It's that time of year again. You've planted and cared for your gardens for the last several months. You know harvest time is getting close and are probably starting to check your plants for signs they are ready for harvesting.
Knowing when to harvest most vegetables is a pretty straight-forward process. Others, such as garlic, are bit more challenging to figure out.
What is Garlic?
Garlic is a vegetable with the scientific name of allium sativum. Other vegetables that are closely related include onions and leeks. Garlic is thought to have originated from the Middle East and Asian regions. Yet, it is grown all around the world today, including in China and in the United States.
Garlic is so popular in the United States that it even has its own day, National Garlic Day, celebrated April 19th each year. It is so well-loved because of its distinctly pungent and aromatic flavor and its many and varied uses. Garlic has been used for centuries in a variety of ways:
Garlic in Cuisine
There are a great many ways to use garlic in foods. Garlic cloves can be used whole or chopped up and added raw to salads or cooked as a part of a variety of dishes. Garlic is popular in Chinese, Indian, and Italian foods but it is used in various ways all around the world.
When using in food, it is very important that you use mature cloves that are full-flavored and large. When you pull your garlic out of the ground will have a large influence on how flavorful it is and how much you will be able to store for cooking during the winter months.
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When is Garlic Usually Planted?
Having the most nutritious and highest quality garlic at harvest-time is largely dependent upon it being planted at the right time. The best time to plant if you are in a cooler climate is in the Fall a month or more before a hard freeze.
In most cooler climates, best time to plant will be in the months of October or November. In warmer climates, however, garlic may even be planted in early Spring.
When planting, choose rich, fertile soil when possible, and add some fertilizer to it. When planting, it is best to make sure garlic cloves are planted individually (with the papery covering of each clove still intact), instead of planting the whole garlic head.
Soil should then be covered with straw or another similar covering and then watered. Before the ground freezes, roots will grow down deep into the soil. When the ground freezes, the garlic will stop growing until the soil thaws again. Once the ground is thawed in the Spring, you can begin watering your plants again.
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How to Harvest Garlic
After several months of caring for your garlic plants, it will be time to harvest. To successfully harvest this herb, you need to determine the right timing and use the right methods. Harvesting at the wrong time can lead to less than desirable results.
Knowing the Right Time to Harvest
It can be tricky to know the best time to harvest garlic. It will depend largely upon when it was planted and the type of climate you live in.
If you live in a cooler climate, it is more likely that you planted your garlic in the Fall. In this case, it will be ready to harvest in about 8 months, or late July or August. If you live in a warmer climate and planted in the Spring, it will take longer to harvest the garlic.
The Leaves' Appearance
When trying to determine the right timing, it is important to observe the appearance of your plants. When the leaves start to yellow, you will know harvest time is near.
It is important not to act too quickly, so you will want to wait until about fifty percent of the leaves turn brown. At that point, you will want to stop watering your plants and let them dry out.
Appearance of Scapes
Scapes are a long stalky shoot that emerges from the ground about a month before harvest. The scapes are edible and can be harvested and used. Harvesting scapes will help produce larger and more flavorful cloves.
If scapes are not harvested, the garlic cloves will be smaller but the scapes will bloom and produce seed that can be saved and planted next Fall.
What if I Harvest My Garlic Too Early or Too Late?
Harvesting garlic at just the right time is important. Do it too early and it will mean small immature cloves that have less flavor.
On the other hand, waiting too late to pull your garlic out of the ground may mean its cloves will over-ripen and split from their protective skins. Immature or over ripe cloves will both make for poor storage.
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How to Harvest and Store Garlic
When harvesting garlic, you will want to make sure you have given your plants enough time to mature completely so that you will have large cloves that taste great and are easy to store for later use.
As mentioned earlier, you will want to wait until about fifty percent of your garlic plants' leaves are yellow or brown and then stop watering and let your garlic dry out a couple weeks to a month.
In that time, most of the leaves will turn brown. This drying out process will cause the soil to be easier to work and enable the skins around the cloves to harden.
Steps in Harvesting Garlic
Usually, once the lower leaves of your garlic plants begin turning brown, it will be about two to four weeks until harvest. The following steps will help you know what to do to get quality results.
Step One: Allow Garlic Plants to Dry Out
When about half of the leaves have turned brown, your plants have stopped growing and you should stop watering them. If you continue to water them, they can become prone to rot and other issues. Let your garlic bed dry out completely.
Step Two: Dig Out the Garlic Bulbs
Once the garlic bed is dried out, you can carefully loosen the soil underneath the garlic bulbs using a garden fork or rake. Once the soil is thoroughly loosened, use your hands to gently pull up the garlic by the stalks.
