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Garlic, harvesting and curing

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PENNY WOODWARD tells us when to harvest our garlic and how to cure and store it.

When to harvest?

Garlic takes between 6 and 8 months to grow. If you live in Queensland, Northern NSW or WA, you have probably already dug it out of the ground. In Victoria,  South Australia and southern WA, you’ll be looking at harvesting soon, in Tasmania you may be waiting another month. But that also depends on when you planted it, and whether you are growing near the sea or up a mountain. Your geographical position affects temperature and humidity, which determines which cultivars grow well and when they will need to be harvested.

Things to look for:

If lower leaves start to die off and only 4-6 green leaves are left.

If your garlic grows a flower stem (scape) and the flower head (umbel) starts to develop.

If the plants are still green but they fall over (this only happens to some cultivars).

Then it’s a good idea to pull the dirt back from a bulb, see how big it is and if the cloves are forming inside. If its a decent size and the cloves are formed, then you can harvest.

Don’t water in the week or more before harvest. This allows the skins to dry a little and form a nice firm cover. Also try not to harvest just after it has rained. Its much harder to cure your garlic if its wet. Dig your plants with a fork and gently brush off any excess dirt. Freshly harvested garlic can be eaten as green garlic and has a delicious sweet garlic taste but if you want your garlic to develop its intense and complex flavours and to store for a longer time, then you need to cure it.

You get better, longer storing bulbs if the leaves stay attached during curing, but in very humid areas it might be necessary to cut off leaves and roots to prevent fungal problems. If you need to remove them,  then leave a stem of about 10 cm and cut the roots as close to the base of the clove as possible. If you leave roots intact they can wick moisture to the bulb, again increasing the risk of fungal problems. Spread these bulbs on benches or in shallow trays in a single layer in a dry, airy position and leave to cure for 4-6 weeks. If its very humid you might want to have a fan blowing air over them for the first few days.

In hot dry regions it’s much easier. Just hang your garlic in bunches of 5 to 10 in a dry, airy place out of direct sunlight for 4-6 weeks. Once garlic is cured its ready for long term storage. Trim back the dead leaves and roots and store in a dry, airy position. Garlics in the Turban Group will store for about 4 months, Artichoke Group garlics store for about 8 months, while Creole and Silverskin Group garlics can be stored for more that 12 months. To find out more about different garlic Groups and Cultivars you can watch the Gardening Australia segment by scrolling down on the Organic Gardener home page, or go to this website for more in depth information.