How to Harvest and Store Garlic

I actually almost forgot to harvest my garlic this year. Thankfully, I wasn’t too late. I was probably a couple of weeks later than I should have been, but most of the garlic was still good. One could say it is a resilient crop. 

When do you harvest garlic?

It really depends on the garlic. I harvested towards the end of June, but it should have been mid-June. It is best to observe the tops of the garlic. You should harvest when most of the leaves are still green, but two or three of the bottom leaves have gone brown. This will typically give you a mature tight head. The idea is to pick the garlic when it is mature, but you don’t want to pick it so late that the cloves start to separate. If you pick at this ideal time, the garlic will store well.

Garlic, slightly overripe

How do you harvest garlic?

Garlic is in the allium family with onions, but you cannot simply pull garlic out of the ground by pulling the tops like an onion. You will end up breaking the top off. It is best to use a shovel to dig under and loosen the soil. Then you can pull them out. I just use a hand trowel, being very careful not to damage the garlic.

Unwashed garlic

Wash or not?

Some people simply shake off the soil, and do not wash the garlic. I prefer to wash the garlic, so I can more easily identify any bad ones. It is very important that you do a good job curing the garlic if you wash them.


Garlic Washed

How to store garlic?

After you harvest and clean your garlic, it is important to separate out any damaged garlic and cure the rest. I make (3) piles, one for good garlic with tight heads, another for good garlic, but the cloves are separating, and one for damaged or diseased garlic. The good garlic will be hung for curing, but still kept separate, so I can use the separating cloves first as those will not store as long. The damaged or diseased garlic will be thrown away if really bad, but those that can be salvaged are put to use in the kitchen right away.

The good garlic should be cured for about 3 weeks. This is where you do a good job drying them out. I leave the roots and tops intact for this part. Basically, you need a breezy, cool place out of the sun to hang them up to dry. I hang them up in the dry side of my root cellar and run a fan across them. After they have cured, I will cut the tops, and 2/3 of the roots. Then I hang them in the dry side of the root cellar in a mesh bag. Do not store them in a plastic bag, as they need adequate air flow.

Garlic hung for curing

Ideally, after curing, you store your garlic in a cool, moderately dry place. 35-40 degrees with 50-60 percent humidity is ideal. I know this is typically impossible for most people at this time of year, so just put it in the place that comes close. I know it’s tempting to think you could put it in the refrigerator, but don’t, as it will go moldy.

~ Phil Williams

Phil Williams is a permaculture consultant and designer and creator of the website  His website provides useful, timely information for the experienced or beginning gardener, landscaper, or permaculturalist. Phil's personal goals are to build soil, restore and regenerate degraded landscapes, grow and raise an abundance of healthy food of great variety, design and install resilient permaculture gardens in the most efficient manner possible, and teach others along the way.

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