I noticed the other day that some of my softneck garlic was starting to yellow and lean over a lot. I had a pang of fear that i was loosing my garlic, again! last year’s garlic crop, everything but 8 heads out of 100, completely failed having been taken over by fungus. I’m pretty sure it was from some bad seed that i planted, as it only affected one variety. Having bought certified seed last year, and planting them in a different bed solved that problem (for now).
There are many ways to know when garlic is ready, depending on the variety. My softneck garlic (Chet’s Italian Red), was certainly ready. Softnecks let you know it’s harvest time when they begin to bend over at their base, much like onions. I dug up a few plants to check the bulbs, and they were large and had well-developed cloves and skins. If you harvest too soon, you won’t see the individual cloves. Harvest too late, and the cloves begin to break apart from the plant, getting lost in the soil and not storing as well.
Be sure to use a tool (a garden knife or fork work well) to get under the head and break the roots free from the soil. Soft necks are especially prone to ripping off, leaving the head of garlic in the ground. Careful not to damage the garlic, gently lift if up and clear the roots of any loose soil.
Lay the plants out on a rack in the shade for a few days, giving them plenty of air circulation to dry out. once they’re dry, i brush off any remaining dirt, and bring them into the basement to finish curing. allowing the garlic to cure for 2 weeks helps develop their skins, so they will store for longer periods, as well as their distinct flavor (chet’s reds are mild flavored and great roasters). once cured, cut off the roots and stems, and store them in a dry, cool spot with decent air movement (i put mine in a mesh bag in the basement).
Hardneck varieties (the ones that produce scapes or flower stalks), should not be harvested until 1/2 to 2/3 of the leaves have died back. remember to cut the scapes once they are about 8-10 inches long- i like to sauté them in olive oil- they’re delicious! I have about 50 of those, which are probably still a few weeks away from harvest.
Remember to harvest when the plants are ready, and not based on a date, as each variety ripens differently and the growing seasons vary widely from year to year. when they first start to ripen, you should cut back on watering, usually a couple of weeks before picking. with such a warm winter and spring, i wasn’t expecting to harvest for another 2-3 weeks, but i’m ok with that since it means i get roasted garlic on the grill 2-3 weeks sooner!