Farmer Ross and I have gotten a lot of questions recently filled with anxiety and enthusiasm asking "what should I be doing with my garlic"? Because garlic is a winter crop, it is often one of the first crops to be harvested in the summer. Since I had so many questions this year I thought I would write a quick post about what the next few months entail for all you budding garlic farmers! First, if you are growing hardneck garlic in the Pacific Northwest, your scapes should be ready to cut. I usually cut ours as soon as the scape has made a full curl. The scapes are the stalk of the garlic and if left on the plant they will eventually flower. While there seems to be some controversy around whether cutting scapes is benefitial, we do cut ours. The idea is that if you cut the scapes, the plant will put the energy into the bulb and not into the flower. If that's not enough to convince you then you should also know that garlic scapes are edible and taste like a delicious cross between a string bean and asparagus. Bring them to a BBQ, cut the flowering part off, wrap them in tin foil and butter and become one of the coolest people at the party!
This garlic scape has curled once and is ready to be cut.
The scapes are easy to just snap off with your fingers so long as you don't mind the smell of garlic on your hands. Once they are cut we store ours in burlap bags in the basement and they last at least a few weeks. They are also delicious pickled. Be on the lookout for my pickling recipe soon.
The flowering part of the garlic plant can be used to propagate seed if desired.
Once the scapes are cut, leave the garlic in the ground and start watching the leaves. If you are growing garlic for your own consumption you will want to harvest them when the leaves start to die back but there are still THREE GREEN LEAVES left on the plant. If you are selling your garlic you might want to harvest a little earlier. The reason is that the leaves typically represent the number of wrappers on the garlic. If there are three leaves on the plant there should be approximately three layers of the paper-like wrapper on the bulb. Commercial growers will want to have a few extra wrappers since the garlic will go through extra processing steps before reaching the consumer, all of which can easily damage and remove wrappers.
This is an immature hardneck garlic bulb. It will get much bigger than this before harvest time.
As you get ready to harvest make sure your bulbs are dry. Which means if you are watering your garlic, stop at least a week before you harvest. You want your bulbs to be nice a dry when you harvest otherwise you will have issues with mold. On our farm we don't water our garlic and we typically end up harvesting sometime in July when we have lots of nice, dry, sunny weather. Next, you will harvest your garlic. I will post all about harvesting as we get a little closer. Happy garlic growing!