Thursday, July 18, 2013

Growing and Harvesting Garlic

Garlic is a versatile plant that is used in many different types of dishes.  Not only is it delicious, it is also easy to grow, and is one of the first things to poke up green shoots after the winter.

Types of Garlic

There are many different varieties of garlic but they are generally divided into two different categories: soft neck and hard neck.  Soft necks have a soft floppy stem that dies completely back, while hard neck garlic has a long hard stem that end in a scape with a flower.  In general soft neck garlic grows best in warmer climates and hard neck garlic thrives where there is a cold winter.


Plant garlic in mid-fall when you would plant other flower bulbs.  We plant in mid October here in Upstate NY.  Break the bulb into individual cloves and plant them 6-8 inches apart with the tip of the close about 2 inches below the surface of the soil.  Once small shoots form cover them with a straw mulch.  In the spring, clear off the mulch and water only during extremely dry periods. 

Garlic Scapes

 One of the best things about growing hard neck garlic is the garlic scapes that are produced in the late spring/early summer.  The scapes are the the stem and the flower that comes out of the garlic and curls .  Before the flower blooms, cut off the garlic scape.  This keeps the energy going towards the garlic and the scapes can be used on their own as flavoring.  Cut the scapes when they are around 5 inches long and still tender.  You can use scapes in the ways you typically use garlic (they have a slightly more mild flavor).  Try grilling them, sauteing them, adding them to soups, or my favorite: making pesto.

Scape Pesto

 I like to think of pesto as a basic, variable recipe.  You can increase or decrease the amounts of different ingredients depending on your own taste.  Here are the basic amounts I use:
  • 4 garlic scapes 
  • 1/2 cup of Parmesan
  • 1 large bunch of basil
  • 3 tablespoons of olive oil
  • 1/4 cup pine nuts (or walnuts)
Put all the ingredients in a food processor and chop it until it is - well pesto.

Harvesting Garlic

Deciding when to harvest garlic is tricky since you can't see what's happening down where the bulbs are growing.  Instead, use the leaves as an indicator of the state of the garlic bulb.  You want to harvest hard neck garlic when several of the lower leaves have died, but the upper leaves are still green.  This ensures that the bulbs aren't overripe and split, while still maintaining some wrappers on the head.  The number of green leaves indicates the number of layers on the garlic.  You can harvest soft neck garlic when it starts to die and fall over.

To harvest the garlic, dig down near the garlic and loosen the soil with a shovel or rake.  Try not to damage the bulb or pull it up without loosening the soil.  It is easiest to do this if it's been dry for a while.  Lay the garlic out to cure as is for 4-8 weeks in a well circulated, shady location.  Once it is cured, cut off the stalk and the roots, brush off the dirt, and store in a cool area with some circulation (such as in a mesh bag).

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  1. Ooooooooh, what a wonderful harvest! We use garlic every single day. Enjoy!

    1. We're excited and had some of our own garlic in dinner last night!

  2. Our garlic is almost ready...can't wait!

  3. How awesome! I didn't get any garlic planted last year though I wanted to, so I need to plan it for this fall. I use garlic a lot in my cooking, and I really want to try out the scapes! Our winters can get pretty cold, so sounds like the hard neck variety would be good for our climate. Thanks for the info!

  4. I hope my garlic harvest is as abundant as yours is! I am just about to harvest mine!

  5. Excellent post - love to see others doing garlic. It's really beneficial in the garden keeping away bad bugs and great for our bodies.

  6. Great post!! I'm planning on planting some garlic this fall and this was perfect to give me information! I'm going to feature this in my post for the Homeacre Hop this week! Thanks for sharing!!