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Harvesting garlic is easy to do once you know how to recognize it. Since the bulbs grow underground it is often hard to be certain until you pull one of the heads up. However,there are a few signs that you can use to recognize when your garlic is ready for harvesting.
For all types of garlic (both hardneck and softneck):
When the bottom two leaves dry out and the leaves above it are just starting to dry out as well, then it is time. On the front range this normally happens anywhere from mid-June to mid-July depending on the weather that year.
For softneck garlic:
Softneck garlic is named such because the stalk of it actually gets soft and flops over when it’s time to harvest, very similar to onions. If your garlic flops over, it’s time to harvest.
What happens if you wait too long?
Your garlic will still be fine and edible but the cloves will start separating out, making it hard to store for a long period of time. If you don’t harvest it at all, the garlic will almost always grow again next year, but you’ll have a stalk for each clove of garlic that you left in the ground.
How to harvest your garlic:
Take a small trowel, shovel, cobra head tool or whatever tool you have for digging and put it a half inch outside of where you think the edge of the garlic will be. Dig your tool into the ground and pry your head of garlic out, rub the dirt off and repeat.
Dry your garlic:
Once your garlic has been harvested hang it up to dry, or set it on a table, for about two weeks. The head of garlic is going to pull the rest of the energy out of the stalk while further forming the individual cloves. After two weeks, cut the stalk off so you just have the head of garlic.
The garlic can certainly be used the second you pull it out of the ground but if you are looking to save it for a long period of time, be sure to dry it.
If you put your dried garlic in a breathable bag in the refrigerator it will keep for about one year.
Plan for next year:
Take your biggest cloves from this year, store them in a breathable bag in the refrigerator and plant them in October for next year's garlic. Once you get your garlic going you can have a self-sustaining bounty of garlic until the end of time itself, if you don’t eat it all before planting.
Check out this short video showing you exactly how to harvest garlic so you can see how it’s done.