Are you in a dilemma about harvesting your garlic crop? We are here to help you with info on when to harvest garlic, how to cure it, and store it safely.
Garlic is a pantry staple in most of our homes.
Its intense flavour and pungent taste add a zing to the dishes quite unmatched by any other spice or garnish.
Garlic has also long been a favourite of home gardeners as it is easy to grow indoors in containers. But, even the most seasoned gardeners sometimes find it hard to judge when exactly the garlic is ready for harvesting.
Timing is everything - especially with a crop like garlic which is hidden underground and you can not assess its maturity.
Knowing exactly when to harvest garlic is important because, if delayed, the bulbs will open up or split up. Or if you harvest them too early, you will have a crop of tiny, green cloves with weak flavour which do not store well for longer periods.
How To Grow Garlic
Garlic bulbs belong to the same family as onions, shallots, and leek of the Allium genus.
There are two types of garlic:
Soft-necks with floppy stock are easier to store and are found most commonly in grocery stores. Then there is the hard-neck with a stiff stack. The hard-neck varieties have a stronger flavour and larger cloves than the soft-neck ones.
Season - Garlic, especially the hard neck variety needs a period of cold for good bulb development. So, it is best planted in early winter or late autumn. Garlic will attain full growth in 6 to 8 months, but this period will vary by as much as 2 to 3 weeks depending on temperature humidity, and variety of garlic.
Soil - Garlic grows best with warm sunny temperatures in well-draining soil. Garlic is a heavy feeder - you might have to mix organic fertiliser with the planting soil and also spread some on the top. A deep container ( 8 to 10 inches) with good drainage is essential if you are growing garlic indoors.
Planting - Garlic is grown by sowing individual garlic cloves directly in the soil rather than seeds. For planting, separate the individual cloves carefully from the bulb keeping the papery cover intact. This protects the cloves from infections and fungus. Plant the cloves individually with the pointed end facing up and the flat basal plate facing down. Space the cloves 15 cm or 6 inches apart, and 2 to 3 inches deep with the tip of the clove 1 inch below the soil surface.
Watering and care- After planting, water deeply and evenly to ensure plenty of moisture for the cloves. As the leaves start browning, stop watering for a week before harvesting. Avoid overhead watering and wet/damp soil as it can lead to fungal diseases. Also, Garlic needs at least 6 to 8 hours of daily sunlight, so make sure to move the container around to a sunny spot. You can even use grow lights if you are afraid of not getting enough sun.
Pest Control - Garlic's pungent smell is very effective in keeping pests away. You just have to be careful to avoid water logging which may lead to fungal infections and root rot.
Quick Tip - While your garlic grows underground, you can use a few of the green leaves as a garnish in your soups and salads.
It will also produce flower stacks or scapes, which should be immediately removed. These scapes have a flavour and texture similar to asparagus and taste quite well when cooked in a stir fry or pesto.
When To Harvest Garlic
Harvesting garlic is devilishly tricky. Wait too long and the leaves turn brown and result in overripe bulbs whose cloves are separating. These loose buds won't last long in storage.
Also, every additional brown leaf means the loss of the protective layer around the bulbs. Keeping this papery tunic intact is crucial for ensuring maximum flavour and fragrance, along with protection from pests and moisture loss.
Harvest too soon and you will stop the bulb size from developing fully and also affect the storage potential.
The key to harvesting garlic at the exact right time lies in its leaves. Specifically, keeping an eye out for the correct ratio of brown to green leaves.
Primetime to harvest garlic is when several of the lower leaves have gone brown or yellow, but the top five or six leaves are still green.
Quick Tip - You can harvest a few baby greens or spring garlic quite early when the leaves are still green. They have a single clove at this stage and the leaves have a sharp spring onion-like flavour.
How To Harvest Garlic
For harvesting, dig up a couple of bulbs and ensure that they have a nice papery tissue-like cover and a well-developed head. Then gently loosen the soil with a fork and dig up the bulbs individually.
Avoid pulling directly by the stem. Avoid damaging the bulbs, stems, or leaves as it will adversely affect their storage potential. Garlic should always be harvested intact and separated from the plant only after curing.
Gently brush off the soil from the bulbs with your hands. If there is any mud sticking, it can be easily removed after it dries while curing.
Take care not to dislodge the delicate papery cover and never wash it with water, as it can trap moisture inside the bulb and result in fungal infections.
Curing or drying helps to draw out the excess moisture and helps to settle the flavours. Also, well-cured garlic can be stored for up to 8 to 10 months and is safe from fungi, mould, and viruses.
For curing, you need to dry the bulbs in a single layer under indirect sunlight for two to four weeks depending on the weather and the sunlight. If you are drying them outside, use a screen to protect them from the sun. Even then, avoid the bright sun and keep them in the shade.
Store your garlic harvest in a naturally cool and dry place but not in the refrigerator because it has too much humidity.
Once the leaves become dry and rustling, cut off the stalk an inch above the bulb and trim the roots. Store the bulbs in net bags so that they have some air circulation.
Knowing when to harvest garlic is crucial for ensuring a crop of well-formed bulbs that can be stored safely for months.
Did we help you understand the process of garlic harvest?
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