Well not really, but that’s what I think of when I see the garlic curing in the screen room.
Last fall I planted garlic for the first time (see “Planting Garlic”) and I can happily say I probably have enough harvested this summer to carry me through the winter. I planted 3 different varieties, 2 hardneck (Chesnok Red and Purple Glazer) and 1 soft neck (California Early) from Botanical Interests.
Softneck varieties tend to grow in a wider variety of climates and can be grown in warmer areas, last longer in storage and are good for braiding. They also tend to be a little milder in taste. Hardneck varieties require some time in frozen ground, so are not recommended for warmer climates. In the spring, they produce a tall edible stem called a “scape” that should be cut and can be used as a mild garlic seasoning. The hard neck varieties are also generally known for their stronger taste.
I planted the cloves in 2 different locations and one location definitely did better than the other. Within a couple of weeks of planting, green sprouts could be see popping up as expected. Then winter settled in and the garlic just had to hibernate and do its thing. I tried to mark it clearly, but as usual by spring I only sort of knew where it was planted and which variety was which. Typical 🙁
By early spring, the garlic was sprouting.
By late spring the hardneck varieties were sending up scapes. I trimmed them to send the plant’s energy into producing healthy garlic heads, but unfortunately didn’t get around to using them in any recipes. Next time for sure.
By July, the garlic was ready for harvest. How do you know when to harvest? It can be a little tricky, but usually you want to wait until several lower leaves turn brown, but the top leaves are still green. Harvesting the garlic is easy, but you need to be gentle. Unlike onions, you can’t just yank it out of the ground. Too easy to damage the head or accidentally tear off the leaves. Garlic cures better when the leaves are still on.
So grab a trowel and dig gently around the bulbs to loosen the soil. Be careful not to hit the heads and damage the tight cluster of cloves.
Gently shake off the dirt, without disturbing the head. It’s fine to leave some dirt on the head and roots, it’ll come off easier when it’s dry.
Now it’s time to find a spot to cure the garlic so that it’ll be ready to store for the winter. Garlic should be cured in a protected area, like a garage or porch, out of direct sunlight and where there is reasonable air circulation. It should be hung with the leaves and roots still attached. I hung mine in the screen porch. On particularly hot days, I turned on the overhead fan to keep the air circulating.
Curing can take three to eight weeks and you know it’s done when the roots are dry and shriveled, the leaves completely brown and dried, and the skin feels dry and papery. This step should not be skipped or the garlic will not last properly through the winter.
Once done, the leaves and roots are trimmed off, and the remaining dirt gently brushed off. Be careful not to expose any of the cloves. The garlic is now ready for storage. Garlic can be stored in any type of breathable, dry container such as mesh bags, paper bags, cardboard boxes or ceramic pots with holes. Under perfect home storage conditions, the garlic should keep for 6-8 months. Ideally to achieve that, the garlic should be stored in a cool, dark room with good air circulation. Not always easy to do, but just do the best you can. I am going to store some in an unfinished part of my basement and the rest in an open container in the coolest cupboard in the kitchen. Kind of a test to see what works better.
No matter what you do to store the garlic, never put it in the refrigerator or store in a sealed container. That will lead to early sprouting and the garlic will quickly become bitter, soft and moldy. Time to toss it if it starts to sprout, it’s spoiling at this point. Most importantly, NEVER store raw garlic in oil at room temperature. This can lead to botulism and death!
As a last resort if your garlic seems like it’s not going to last as long as you’d like, it can be safely frozen. It will change the flavor and texture to freeze raw, so to help preserve the flavor the peeled cloves can be put in oil and stored in the freezer (but again, not in oil at room temperature). Other ways to store garlic include drying, dehydrating or even turning it into garlic butter.
I’ve already ordered more garlic for next year. I was a little late ordering, so this year I ordered Music, Purple Glazer and Susanville garlic from Territorial Seed Company. Can’t wait to get it in the ground. It’s not too late to order yours, but act quickly. Lots of varieties have already sold out so you may need to check around a few sites. Planting season is 6-8 weeks before the likely hard frost date for your area, so it is quickly coming upon us here in zone 5. Some reputable places to try are Botanical Interests, Territorial Seed Company and Burpee Seeds. Do you have a favorite place to order from?
Wherever you decide to order it from, don’t try to use the garlic you buy from the grocery store. Much of that garlic, unless locally grown, has been treated to prolong its life during storage and transportation. Some may sprout, but anything you get to grow from them will be of undesirable quality.