“To Harvest Or Not To Harvest”

Harvested Garlic

Besides humans, what else takes nine months to grow?

The answer – garlic.

In late October I planted garlic for the first time with guidance from my neighbor Diane. We’re both members of the Beach 91st Street Community Garden and that’s where I planted my first crop. In April, I saw sprouts and I’ve been anticipating and monitoring ever since.

I planted the hardneck variety. Unlike most vegetables, garlic’s season is the opposite – plant in the fall, harvest in the summer. Garlic needs a long period of cold winter temperatures to encourage the seed to divide and grow into separate cloves which then forms a head of garlic. I learned this process is called vernalization. Garlic is triggered to bulb when the day length increases. How does it know the days are getting longer? So fascinating.

Two weeks ago, close to my “due date”, I started to binge-watch garlic harvesting videos on Youtube. I learned a lot but I’m still a little confused on best practices.

This is what I’ve concluded so far:

  1. Once scapes form, the plant needs 3-4 more weeks, then harvest. Cut off the scapes so the energy goes to growing the bulb and not the flower.
  1. Pre-check – carefully dig around the bulb with your fingers. If the bulb looks very small, cover it back up with soil. If it looks substantial and has some “paper wrapping” it’s ready. To harvest, carefully dig around the bulb with your fingers or a trowel, slowly and carefully loosen the roots and pull up.
  1. Harvest when ⅓ of the leaves are brown. These leaves are actually the natural “paper” covering your familiar seeing, that wrap garlic.

Carfully dig around the bulb to check it's size before harvesting

Many factors determine the time in which garlic is ready for harvest – the temperature that season, rainfall, soil, and garden zone.  I thought I was ready to harvest last weekend but upon closer inspection, I wasn’t sure. It’s  all about the leaves. Two or three on each plant died back completely but others had brown tips. Does that count?  To further confuse things, I’ve had scapes for about two weeks.

Cut of the garlic scapes and use them in a meal. The flavor is more mild then a clove

My friend Kristi happened to be in the garden and we were discussing, “to harvest or not to harvest”.  She suggested conducting an experiment – harvest some now, some in another week, and the rest of the crop in 3 weeks. Kristi reminded me to take photos,  so I can compare and contrast the growth from each micro-harvest. And then I’ll have that documentation for next year. Great advice and that’s what I ended up doing!

The two I harvested looked on the small side but then again it’s homegrown. We’re used to seeding bulbs from the supermarket, most times imported from China, not organic and pumped up with fertilizers – like garlic on steroids. So who knows, only my experiment will shed more light on this matter. Next week I’ll pull out two more and document the size. It’s all a learning process and I’m willing to put in the effort.

There’s a whole curing process that I’ll need to figure out next,  to be continued…

For more of the back story, find my column on planting garlic from last October here.  And for the day to day follow Paula on IG @theglorifiedtomato

tagged in food, garden, gardening, garlic