I tried to tell my yard to take a time out because I just couldn't keep up with it in the last month or so, but like an angry preteen girl, it just swung its ponytails at me and picked up the pace. I'll spare you most of the details and get down to what I know you're here for: harvesting and curing garlic.
Tearing open a head of fresh garlic will change someone's attitude towards garlic forever. The translucent tissues around each clove are vibrant pinks, salmons, and purples. Each clove is fat and pearly and juicy-crunchy. When I smash a fresh clove with the flat of my knife, juice and fresh chunks of garlic are likely to end up all over the immediate work area. And the smell. Oh my.
Already this spring, I've pulled a four of my twelve varieties, and each that were ready to harvest were Asiatic Turban varieties. These hard-neck varieties tend to mature early. I removed their scapes (emerging blossoms, great in stir fries and sautees) about three weeks ago, and harvested Shilla, Sonoran, and Red Janice last week and Blossom this week. Of the four, only Shilla had I grown before, and I was impressed last year by its powerful, unique flavor and its size. Red Janice competes this year in size, especially for so early a garlic. One of my Artichoke varieties (softnecks that perform very well in California), Red Toch, is ready to harvest, but we got an unexpected drizzle today, so I'll wait until tomorrow or Wednesday, when the soil is dry, to harvest.
After the hardneck garlics send up their scape, I stop watering all my garlics so they can dry out a bit for easy harvest and longer shelf life. The garlic tells me it is ready to be pulled when the leaves start to die from the bottom, and there are about only six strong green leaves left. To harvest, I hold the base of the garlic firmly with my left hand (I'm right handed), slide a small spade into the soil about four inches away from base of the garlic, far enough away to avoid nicking the bulb, and begin to pull. If the garlic doesn't readily release from the dry soil, I tilt the handle of the spade away from the garlic plant to give a little leverage. At this point, it is very important to not bruise or damage the garlic, because doing so greatly reduces how long it will last in storage. And, when it comes to garlic, I'm a greedy mofo. Losing garlic to rot just pisses me off.
I gently shake loose soil off each head, then bring them to a shady, well-ventilated, dry place to begin the first stage of curing. In the past, I laid them in single layers in the shade of my patio, but this year, I laid them along shelves in my airy shed. I left them there for four days as the exterior, dirty wrappers dried out. Letting the external wrappers dry out allows me to them clean the garlic quickly and effectively; I just grab a lower, dried out leaf or two and pull down towards the bulb. I pull the whole dirty external wrapper off that way and leave a clean bulb. Finally, I trim of the long roots with sturdy scissors.
Now clean, the garlic still needs to cure. Some people hang garlic at this point to dry for a week or two, but I don't have the lines I plan to install yet up in my shed, so the shelves will do for this as well. The garlic will need at least week, perhaps longer, before cutting of the stems. When I do cut the stems off, I cut a couple inches above the base of the plant. I can then place the garlic in mesh bags (you know, the ones that onions and oranges come in at markets) to store in a dark, cool place. I give the largest and most attractive bulbs special attention, storing them away in labeled paper bags to be pulled out next fall and planted.
I wrote once before about how tomatoes turn cooks into gardeners; if tomatoes pull a cook into the garden, it is garlic that will keep her there.
If you are interested in learning more about growing garlic (rather than just harvesting it), you can find a presentation I gave on growing garlic here.
This post is part of Harvest Mondays, graciously hosted by Daphne's Dandelions.