Reprinted with permission from University of Maine Cooperative Extension, bulletin #2063, Growing Garlic in Maine, extension.umaine.edu/publications/2063e/#harvest.

Garlic is a member of the Allium family, which includes onions, chives and leeks. Garlic originated in central Asia and has been grown for 5,000 years in Egypt and India. Found as an important ingredient in many cuisines, garlic is an easy-to-grow crop that is increasingly popular in Maine. Garlic is generally the last crop planted in the fall and the first to emerge in the spring, extending the time you can enjoy being in the garden.

Harvest

Hardneck garlic should be harvested when the bulbs are fully mature. Harvest time corresponds with the browning of the lowermost leaves. When the lower three leaves have turned brown, you have about two weeks to harvest your garlic. Beyond that time, the outer wrapper of the bulb will disintegrate, eventually leaving bare cloves that will not store well or be suitable for sale or as gifts.

To harvest, loosen mature garlic by under-digging with a spade or spading fork, taking care not to damage the bulbs. Pull the whole plant and shake off loose soil. Let the garlic field dry for a day in the garden, then lightly brush off any remaining loose soil and bring the garlic into a well-ventilated space, like a garage or barn. Washing is not recommended, as the goal now is to dry the garlic as quickly as possible to avoid disease development during the curing and storing of the crop.

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Curing

Curing is the process of drying garlic bulbs to prepare for storage. Garlic tops may be removed at any time during or after harvesting. Cut the garlic tops, leaving about one and one-half inches of stem at the top of the bulb. Garlic is best cured in a single layer, in a warm, dry place with good air movement. Drying racks with mesh screens and a fan will provide the best conditions. Don’t cure garlic in a very hot place, like an attic, closed greenhouse or in direct sunlight. Garlic should be well-dried in three to four weeks when it can be moved to a storage location.

Storage

Garlic is best stored cool and dry. Store it in your home in a dark place, ideally at temperatures of about 60 degrees Fahrenheit with a relative humidity of about 50 percent. Cooler, moister conditions promote sprouting and will diminish storage time. Never refrigerate garlic or store garlic in a plastic bag.

Future Crops

When harvesting your garlic, save your largest, healthiest bulbs for planting that fall. This planting stock will save you money and time, and you’ll have the satisfaction of planting your own garlic to repeat the cycle of planting and harvest.