If it’s your first time growing hardneck garlic, you’re likely wondering when exactly is the garlic ready to harvest. I mean, it’s not like you can see how big your bulbs are underground. But fortunately, it’s not hard to figure out when your hardneck garlic is ready to pick.
Hardneck garlic is ready to harvest when the bottom leaves turn yellow and die back, while there are still green leaves on top. For fall planted garlic, this is often sometime in mid summer. There is no hard-and-fast rule, but many growers will harvest when the bottom 1/3 of leaves have turned yellow. If you let the entire plant die back, you may get larger bulbs, but they will have fewer papery wrappers protecting them, and they may not store as long.
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From Fall Planting to Summer Harvest – How Long Does It Take?
Hardneck garlic is normally planted in the fall, about 1 month before your first hard frost. In many areas, that means planting your cloves anywhere from September to November.
It takes about 8 to 10 months until you will harvest your hardneck garlic. In my zone, I plant my hardneck garlic in October and harvest it sometime in July.
If your hardneck garlic is in the ground and growing already, another key giveaway that your garlic will be ready to harvest soon is when they start growing curly garlic scapes, which means in 1 to 2 months they will be ready to harvest.
When to Harvest Hardneck Garlic Scapes
Garlic scapes are mostly seen in hardneck varieties. If you want to harvest garlic scapes, the best time is when they make their first turn. After that, they get tougher and more woody. Even if you don’t like eating garlic scapes, it’s important to cut them off anyway so your garlic can put more energy into growing bigger bulbs.
How to Tell When Hardneck Garlic Is Ready to Harvest
So, you’ve already harvested your garlic scapes and it’s been several weeks or a month. Now you’re wondering when to finally dig up those garlic bulbs.
Each garlic leaf corresponds to that white papery wrapper around your garlic bulbs. When a leaf dies back, one layer of wrapper starts to die back and get broken down by bacteria. If you wait until all the leaves turn yellow and dies back, you may have larger bulbs but they will have fewer layers of wrappers which means they might not last as long in storage.
So, for hardneck garlic, you want to harvest when the lower leaves start turning yellow and dying back while the top leaves are still green. There are different rules of thumb for exactly when is the ideal time. Some growers suggest waiting until the bottom third of the leaves have turned yellow, while some wait until 3-4 bottom leaves have died back.
If you are still feeling uncertain, dig up one of your bulbs and check it before harvesting the rest.
Harvesting Hardneck Garlic vs. Softneck Garlic
One important point to note is that softneck garlic does not usually grow scapes, but the same method of determining when your garlic should be harvested is the same.
How to Harvest Hardneck Garlic
If possible, pick a day to harvest hardneck garlic when it hasn’t rained for a few days. Let the soil partially dry out before harvesting. This is not necessary but will make drying out the garlic wrappers more easy.
Grab the garlic by the base of the stalk and gently pull it out of the soil. If it won’t budge, very carefully dig around it to loosen it up, making sure not to damage the actual bulb.
When you’ve pulled out your garlic, brush off any excess soil on the bulbs and in the roots.
After the Harvest: How to Cure Hardneck Garlic
After harvesting your hardneck garlic, use heavy-duty garden scissors to cut the stalk about 3 inches above the bulb, and trim the roots down to about 1/4 inch. If there is a lot of soil still trapped in the roots, you can brush it off or gently rinse it in water.
It’s important to cure your garlic before you can store it. Curing involves drying out the papery wrappers and the 3-inch stalk so your garlic doesn’t spoil.
Cure hardneck garlic for at least a week, up to four weeks, in a dry place with lots of airflow, and out of direct sun. This can be on a shaded porch or in your garage. Some growers use a drying rack to maximize airflow around their bulbs. If your garlic bulbs are soggy after harvesting, you can leave them in the sun for a day or two before curing.
After curing, the layers of paper wrappers should be completely dry, and the 3 inches of stem should be dry and hard.
Storing Hardneck Garlic
Once your garlic has cured, store them in a cool, dry place. Hanging them in garlic/onion netting will ensure no moisture gets trapped and causes rot.
Hardneck garlic can store for several months. Intact, undamaged, and properly cured bulbs can easily last 4 to 6 months, sometimes longer.
Save the Largest Hardneck Garlic Bulbs for Fall Planting
In general, planting larger garlic cloves leads to larger bulbs next year. So, as hard as it is not to eat your prize-winning bulbs, save your biggest bulbs, and from those, plant the biggest garlic cloves.