until all are harvested.
Once the garlic is harvested, it needs to dry and cure properly before being put into long term storage. Do not wash the garlic, you want it to dry out completely, naturally. If curing softneck garlic you may braid it before the curing process.
Place the garlic somewhere with good air circulation, such as a barn or garage. Lay the garlic down in a single layer. The ideal set up would be to lay it on screens or hardware cloth to allow for complete air circulation around them. Placing a fan onto the garlic is also a good idea.
Don’t place the garlic in a hot attic or a hot greenhouse with stagnant air. Do not place it in direct sunlight either.
In about 3 or 4 weeks, it will be fully cured and ready for storage.
For hardneck garlic, after it is cured, I like to clean it up a bit before storing. I snip the greens off of the bulb, leaving about 1 1/2″ of stem above the bulb. I also trim the roots off and rub the paper covering, careful to remove some of the dried dirt, but not the paper covering itself.
To store your garlic, you want a cool dry and dark location. Ideal specifications are 60 degrees with humidity of 50%. Too much humidity can lead to the cloves sprouting and will encourage them to rot faster.
Do not ever store your garlic in the refrigerator or sealed up in any type of plastic container. Remember that it needs good air circulation. These mesh bags are awesome for storing them in.
Before placing your garlic into storage, select the largest, healthiest bulbs to use as your garlic seed for next year. Keep them in storage with the rest of your garlic, just mark them as seed so you remember to save them. In the fall, pull them out for planting.
Every year save a little bit more, and grow your harvest to share seed garlic or garlic for eating with your friends or family! Or swap your garlic variety with others for a more varied planting next year.
If you learned something here, be sure to check out my article on Storing Onions from the Garden Through the Winter!