Time to Pull the Garlic

IMG_7914Garlic is one of the few crops you can plant in the fall or winter, pay practically no attention to whatsoever, and then harvest in the early weeks of summer.  Garlic seems to thrive whether there is an abundance of rain or none at all.  Garlic doesn’t seem to care whether it is weeded and, perhaps best of all, garlic is unappealing to almost all non-human creatures.

We planted our garlic in November after having saved the largest and most beautiful of our garlic from the previous year’s crop.  By saving our own, best garlic and using it for seed, we are passing along those strong traits to the next generation which, in turn, should be large and beautiful as well.

It is recommended to save the garlic you intend to use for seed in whole head form.  These retain moisture and integrity until planting time.  When you are ready to plant, you can break apart the head into individual cloves, leaving the skin on, and place one clove in each hole, pointy side up.  If a clove of garlic is planted upside-down, the garlic will first grow downward, but then will curve back up and give you a really wonky looking product come harvest time.

IMG_7909Sometime in early June, the plant will produce something called a garlic scape.  When they are young, they look like this.  As they grow, they get thicker and woodier and will grow in a full spiral, at which point they should be cut.  Cutting these down serves two purposes.  One, they are absolutely delicious roasted, sauteed, broiled, or pickled.  Two, cutting them allows the garlic head below the ground to develop fully.

If you don’t cut the scape, energy from the plant that would otherwise go IMG_7908toward making the garlic more plump will be diverted into the scape where something called bulbils will develop.  The bulbils look like tiny garlic cloves and can be planted as garlic seed, but it can take up to three years for these bulbils to form large bulbs.  The head on the right did not have its scape cut and the difference in clove development is pretty clear.

IMG_7906You know it is time to pull your garlic when the leaves start to brown.  In the Northeast, this typically happens in early to mid-July.  We pulled our unweeded, neglected garlic today and were pleased with the timing.  Garlic pulled too early will not have had time to fill out its paper “wrapper” and you won’t get the full size you should.  Garlic pulled too late will see rotting of that paper and the cloves will start to separate from one another.  In both cases, the garlic is still usable for eating and for seed, but it’s always better to hit it at just the right time.  You can test the timing by pulling one head out and cutting it in half.  If the cloves are filling out and rotting isn’t evident, you are good to go.

Using fresh garlic for cooking might sound delightful, but it is really important to thoroughly dry garlic that won’t be used right away to avoid rot.  Fresh garlic has a higher water content and, as a result, can burn more quickly than garlic that’s been dried.

IMG_7925We dry our garlic on chicken wire hung between two roof beams in our barn.  This allows air flow on all sides of the garlic, which is essential.  After about two weeks in warm weather with good air flow, it is pretty much ready to go.  It can be stored and used for many months once dried.

Reviewing this post, I am realizing that it has an uncharacteristically serious tone.  I guess I just feel seriously about garlic.  I can’t leave it like that, though.  In the spirit of All Things Humorous, I will leave you with some funny garlic-related items.


  • The psychological term for fear of garlic is alliumphobia.
  • Garlic is said to fight off evil spirits and keep vampires away.
  • Garlic gum is not funny.


About applewoodfarm

Restaurateur, farmer, bartender, beekeeper, friend, wife, mother, dog lover, cat tolerater, chicken hypnotizer, blogger, and sometime yogi
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8 Responses to Time to Pull the Garlic

  1. Sally Craven says:

    Hi Laura,
    We just harvested the garlic in my school garden today! These were planted in late Feb by less than enthusiastic seniors and the bulbs came out beautifully (for the most part.) It seems that garlic can take a variety of neglect and abuse;)

    • Hey there, Sally! Garlic is the best for the beginner gardener (see Bill’s comment below), as well as the reluctant teenager 🙂 Glad to hear yours was a success!

  2. Becca says:

    We just harvested our garlic tonight, too!

  3. Bill says:

    This is a great and informative post. I tell folks who say they have no green thumb but want to start gardening that they should start with garlic. As you point out, basically all you have to do is stick in the ground and wait. I do cover ours with a layer of straw after it’s planted, to suppress weeds and to insulate it some during the winter. Other than that and a little weeding, there isn’t much to do until time to harvest it.

    I love the way you’re curing yours. For years I tied and hung them on cattle panels in a shed with fans at each end of the panels. That was a long tedious job. This year we have them spread out on upside-down vegetable crates in the basement, with fans blowing over them. The crates are porous so we’re getting good air circulation and they’re drying nicely. We sold some of the garlic fresh this year and got rave reviews.

    It’s been so rainy and wet this spring that we did lose a lot of our garlic. It just rotted in the muddy clay soil. We’ve never had that happen before, which is an indication of just how crazy wet it’s been.

    Great post.

    • Thanks, Bill! We do also mulch around the garlic! I totally forgot that part. I can’t believe I did, actually, since pulling up the mulch in the late spring is one of my least favorite jobs 🙂

  4. Lynda says:

    So I’m sitting here this morning and thinking:

    That is a really weird garlic bulb… it sorta looks like a giant bum in a corset with garters. Then I think, “NAH!” and clicked on it only to find that it really is a giant bum in a corset with garters!

    • Yes, Lynda! I just couldn’t stand the somber nature of the post upon a re-read. Had to throw in some frivolity. Couldn’t believe my luck when I stumbled across that “beauty.”

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