Early Garlic Harvest
Is early, so very early... but the Italian softneck garlic is ready to be lifted.
Italian softneck artichoke garlic
How to know if it yours are hardnecks or softnecks? The softnecks do not make scapes, all the leaves are soft and pliable with no hard stalk up the centre. This lack of a stem is what makes them braid-able.
Our dry, mild winter here on the west coast, along with a drier than usual spring, has brought on an earlier than ever harvest season. I will not lie, I wish it would have been a tad rainier this year, as that would have made for bigger bulbs.
My soft-necks this year range from really nice and plump to kinda small and bitsy. Will use the small ones for cooking and save the bigger ones for fall planting.
Here you can clearly see that 3 leaves have yellowed.
How to know when to harvest?
When the bottom 3 to 4 leaves have turned yellow/brown, is time to lift your garlic.
At 3 leaves, I gently brush the soil away from a couple of bulbs to check on them. If all is well, with no splitting, I cover them back up again and leave for another week.
When I get to four brown leaves, nerves set in and I have to lift them. There is such a fine line between just right and a tad too late.
This bulb was left in too long and has split open
Each one of those strapping leaves is a layer of skin covering the bulb. If left in the ground too long so that the last layer of skin splits open, the bulbs will neither cure nor keep.
Is too late at this stage of the game to get them to size up some more. Leaving them longer will not make for bigger bulbs, just split ones. The time to make sure you get nice, big bulbs is in the fall, before you plant, by ensuring that your soil is rich in all nutrients. Add lots of great compost or manure, plus bonemeal for phosphorous. In early spring, side dress with organic nutrients and water well every few weeks. For now, all you can do is harvest at the right time.
If your garlic has split open and looks like the one above, leave them out in a breezy, shady, area to dry for a couple of weeks. Then clean them up, separate the cloves, toss into bags or containers to store in the freezer. They will keep for one to two years when frozen.
Garlic in the curing shed
If, however, you picked them at the right time, simply lay them out to cure in that breezy, shaded, dry area (like a carport) for about 3 weeks. Then trim off the roots, brush them off, and braid or snip stems for storage. When well cured, they will last for 8 to 12 months in your pantry.
Psst... With regards to your hardnecks.
Water for another week or so, until your scapes uncurl and point straight up. Then keep an eye on those bottom leaves. At three or four yellow leaves, gently brush the soil away from the top of the bulb and count the bumps (cloves). If only two bumps and no splitting, cover and leave for a bit longer. Harvest will be about 3 to 4 weeks after they made scapes.