Be careful not to tear your stalks or bruise your plants; If you do, it will be hard to store.
Step Three: Dry Garlic in the Shade
Place your harvest in the shade for a few hours or so to let it dry out some more. The protective layer on the bulbs will harden a bit and your garlic will be ready for curing and storing.
The curing process will dry out the garlic further and toughen the paper surrounding the cloves. This will help protect them from moisture, fungus or pests during storage.
Place In a Dry Place to Cure
You will want to either hang or lay your garlic in a single layer in a well-ventilated area that is warm, dry and dark. A dehumidifier may also be helpful in eliminating excess moisture.
Wait Patiently While Curing, About a Month
Expect the curing process to take about one month. You will know whether or not the curing process is complete when you cut the stalk an inch from a garlic bulb.
If the center of the stalk is green, the curing process is not complete and you will need to wait another few days before checking again. When there is no green in the center of the stalk, the curing process is complete. Once fully cured, your garlic will be ready to store.
Follow the following steps to store properly.
Clean, Prepare and Sort Garlic for Storage
Take your bulbs outdoors to clean and trim them. You will want to cut the stalks an inch from the bulbs and cut the root tips off. Be sure to shake off any dirt. Be gentle so the outer protective layer is not damaged.
Next, sort out any cloves that are soft, cracked, or are starting to mold. You can use these in cooking instead of putting into storage. You may also want to save some large bulbs to use for fall planting.
Store the Garlic in a Cool Dry Place
You will want to store your bulbs in a well ventilated container in a dry and dark place that is above freezing but less than 55 degrees. Check frequently and use any bulbs that have softened or begun to sprout.
If your garlic begins to sprout, you can plant the garlic cloves in a pot or in a garden. You could alternatively use the sprouting garlic in cooking.
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Popular Ways to Use Garlic in Food
The flavor of this herb is unmistakable in cooking and is therefore a popular choice in cooking. Garlic is also sometimes eaten raw because of its sharper taste and increased health benefits such as possibly improving blood pressure, cholesterol and immunity.
Take advantage to the benefits of raw garlic by adding it to your homemade salad dressing or directly to your salad. Alternatively, you can add it raw to guacamole or in pesto.
Check out the following delicious pesto recipe that tastes great on pasta and is absolutely mouth-watering on steak. It can also be added to pasta sauce or even spread on bread as a sandwich spread.
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Garlic can also be cooked in a variety of recipes or simply cooked for later use.
It can be minced, added to buttered bread and then toasted in the oven as garlic bread. Alternatively, it can be cooked in a skillet along with other vegetables. Roasted garlic is especially tasty as well.
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Roasted garlic is delicious spread over toast or used in pasta. It can also be mixed into mashed potatoes, added to soups, spread over steak or other meats, mixed with hummus, in making garlic bread. There are so many uses; Be creative and enjoy!
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Other Interesting Facts About Garlic
Garlic Originated in Central Asia
It was actually first domesticated by the native Indians of central Asia and eventually was used in other regions nearby.
China Produces Most of the World's Garlic
In fact, China produces over sixty six percent of the world's garlic. Perhaps this is why Chinese food uses so much garlic. Gilroy, CA hold a garlic festival each year and is considered the garlic capital of the USA.
In the USA, California Produces the Most Garlic
Up to ninety percent of the United States' garlic production is in California, probably due to its fertile soil and moderate climate. Some consider garlic grown in California to be superior in taste when compared with garlic imported from China.
In Gardening, Garlic Repels Aphids
If you have a garden with beans, squash, cabbage, or other plants, you may want to use garlic to protect your garden from aphids. When aphids attack, you could notice signs such as a sticky film on your plants, leaves turning yellow and slowed growth of the plants.
To protect against aphids, you can make a garlic spray. First, mince four cloves of garlic and mix with two tablespoons mineral oil. Let it sit a day or more before straining out the garlic pieces. Add one pint of water and 1 teaspoon of liquid dish soap to the oil and garlic mixture.
Test your garlic spray on a leaf of the plants to be protected and wait a day or two to see if the leaf yellows. If not, it is safe to use. The spray will repel aphids and attract insects that are predators to the aphids.
Garlic has so many varied uses, so it is important to know when to plant it, how to harvest it, and how to store it for later use. As with all gardening in general, practice makes perfect.
Don't be intimidated if something goes wrong at first. Keep learning and improving your skills approach. Before long, you'll be an expert at harvesting garlic. Enjoy using it in cuisine, as a health aid, or even in protecting your garden.