Garlic, with its robust flavor and numerous health benefits, has earned a cherished place in kitchens around the world–and often a large amount of square feet in the garden.  Before those cloves find their way into your favorite dishes, there’s a crucial step in the process: harvesting and curing. These steps are essential to ensure the longevity, flavor, and quality of your garlic harvest. In this guide, we’ll walk you through the art of harvesting and curing garlic, helping you achieve garlic that’s not just good, but will keep for several months for enjoyment throughout the winter.

Choosing the Right Time to Harvest

It’s important to wait until the garlic bulbs have matured fully, but not to the point where they start to split or sprout. Typically, garlic is ready to be harvested when the lower 3-5 leaves have turned brown and dried out, while the upper leaves remain green.  In Montana, we plant “hardneck” varieties of garlic.  Hardneck garlic will produce “scapes” in the late spring/early summer which the gardener will remove.   4 weeks after scape formation, hardneck garlic is typically ready to be harvested.  Use these two methods to determine if your garlic is ready.

Harvesting Garlic

Harvesting garlic requires a gentle touch to avoid damaging the bulbs. Follow these steps for a successful harvest:

  1. Loosen the Soil: Gently loosen the soil around the garlic bulbs using a small garden fork or a shovel. Be cautious not to damage the bulbs in the process.
  2. Lift the Bulbs: Carefully lift the bulbs out of the soil by grasping the stem right above the bulb. Avoid pulling on the stem, as this could damage the bulb.
  3. Shake Off Excess Soil: Gently shake off any excess soil from the bulbs. It’s best to avoid washing the bulbs at this stage, as moisture can promote rot during the curing process.

Curing Garlic

Curing is the process of allowing the harvested garlic bulbs to dry out, which enhances their flavor and extends their shelf life. Here’s how to cure your garlic:

  1. Clean and Trim: If the roots are still attached, trim them down to about half an inch. You can also trim the stems down to around an inch or two above the bulb.
  2. Dry in a Warm, Dry Place: Place the garlic bulbs in a well-ventilated, warm, and dry location, such as a covered porch, attic, or garage. Avoid direct sunlight, as it can bleach the bulbs.
  3. Provide Adequate Airflow: To prevent mold or rot, ensure there’s enough air circulation around the bulbs. You can use a mesh or wire rack to elevate them and further increase airflow.
  4. Cure for 2-3 Weeks: Let the garlic bulbs cure for about 2 to 3 weeks. During this time, the outer layers will dry, and the flavor will intensify.

 Storing Your Garlic

Once the garlic bulbs are fully cured, it’s time to store them for later use. Here are some tips to keep your garlic fresh:

  1. Clean the Bulbs: Gently brush off any remaining dirt or dried skin from the bulbs.
  2. Choose a Cool, Dark Place: Store your cured garlic in a cool, dark, and well-ventilated space. A mesh bag, or a well-ventilated container are excellent choices.
  3. Avoid the Fridge: Garlic should not be stored in the refrigerator, as the cold and moisture can cause the bulbs to sprout prematurely.

Harvesting and curing garlic is not just another garden task, but a rewarding process that yields nutrient dense, flavorful and aromatic bulbs that can elevate your culinary creations. By carefully timing your harvest, handling the bulbs gently, and following proper curing techniques, you can enjoy the rich taste of homegrown garlic throughout the year. So, roll up your sleeves, head out to the garden, and savor the joy of cultivating and preserving this kitchen essential. Your taste buds will thank you!  If you missed the opportunity to grow garlic this season, check out our planting guide here to get growing next season! Note: Garlic planting happens in the FALL! Garlic over-winters and emerges in the spring.

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