When to Harvest Garlic
Garlic is a different story from tomatoes and peppers, which you can watch ripen before your eyes. This aromatic bulb stays buried, revealing nothing about its ripeness. Since the bulb is hidden, you must look to the rest of the plant for signs that it's time to unearth your garlic.
The First Signal: Brown Meets Green
The first sign your garlic plant gives is a shift in leaf color. When you notice the lower leaves turning brown while the top leaves remain green, take it as a nod. Garlic bulbs are forming underground. This usually happens around 90 days after planting. If you're aiming for mild-flavored, early-season garlic, this is your cue to start digging.
For those who seek robust, fully formed garlic bulbs to last through winter, patience is your friend. You'll need to wait another month or so for a stronger signal from your plant. The leaves will start to yellow, and the plant itself will begin to weaken. This is the plant's way of saying it’s transferring its life energy to the bulbs. As autumn approaches and the days grow shorter, the garlic plant focuses on preparing its bulbs for winter storage.
The Harvest: A Gentle Approach
Once your plant has reached this stage, you're almost there. Don't make the mistake of pulling the plant from the soil. Instead, use a digging fork to gently lift the bulbs from the earth. Pulling can damage the bulbs and make them less suitable for storage.
Curing Your Garlic
After the harvest, the bulbs need time to prepare for storage. This is called curing. Simply lay your garlic out in a well-ventilated area for a few weeks. Curing toughens the garlic’s skin, protecting it from rot and prolonging its storage life.
Wet Winters? No Problem
If you're in an area with wet winters, harvest all your garlic before the first big rain. Wet soil can cause the bulbs to rot. After harvest, you can cure the garlic in a cool, dry place for a couple of weeks before storing it.
Unearthing garlic is its own form of treasure hunting, guided by the subtle signs of nature. When you finally dig up those fragrant bulbs, you'll find that the wait, the watching, and the careful interpretation of your plant’s signals were all worth it. Happy harvesting!