Probably the trickiest part of growing garlic is knowing when it's time to harvest the bulbs. Standing in my garden in the heat of summer, it's hard to remember how cold it was, on that day I planted the cloves, way back in November. I haven't had to do much since planting, other than watch it growing. Garlic really is an easy, trouble-free vegetable to grow.
Just be sure the bulbs receive a consistent supply of moisture during the warmer parts of the growing season. Generally, this means about 1 inch of water per week. I stop watering about 2 to 3 weeks before I harvest the garlic, as it helps promote drying of the plants and curing of the bulbs. This is a natural process where the dry conditions help send a signal to the garlic plants for them to start the final stages of growth and begin to move towards dormancy.
I removed the scapes in June, to encourage larger bulbs.
When to harvest garlic.
Then comes the tricky bit... knowing when it's time to harvest. While there are still green leaves on the plant, the bulbs will continue to grow. I leave the garlic growing for as long as possible to maximise the size of the bulb. But, leave them too long and the bulb will start to deteriorate and split open, making for poor storage.
The green leaves start to die from the bottom up. When the bottom 2 or 3 leaves are dead and the top 3 or 4 are still green, it's time to lift the bulbs. I choose a dry day for harvesting and if heavy rain is imminent I get them out of the ground before it arrives.
The bulbs are very soft at this stage and should be handled gently to avoid bruising. I lift the bulbs carefully with a garden fork and take them, greens and all, for cleaning and curing. Don’t leave the bulbs in the hot sun but move it quickly to a shady spot to avoid 'cooking'.
Curing the garlic bulbs.
The bulbs need to be cured before putting it into winter storage. This can take 3 - 4 weeks, although during a humid summer it can take much longer. I leave them 2-3 months to be sure. After brushing the soil off gently, I hang them in bundles of 10-12 in an airy, ventilated shed. The beams in our lumber barn are a great place to hang the bunches. There's a good through flow of air, and away from the sunlight. Once the bulbs are cured, I'll trim the stalks, before placing in containers and putting in dark, dry storage for the winter. Garlic stores well for 8 - 10 months.
Of course, a few bulbs go directly to the kitchen. When I peel back the satiny white wrappers, to reveal the pearly bulbs, it's easy to understand why hard-necked garlic is also known as porcelain garlic. The tender bulbs are moist and crunchy. Just perfect for toasted garlic bread at the end of a day of harvesting. Ah, the taste of summer!