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In my humble opinion, garlic might just be one of the best things we grow. It is pretty easy to plant, it miraculously transforms from one clove to a full head, and if properly dried and cured it can last through the whole winter. In addition, if you grow enough it is easy to re-seed, which means you could buy seed garlic once and never have to buy it again!
Follow these simple steps to harvest, cure, and store your garlic and you'll be enjoying it right through next spring (when you can plant whatever's left for spring garlic!).
1. Harvest. Garlic is ready to harvest when the bottom third of the stalks have started to turn from green to yellow or brown. You can always pull one or two heads to make sure it is ready before harvesting your whole crop. The ideal time to harvest is after you've had a bit of rain, so that the soil is a a little bit looser and the heads will pull up more easily. To harvest, grip the greens as close to the surface as you can and gently but firmly pull the full garlic head out, being careful to keep the greens attached. If the head does not come easily, use a large shovel to carefully dig down around the garlic row and prop up the soil to loosen it and pull out the garlic.
If you have grown different varieties, make sure to keep the harvest separated into sections and to label the containers. You might be transferring your garlic a few times so keep track of those labels carefully if you want to keep your varieties separate from each other. We find that the plastic trays that come from the plant store are great for harvesting garlic because they have built in ventilation.
2. Initial Dry. If our garlic is somewhat moist when we harvest it, we like to leave it out to dry in the sun to get the initial moisture off before moving it to its next location. Typically, this means we lay it out on our deck or picnic tables in a single row and let it sit in the sun for the rest of the day (if we've harvested in the morning) then bring it in at night to start sorting it and getting it ready to cure.
3. Sort and Bunch. Before getting your garlic to its curing place, you have a chance to sort through it to decide which heads will be used for which purposes. We look for any heads that have grown large enough to start to separate and save those for seed garlic (which you'll plant this fall!). We also separate the garlic into categories - garlic to eat ourselves; garlic to give to our farm share; and garlic to sell. Whatever categories you need, this is a great time to organize. You can tie the garlic into bunches (we like to do 5 heads per bunch but you can do as many as 10) and, if necessary, label your bunches so you don't lose track of which bundle is which type.
4. Cure. Once you have sorted your garlic and collected it into bunches, you'll want to find a good place for it to cure. The ideal location is cool, shady, and dry and gets good air ventilation. We sometimes use our screened-in porch (photo on the left), but if the weather is going to be too hot and sunny, we use our basement (photo on the right). If the basement feels damp, we set up our dehumidifier and aim a fan over the garlic to ensure it gets dry. At this point, its great to hang your garlic, but we have also done just fine laying the garlic out in a single layer on a large surface (sorry about that ping pong table, honey). You'll leave it here for about 2 weeks or until the tops of the garlic are completely dried (see how this garlic is looking brown compared to the photo above where the tops were still green?).
5. Prepare for Storage. Once the tops are completely brown and dried out, you can prepare your garlic for long term storage. Brush the remaining dirt off of the heads, give the roots on the bottom a nice short trim, and if you hard-neck varieties you can cut the stem off to end up with a garlic head like you would see in the store. However, it is also ok to trim the roots and clean and just leave them on the stems to hang for storage. If you have soft-neck varieties you'll want to leave the stems anyway to do a nice braided garlic for storage (which we have yet to perfect!).
6. Store. Now it's time to get that garlic to its fall/winter/spring storage spot. You can leave it hanging in a nice dark, dry place or you can place the heads in mesh bags to store. The room should be about 40-50 degrees. Garlic should keep fine for about 6 months. If your garlic starts to sprout come spring the great news is that you can plant those sprouting cloves to grow spring garlic!