How to Grow and Harvest Garlic
How to Grow and Harvest Garlic
Harvesting garlic is so rewarding! Especially if you plant hardneck garlic like I do here in the PNW. Our winters are too extreme for the softneck varieties so I plant hardneck garlic in late summer. Hardneck varieties are hardy over the cold frozen winters we have and then they produce a very unique and yummy treat in late spring called scapes.
These beautiful tasty treats are the stems of the garlic flowers. I harvest them when they look like the stems on the left by cutting them with pruning shears at the base of the stem closest to the first set of leaves on the stalk. They are firm but still tender and have an incredible mild garlicky flavor. I've included my recipes for garlic scape butter and garlic scape pesto a little later in this blog.
This is Skip the Wonder Dog. He's such a helper!
I plant my garlic on the southeast facing wall of our old barn. It provides a lot of shelter and extra warmth. The wood warms up and reflects the sun here most of the day from daybreak to about 4pm. I plant in late summer when the real heat is over and it will grow sometimes 6 inches in height before the first frosts set in and it goes dormant for the winter. We have snow most of the year between December and March so the garlic just stops growing until the soil warms up again and then it shoots up pretty quickly. It's one of my favorite things to grow because the new growth signals spring and it's one of the first crops we get to harvest. The scapes come on in mid June and rapidly develop within a few weeks. After harvesting the scapes, the garlic will begin to to turn brown from the top leaves down. When the top few sets of leaves have turned I pull a few bulbs to see how it's going. Usually they are ready to dig.
It's important to dig your garlic because the stalk is likely to break and you want to have the stalk intact for the drying/curing process. It will be your guide as to when your garlic has been properly dried for winter storage.
This is my garlic harvest this year. It's about 45 bulbs and will probably get me most of the way through the year. I planted more last year and I still have some left but they are starting to sprout so I thought I would cut back and see if fewer plants grew better in the same space and I do think it made a difference because the plants were not as crowded they seem to be a bit larger than last year. Yay!
Most of the garlic heads are about the size of the ones I would buy in the store but even when they are smaller, the cloves are larger and easier to peel. These are two more great qualities of hardneck garlic. The garlic you will find in the stores is almost always of a softneck variety and I find them to be really hard to peel and sometimes the inner cloves are ridiculously small and I won't even bother with them.
After I dig up the bulbs I knock off as much dirt as I can and then I wash them some, laying them in the grass and spraying them with a medium force sprayer on my garden hose. If you live in a humid environment you might not want to do that because the next step is to get them to dry thoroughly. Adding water could encourage mold growth if it takes too long for them to dry out.
We live where the temperatures are generally in the 80-90 degree range and the wind blows everyday during my garlic harvesting period so washing them off works well for me. I've heard people sometimes need to leave their garlic to dry for 2-3 weeks but I find that 4-5 days outside in a climate that feels a lot like a blow dryer in your face is about all it takes for me.
This year my creative husband took a panel off of our covered dog run and laid it across two saw horses inside the run and I was able to dry my garlic on it mostly in the shade. The sun did hit it directly for a few hours each afternoon and that really didn't do any harm but I don't think I would leave my garlic in the full sun all day with our heat and lack of humidity.
And there you have it! all cleaned up and dried for storage. I will let these sit in a basket in a dark cupboard in my basement pantry and they will keep for months.
So now what about those Garlic Scapes?
Garlic Scape Pesto
8 Garlic Scapes (18-23 inches long), remove the buds and chop the stems finely
1/2 cup cleaned, lightly packed Fresh Basil
1/2 cup cleaned, lightly packed fresh parsley ( I used Italian flat leaf parsley)
1/4 cup toasted pine nuts
1/4 cup shredded parmesan cheese
The juice of one lemon
1 1/4 cup Olive Oil
Salt & Pepper to taste
Put all ingredients into a food processor except the Olive Oil and pulse first on low and then on high until all of the ingredients are minced and blended together completely. Slowly add the olive oil with the processor running until you get the consistency you like. Done!
MMMMM...Garlic Scape Butter!
Garlic Scape Butter
2 sticks of room temperature butter
2-3 tablespoons shredded parmesan cheese
2-3 tablespoons each finely minced fresh Parsley leaves and Garlic Scape stems
Mash these together with a fork and then scrape into a covered container with a spatula.
If you don't grow hardneck garlic yourself I encourage you to find some scapes at a local farmer's market near you and give them a try! They will only be available from mid-June to mid-July.