Thursday, July 11, 2013

Garlic Harvest

Garlic (Allium sativum) a brief history:

Garlic has been used by humans for over 7000 years. It is native to central Asia and thought to have descended from the species Allium longicuspis. Egyptians would "pay" pyramid workers with garlic. It was believed garlic would improve the workers stamina and strength. In India, garlic was used as an aphrodisiac. I guess if everybody smells like garlic, who cares? Phoenicians and Vikings would carry large amounts of garlic on their voyages for medicinal and spiritual practices. No matter where you look, you will find garlic was used in folk medicine and rituals for centuries. During the middle ages an infusion of garlic was thought to protect from the plague. Don't forget about the vampire repellent attributes of this pungent and useful plant.


Garlic is such an amazing plant. If you told me I could only grow a handful of plants for the rest of my life, garlic would be number one. Aside from its many culinary uses, I grow garlic for its medicinal benefits. Garlic is antibacterial, antimicrobial, antiviral and anti-fungal. Garlic was used in ancient Assyria as a antibiotic by putting crushed garlic in rotten teeth cavities.

In a growing number of scientific studies, garlic has held up to the ancient belief that it is indeed a powerful medicinal. It has been found to reduce heart disease by significantly reducing harmful LDL cholesterol particles in the body. Garlic acts to block LDL formation in the liver while not hindering HDL cholesterol. It has also been shown to dilate blood vessels, effectively lowering blood pressure. It also prevents stroke and blood clotting by decreasing the stickiness of blood platelets. Oh and did I mention it may help reduce the size of some cancerous tumors and has been shown to prevent some types of cancer, mainly in the intestines.

I could go one and on about the medicinal benefits of garlic but I want to talk about growing it, harvesting it and using it. Some garlic you will find at your local grocery store is called elephant garlic (Allium ampeloprasum). Elephant garlic is actually a wild leek and not a true garlic. Most of the garlic you will find in the grocery store is a soft neck variety. This is mostly because they are large, have many cloves and store well.

There are two main types of garlic in cultivation today. Hard neck (Allium sativum var. ophioscorodon) and soft neck (Allium sativum var. sativum). I am growing three varieties of each. Hard neck garlic is said to do better in colder climates while soft neck prefers more southern climates. I had good luck with both types but my hard necks are visibly larger than the soft necks.

Garlic is planted in the fall here in Ohio about 6-8 weeks before the first frost, but you can plant after the first frost as well. You plant the actual clove that you would normally eat. You can let garlic go to seed. It will grow a shoot and make small cloves on the top of the plant. These seeds must go through a freeze to germinate in the spring. I prefer to use the actual cloves from the bulb you would normally eat. This in effect is a clone of the garlic you want, instead of a hybrid. You plant the clove root side down about two inches under the soil level with the pointy end up. You want a loose but very fertile soil. Planting cloves in a clay type soil will constrict the bulbs expansion in the spring. Once the tops emerge they will grow a few inches before the growth is stopped by the first strong freeze. At this point you should mulch over them with a couple of inches of straw. In the spring the growth will pick up where it left off.

Around late May to early June your hard neck varieties will start growing scapes. These are long green shoots with bulbils at the end that will eventually form the small cloves you can plant after a freeze. You want to cut these scapes off when they first form. This will tell the garlic plant to put its energy into the bulbs instead of trying to reproduce through bulbils. Scapes are absolutely delicious. Use them in stir fries or make them into a garlic pesto. 

Around early July you will start to notice some of the garlic leaves starting to turn brown. This will happen from the ground up. Once the first set of leaves have turned you should start to think about harvesting. I know you can't control the rain but you need to stop watering them if you have been and pick a dry day to harvest. Some people say to not pull them out of the ground and recommend that you dig them very carefully so you do not injure the bulb. I planted mine in a very fertile compost / peat moss soil that was pretty loose. I pulled mine up roots and all with no problem. You want to brush off as much dirt as you can. I hosed mine off gently, some people say not to, I say they are still wet from being in the ground. You want to lay them out in a well ventilated dry place out of the sun to cure for a couple weeks.

If you have grown soft neck varieties you can do a garlic braid. Its pretty easy and it looks awesome hanging in your kitchen. You want to braid them before they are done curing so the stalks are still pliable. There are many videos online detailing how to make these. It is simple. Start with three bulbs, stalks facing you. Braid one side over the middle and every time you add a new bulb make sure the new stalk goes in the middle. Braid like you would hair. When you are done braiding, use a piece of twine to tie it off and make a knotted bow on the back to hang it from.


Garlic should be eaten raw,  crushed and chopped, to get the most health benefits. By crushing garlic you release an enzyme called Alliinase. This enzyme reacts with the chemical Alliin which is then converted into Allicin. Allicin is an organosulfur compond that gives garlic its pungent smell. Allicin is also what gives garlic its antibacterial and anti-fungal properties. This is its natural defense mechanism against pests. 

 Reaction scheme for the conversion: cysteine → alliin → allicin

 It is interesting that if you could somehow split a garlic clove without rupturing the cell walls, you would not smell the familiar garlic odor.

 I really enjoy crushed and chopped garlic in homemade balsamic vinaigrette. Here is a simple recipe that I have been using for years:

3 parts extra virgin olive oil
1 part aged balsamic vinegar
Pinch of salt
As much crushed and chopped garlic as you can handle!

Mix with a fork and pour over your favorite salad greens. This is by far my favorite salad dressing. In fact I do not eat any others. It is so simple, yet delicious and very good for your health. Please consider eating more raw garlic and growing your own while you are at it. 

We purchased our heirloom organic garlic from Botanical Interests. We have been ordering from them for years and have nothing but praise for their products.

If you want to grow garlic to harvest next year, you should be thinking about ordering your bulbs in early fall. You wont find any for sale in the spring or summer since you need to plant them in a very specific time window. I hope you try your luck at growing this easy and beneficial plant.


  1. Love the braid! Very nice!

  2. Thanks! I plan on planting 4-5 times more garlic, especially soft necks, so I can make and sell some garlic braids next year.