It’s Garlic Harvest Time
Garlic harvest time is always a nice milestone during the growing season. It’s a crop that you plant in the fall and harvest the next summer.
My husband Bill is the garlic expert in our household. He’s been growing it for years and has agreed to let me share some of his tips. That’s Bill in the photo to the left, which was taken while he was harvesting garlic and shallots (on the bed in front of him).
Bill mainly grows hardneck garlic because he ends up with larger cloves that are easier to use in cooking. This year, he grew the hardneck varieties of ‘German Porcelain’ and ‘German Red’, and a softneck variety called ‘Inchelium’.
Even those this might seem a bit backwards, let’s talk about harvesting garlic first because we’re right at the time of year when that takes place.
As we get toward mid-July, Bill starts keeping a close watch on the lowest 2 pairs of leaves on each garlic stalk. Once they have turned brown, that means it’s time to dig up the plants. (digging is much safer than just pulling on the stalks, by the way, because the stalks can break)
You don’t want to wait until all the leaves have dried out because it’s the green leaves that are providing the layers of skin over the whole bulb.
After digging up the plants, Bill takes them to our wood shed and hangs them in bundles to dry. After the plants have completely dried, he clips off the main stalk and roots and stores the cleaned bulbs in our basement.
Now let’s talk about planting garlic:
In the fall, Bill loosens the soil in one of our raised beds and adds an organic fertilizer that is high in phosphorus (that’s the 2nd number on fertilizer bags and boxes).
He chooses some bulbs from the current year’s harvest and breaks them apart into individual cloves. Those should be planted at a depth of 4″ and about 6″ apart, and then watered in.
Following planting, he covers the surface of the bed with about 2-4″ of mulch. Bill uses grass clippings from our untreated lawn (no herbicides) or shredded leaves. The purpose of the mulch is to insulate the bed through the winter and hold in moisture.
In late winter, we’ll start seeing small green tips emerging through the mulch. If he used grass clippings, he’s careful to help the sprouts poke through so the grass doesn’t hold them down. By leaving the mulch in place, it cuts down on weed growth and helps the soil retain moisture.
Once spring arrives, he makes sure the plants are getting plenty of moisture and pulls any weeds that do come up, since they compete for moisture and nutrients. Bill also gives the plants an additional fertilization with a weak solution of fish fertilizer at 2 to 3 week intervals until the weather gets hot.
At that point, watch for garlic scapes, which are the curlicue flower stalks that grow on hardneck varieties. We harvest them when they’re about a foot long and use them to make garlic scape pesto and for seasoning other dishes.
That is essentially the routine until the lowest 2 pairs of leaves turn brown in the summer and the whole cycle begins again.