How We Grow and Harvest Hard Neck Garlic

Some Hardneck Garlic Harvested 07/15/2019

Why Grow Garlic?

Today we'll discuss growing and harvesting hardneck garlic from our garden.  We grow garlic for many reasons, the foremost of which is that it is delicious and versatile.  We use it raw in hummus and pesto, roasted with root vegetables, and of course as an aromatic for sauces, soups, and many other things.  In addition, the medicinal, healing qualities of garlic are well documented and understood on a basic level by most.  For those looking for more information about the nutritive and medicinal qualities of garlic, you can read some of the articles linked here:

Or simply google search like I did.

Growing the garlic oneself allows control over what is done or not done to the garlic while it is growing, and I prefer to eat local garlic rather than irradiated garlic which has flown in from China.  Or from anywhere else for that matter. Google that too. Or see other PoCo Garden posts on this subject as they become available.


Planting garlic could not be simpler.  Simply pop a clove in the ground about two inches deep and wait.  For optimal results, we plant it in a raised bed filled as high as we can with soil containing plenty of organic, homemade compost.  Every grower should save and compost their organic matter diligently in order to always have fertile arable soil for their garden. See the compost blog label for details on how we do this. The soil should be well-draining and not too dense to allow for growth of large, well-formed bulbs.  We save several larger bulbs from the previous year's crop which will then be broken into cloves to plant individually.  If it is your first time, you can find hardneck garlic to plant at seed stores (we got ours from Sow True seed on line), or simply purchase several bulbs of the best organic hardneck garlic you can find.  First time or not, remember not to use all your garlic and to save some for planting!

Cover with plenty of mulch for winter
Plant them in an upright position (pointy end or growing end up) about 2 inches into the loose soil, leaving enough space between them for growth to maturity (about 6 inches).   We recommend doing it the way we do and planting the cloves in October or November after cleaning up and preparing a raised bed for the winter.  Once they are planted, we cover with hay and/or raked leaves and let the bed overwinter.  They will start growing when they are ready in the spring.

Dueling garlic beds ready for the winter.


In the spring, garlic is very easy to grow.  You've already set up your soil in the fall with compost and lots of mulch to survive the cold winter. Once it starts coming up in the spring, keep it well mulched to regulate soil temperature and retain soil moisture, particularly when the plants are small and young.  If you live where there are little or no hard freezes during winter, then lucky you.  Enjoy your warm and wonderful life and be grateful and filled with joy.  You may be able to skip the overwintering steps and just grow all year long in phases.

Garlic ready for harvest, sans scapes.

The garlic scape
A simple way to tell if the garlic is reaching maturity is to watch for garlic scapes that will grow out of the center and begin to curl,with a head of bulbils at the tip.  We recommend cutting this off and eating it, chopped up raw in salads, simmered in soup, or any way you can use something with a subtle and delicious garlic flavor.  Experiment with the various parts; they are all edible and delicious. Removing these scapes should yield larger bulbs below ground as less energy is being used for reproducing via the bulbils at the end of the scapes and more can be redirected back to the asexual reproduction of the plant via the underground bulbs. Once the scapes are removed, it is nearing time to harvest, but don't move too quickly.  Wait for the leaves to begin to yellow and dry.  This will occur a couple weeks or maybe even a month after the removal of the scapes.  I like to pull one up and have a look when about a third to half the leaves have browned.  This is likely a good time to harvest some garlic.  You will know when you pull one up whether the time is right.  How?  You will see a big beautiful bulb of garlic.  You know what that looks like, right?  The best ones have several large cloves and a purplish color to the skins.


When it's time to pull up your garlic, resist the urge to yank them out of the soil by the stem.  Sometimes this will work if you have a bed with very loose soil, but if the soil has compacted over time and has become dense you risk breaking the stem away from the bulb beneath the soil.  We want to keep these together, as in the header picture.  The garlic bulbs will cure best for long-term storage with the stalk and bulb intact.  Once the garlic has cured and is ready for use, we'll cut the stems off.  Not too fast!  Hold your water!  Stop yanking! 

What I do is dig a wide circle that I am sure will miss the bulb with my shovel.  I have dug too close and cut a bulb or two in my day, and I didn't like it.  Better to remove some excess soil which is easy to simply add back to the hole left after the garlic bulb is removed. 

Gently does it.  Use your fingers if you must. 
Shovel up plenty of dirt to ensure a whole bulb

See the bulb.  Be the bulb. 

When I remove the soil and get to the bulb, making sure not to cut into it or damage it, I then wedge the shovel underneath and pry it out of the soil nice and dirty.  The excess dirt is easily removed from the bulbs, especially if you harvest when the soil is dry, which you should.  It makes the whole process much easier.  If the soil is not overly hard, use your fingers. 

Once removed, 'tis but the work of a moment to clean off the dirt, give it a bit of a haircut, (none of this is necessary right away unless you are photographing and probably should be done after curing) and move on to the next plant, doing the same to them all until you have a collection of harvested garlic like in the photo at the top of the page. Store them just like this, stalk, leaves and all, out of the sunlight in as open-to-air a place as you have available. The curing should be done in a well-ventilated area.  Don't wash the garlic, we are trying to dry it out a bit so it can be stored and used for many months.  Curing is not necessary for immediate use, only for extended periods of storage.  The idea is to evaporate all the moisture from the plant and allow the garlic skins to dry around the flesh without developing any mold or fungus rot which obviously will shorten the storage time.  Of course, this doesn't matter if you plan to use the garlic in a short time and have no need for extended storage.  Garlic used immediately after harvest will be juicier than what you're used to getting at the market, though it will still be potent and tasty.

Some hang their garlic to cure but this seems unnecessary.  But remember what I said above, don't remove the stalks and leaves until the garlic is cured, which should take about a month in ideal conditions. When it is ready, the leaves will be completely brown and dry, with no green remaining.  Once it is in this cured condition the stalks can be cut off and the bulbs stored in a cool, dry place for several months (depending on the variety).  Keep it in a breathable container such as a mesh or paper bag and keep it dry and you'll have homegrown garlic at the ready deep into the winter and, with a little luck, beyond.

Written by Ed Peterson 


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