When it comes to garlic, specifically harvesting garlic, time will be your best friend. This specific plant is native to central Asia and northeastern Iran; it also belongs to a species of onion known as Allium. Besides, garlic is relative to other tasty plants such as shallots and chives.
A key thing to know when gardening any plant is harvest time. Sadly, with garlic, you need to possess a great deal of patience.
Garlic takes roughly six to eight months to properly grow and mature enough to be harvested. With this being said, if this plant is in your garden, you are probably very eager to gather what you have grown, after waiting for so long.
Luckily, during your wait, you have the option of harvesting garlic scapes and/or flowers!
Extra, Necessary Tips
Good to Know Before Harvesting
- To begin your harvest, make sure that you take note of the following tip, as it is very helpful. Begin with one – and only one – plant to check. The plant that you have chosen to test should have a thick stalk with about three to four leaves that have turned brown.
- Once you harvest this plant, check it to make sure that it meets the standards that will be mentioned later in this article. If the plant that you have pulled does not meet the standards or your personal preference, leave the rest of the plants in the soil.
Then, give the remaining plants an extra week or so and repeat this process.
- You can test your plants be either digging the bulb up or by dusting around a few plants. If you choose to dust, just move enough soil out of your way so that you can see the bulbs.
Do not attempt to pull these bulbs out of the ground. The point of this method is to be able to see the size of the bulb without having to dig up any of the plants.
- Although, if you choose the digging up method, it is good to know that lifting a bulb too early can result in underdevelopment and a small bulb. Therefore, the dusting strategy is only a better testing choice if you do not want to risk a single bulb.
- To harvest your plants, whether you are testing their maturity or performing an actual harvest, make sure that you are being gentle with the plant. If you are too rough with it during harvest, you risk damaging the bulbs and how well they can store.
Also, harvesting when the soil is dry usually provides the best conditions for the following harvesting process.
- To prevent any issues when you harvest, you should use your hands to brush the soil away from the garlic cloves. Then, slowly wiggle the bulb out of the soil. Using this process does not guarantee that damage will not occur to the plant.
However, it should help to keep the plant intact as you pull it from the ground. It is vital to keep the entire plant together because the bulbs store better with the leaves still attached.
- Also, make sure that you do not allow for all of your garlic’s leaves to turn brown. The reason for this is that the brown color means that the plant has fully matured and is now dying. Each leaf provides an extra cover to the bulb itself.
Once all of the leaves on the plant die, there is a very high chance that the skin on the garlic cloves has started to (or already has) disintegrate(d).
- When the skin on the cloves dissolves, the bulb will be at great risk for contamination. The bulb will be exposed to bugs and worms underground, as well as any chemicals and bacteria that may be in the soil.
When to Harvest Garlic and Garlic Scapes
Unfortunately, garlic has somewhat of a specific harvesting time. Not only do you have to make sure that all of your leaves have not died, but you also have to make sure that a certain number (about one-third) of its leaves have died.
When checking the tops of your plants, you will want the tops of the plants to be turning yellow or brown; however, you do not want them to be completely dried out and dead.
Unfortunately, if you harvest too late, the cloves will start to separate from each other. When the cloves begin to separate, they will not store as long.
As you can see, in the image above, some of the leaves of these garlic plants have already begun to turn brown. However, these plants are not quite ready to be harvested.
Once a few more leaves on each of the plants have changed color, they should be ready to be dug up.
For Garlic Scapes
Now, if you are growing hard neck garlic, you have a decision to make. Before your plants have matured enough to be harvested, scapes will be produced. Scapes will turn into seeds and flowers if they are not clipped off before this. Whether or not you cut them is up to you.
The good thing about this choice is that all of them – scapes, seeds, and flowers – can be eaten. Unfortunately, if you want to harvest the scapes, you will not have the seeds or flowers to harvest, and vice versa.
Some people prefer to harvest their scapes, not for eating, but for the bulb’s benefit. Clipping the scapes will allow the plant’s energy to be focused back onto growing the bulb.
When a plant keeps its scapes, bulbs typically turn out smaller.
Are Your Garlic Scapes Ready
If you choose to harvest the scapes, wait for the scape to begin curling over. A curled scape is a scape that is ready to be picked. If the scape becomes straight, then it is usually too late to be harvested. Straight scapes tend to be wood-like, tough, and bitter.
Scapes tend to be ready for their harvest around a month before your bulbs are ready to be picked. However, this timing will vary due to plant variety and the initial planting time.
To actually harvest the scapes, you will need to use a tool that will provide a nice, clean-cut. You should cut at the base of the stem, where the scape sprouts from the main stalk. Clip them on a dry day so that the plant can heal easier.
Also, check the plants every day to every other day; scapes will not all grow at the same pace, so while some are ready on one day, others may be ready on the next.
For Garlic Bulbs/Cloves
Garlic bulbs are typically ready to harvest in the late spring or early summer. Earlier harvesting time (late spring) is more common in warmer climates, as the heat will usually boost their growth rate. Their leaves turning brown, however, is the main sign for you to know when they are ready.
Another sign that your plant is ready for harvest is that if your plant has flowers, the stems of the flower will begin to soften – but they should still be green.
Once you manage to get your tester plant out of the soil, you should notice that the base of the leaves and the skin that is attached to the bulb has started to turn brown; the skin and leaves should have also begun to turn slightly translucent.
The skin will be somewhat flakey and brittle, making it very easy to break and/or peel off.
The image below shows layers that have flaked off of the garlic cloves. This draws a lot of attention to the skin that you will be looking for.
However, the layers shown are drier than what they should be when harvesting. When first dug from the ground, the layer will also not be as white as what it is in the image.
Ready for Harvest?
If the bulb that you have dug up is close to your desired size and has this papery-textured skin, then you know for sure that it has matured enough for harvest. This also ensures that the rest of your plants can now be harvested.
Also, any flowers that are on the harvested plants can be cut off and eaten! So, you now have a two-in-one harvest.
After you harvest, make sure that your garlic plants are being stored in a cool and dry area. Garlic damages extremely easy, so do not leave them in the heat or the sun for too long.
And You’re Done!
In the long run, as long as you have a calendar and are persistent with your growth checks, your garlic plants should turn out fine. Just make sure that after six months, or once late spring hits, you are checking up on your garden frequently.
Also, make sure that you have an idea in mind on whether or not you want to keep or harvest your garlic scapes.