If you do much cooking at home, one thing you're sure to use a lot of is garlic. So many recipes call for a clove or two of minced garlic, and even those that don't could often use a little. Fortunately, growing garlic in the home garden is incredibly easy! You may recall that last October we planted a few dozen garlic cloves that we'd ordered online. We covered them up over the winter, then pretty much ignored them until a few weeks ago.
At that point, the garlic stalks had lost most of their green color and began to look very droopy and dried out. That's your sign that they're ready for harvest. You don't need the whole stalk to be brown and dry; just most of the lower stalks. When we decided to pull ours out, they looked like this.
To harvest garlic, just grab a firm hold of the stalk, close to ground level, and pull the whole thing out. Hopefully they've been growing for the last 9 months, and you'll get something that looks like this.
We had a bit of variation in bulb size in our harvest. Some bulbs were large with lots of nicely formed cloves, but some of the others were a little disappointing. This likely had to do with the soil in our garden box. We planted the garlic first (last fall), before we'd done much to amend the soil. As a result the soil was somewhat dense and clayey, which is not ideal for garlic. It much prefers a loose, fluffy soil with plenty of composted manure. This is something we plan to improve for next year's harvest.
With that much garlic - a whopping 25 bulbs - it's really important to be able to store it for a long time. We chose to grow a hardneck variety which doesn't typically keep as well as the softneck types, but we preferred its flavor and size of cloves. Even so, the proper curing technique can make any type of garlic last for several months. First, they need to be hung in a in a cool, dry place with good ventilation. We bundled a few stalks together and draped them over a conduit running through our basement, then repeated until we'd hung it all.
We let things stay in this state for about three weeks to ensure the garlic had fully cured. We had to watch our heads when walking through the basement, and it smelled pretty pungent for a while. After three weeks we took them down and trimmed the bulbs. The stalks were cut off an inch or two above the bulb, and the roots snipped off almost entirely. Then we used a soft brush to clean off any remaining dirt. Some of the very loose papery outer layers also came off, but as long as it was just a little bit, that was fine too. When we were done, we had a beautiful looking pile of garlic!
As much as we'd like to use every last clove, we do plan to set aside a few of the best looking bulbs to plant this fall. It's tempting to plant the smaller ones so you can use the big ones in your cooking, but it's really wise to plant something that has the characteristics you want to propagate. We want big garlic bulbs in the future, so we'll save a few of the biggest and best to plant.
We're storing our garlic in brown paper bags in the basement. The basement will keep them cool and dry, and the bag will ensure that they also stay in the dark. If garlic bulbs see too much light, they will want to sprout, which we certainly don't want to happen right now. With previous years crops of Georgian Crystal given to us by Greg's Dad, we've been able to keep them this way until Christmas or beyond.
Garlic was one of the easiest and most rewarding crops we've grown yet. We're already starting to think about where we'll be planting the next crop this fall. And probably munching on some homemade garlic bread while we do!