Gardening Tips: Harvesting Garlic

Editor’s Note: This column last appeared on 10 August 2022.


What to do this week

Let the serious harvest begin! (Depending, of course, on what you have planted.) Many of us plant garlic, and mine is about ready. You can tell for sure when the stalk is two-thirds yellow. You might want to do a test harvest, if you have a bulb or two to spare.

If you let the plant go too yellow and dry you may find that the stalk breaks off when you try to pull it, and that could be a mess. You’ll have to dig it up. With the dry summer we have had, and especially if you have a lot of clay, your soil may be rock hard. If you are not sure if your garlic will break, loosen up the soil around it a bit with a fork before you pull it.

Garlic. (Photo by Madeline Yakimchuk)

Garlic. (Photo by Madeline Yakimchuk)

It is best to avoid breaking the stalk, even though you can just dig up the bulb if that happens, because that stalk is very handy for gathering your garlic into bunches. Tie them in a loose bundle and hang it out of the direct sun, and under cover. In a barn or garage is good, or on a porch. The idea is to dry the garlic so that the outer skin hardens to protect the bulb. When this outer skin is still soft and moist, the bulb is easily bruised and more prone to fungal infections.

If you have planted shelling peas, they might be ready too, depending on the variety you planted. You may want to check one here and there if you haven’t yet, looking for the plumpest pod. They will grow until the pods are round and the peas are bumping up against each other. I like my peas a little younger than that, as they are sweeter and more tender. It is the same with string beans, which should be up next, maybe in a week or two if we are lucky. Don’t let them get too big and tough.

I know that this is a garden column, not a cooking column, but I would like to encourage people to process their veggies for winter if they have lots. Of course, you can give some away, but if you have been very successful you might want to store some. Blanch your veggies for two minutes before freezing. Once you boil your water, and add your veggies, let it come to a boil again before you count your two minutes. This is to kill the enzymes that will rot your veggies while they are frozen. Freezing does not kill enzymes, it just slows them down, so blanching vegetables important — it keeps them from deteriorating while stored.

Back in the garden, keep pulling the bigger weeds, but most of your plants should be big enough now to hold their own against the smaller ones. Keep battling those potato beetles too.

Elsewhere, you may have space to think about planting a second crop of kale. It will produce until well into the winter, so long as you can find it under the snow. It does slow down, but it is very hearty. You could try other brassicas, but kale is by far the heartiest. You also have time, if you get at it soon, to get another crop of carrots in.

I have a lot of open space, but some of you may be managing smaller areas, trying to maximize production. Since you are going to pull the garlic soon, and probably not plant it again for a few months, you could use that garlic bed for something else until garlic planting time comes around. You have time to get a quick second crop of something in, but you have to consider the kind of things that don’t need the lengthening of the day, like peas do, as opposed to the shortening days, which will very soon become evident.

You also need something that will not suffer with our August heat, the way lettuces might. One possibility is carrots, which will grow large enough to harvest if you get your garlic out very soon.

If you don’t take advantage of your freed up garlic space to plant something, keep the area weed free. If you let the weeds go now, imagine what it will be like in a few months when you try to plant again. In my case, I like to plant the garlic in fall where I had my potatoes that summer. That way I can take advantage of the relatively weed free area after the potato harvest. It also works out great that the garlic needs to be planted just as the potatoes are harvested. Depending on the space you have, and how much you are trying to maximize production, you can experiment with plant rotations and staggered plantings until you find something that suits you and your space.

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Market gardener, farmer, workshop leader, seed-saver, political candidate and mother, Michelle Smith has spent over 30 years coping with the challenges of our bioregion and in the process has built a store of practical and technical knowledge. The Inverness resident has served on the board of Seeds of Diversity Canada and represented Alternative Producers with the Federation of Agriculture but can do nothing about her hair. She is pictured with a head of Club Wheat, a seed that shares her approach to hairdressing.




Backyard food gardener Madeline Yakimchuk caught the food-security bug in the early ’90s through Cuba’s Urban Agriculture Department, taking her first permaculture course and planting her first garden. She can often be found discussing food security, nurturing a plant-based lifestyle or trying to give away vegetables. Professionally, she is GRYPHON media productions but sometimes uses la bruja in her volunteer work, most notably in managing the garden column, which begins life as a telephone interview.




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