Joy's Garlic Garden

Planting and Harvesting Information

I've been asked so many good questions about planting and harvesting garlic by our garlic buyers. I'll share our experience here and feel free to ask more questions or for clarifications on why we do what we do.

Planting

We are located in Wisconsin and in this area of the country we plant our garlic in October and November. We usually plant in October but I've heard of others planting as late as December. As long as you can dig into the dirt, you can plant.

We save our seed garlic cloves right after curing. We choose the largest bulbs and the largest cloves. The cloves need to be planted pointy side up, root side down, this does make a difference. If you plant them upside down the bulbs will be misshapen. We plant them about an inch under the dirt. They are 8 inches apart. Garlic likes full sun, we see a decided difference in yields between full sun and partial shade. Garlic is a heavy nitrogen feeder and it needs the space to develop to full size. Then after labeling the rows top off the soil with 6-8 inches of straw. Get the most seedless straw you can find. You'll have less weeds. Don't fret about whether the garlic will grow through the straw, it will.

If the garlic grows in the fall, that's okay, when the temperature drops below freezing the tops will die off but the garlic will still survive. Then early in the spring, the garlic starts to grow through the straw (or whatever mulch you decide to use). Spring and early summer is a time to make sure the weeds are out of the garlic beds. The straw will help keep them down but if you let weeds grow, they take away from the nitrogen available to the garlic and the garlic will not be as big or hardy. It is a task but not a big one, strolling through the well mulched beds, a few weeds crop up here and there but it isn't too much work.

In about June, the hardneck variety will give you scapes. These are the flowers/seeds (the bulbils) that come up in the middle of the plant in a stem that is round with a flower like looking thing at the end. The stem curls around in a spiral. These can be cut off and used in vegetable dishes not unlike asparagus. It has the flavor of mild garlic. There are recipes on the internet for pickled garlic scapes, why not give them a try. They are a lot like dilly beans. Many people say to cut off the scape so all the energy of the plant can make a bigger bulb. Others say, leave them, and let them flower and produce bulbils, and it won't make a difference in the size of the bulb. You decide. You can also plant the bulbils in the fall. While a clove of garlic will produce a bulb with many cloves. Some bulbils will produce a bulb like an onion the first year, and a bulb with differentiated cloves the next year. You can experiment with planting the bulbils if you like.

Harvesting

When to harvest the garlic? We harvest in July. Each different kind of garlic is ready to harvest at different times in July. If you are watering your garlic regularly, stop in late June, this lets the garlic start to dry out. A wet muddy garlic bed is hard to harvest and there is more chance of bugs/worms invading the bulbs. When 1/3 of the leaves start to yellow, it's probably time to harvest. Take one out as a test and look at the bulb. You can loosen the bulb from the ground with a pitchfork or shovel being careful not to damage the bulb. If you are late on harvest, the cloves will start to burst out of the paper wrappers on the bulb. If you are too early, the cloves are not fully filling the bulb. They should bulge slightly, each clove, and the bulb should still be completely covered by the white/red/purple bulb wrappers. You'll want them just showing that little bulge but still remaining safely in the bulb wrappers so they will last long after curing.

Curing

Curing the garlic. Why cure it? If it is cured (dried) it will last many more months than uncured garlic. How do we cure it? We harvest the garlic, bundle it, tying it with twine, power wash it, label it, and we hang it in a spot that is not in the sun, and where it will not get wet from the rain. We cure ours outside, in the wind. Curing takes about 4-5 weeks. If you don't cure it can become moldy and unusable. The paper holding the bulb will dry, the top of the garlic stem will close off. Then we cut the stems, where they are closed, and put them in labeled storage, dry conditions with ventilation (we use fans). During the curing process, moisture evaporates, the garlic loses weight compared to freshly dug garlic. You can eat uncured and cured garlic, the cured garlic just lasts longer in storage.

If you have questions please e-mail me at joy@joysgarlic.com and I'll do my best to answer you here.

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