There isn't much that can compare to the garlic harvest, at least in my garden. It rivals an might surpass the thrill of the first tomato of the season.
Garlic out of the garden is amazing. The fresh bulbs are different than the cured heads. Just pulled from the garden, they are juicy and filled with garlic oil which coves the fingers during kitchen preparations. The cloves themselves are a little softer as is the skin surrounding them.
I pull about 20 heads and use them fresh over the next couple weeks. The rest go into a tool shed to cure for three weeks. Any place that's warm and dry will work. Curing helps the heads store well over the winter. It's also a good idea to keep the stalks in tact to help preserve the dried garlic.
Walking by the shed offers an aromatic treat on the way to the garden. Most people revile the smell of garlic, I embrace it and love to eat cloves raw. Everyone in my family eats lots of garlic, we cancel each other out. It's in the "real" world where people can be offended, oh well.
The plants are ready to harvest when over 50 percent of the foliage turns brown.
It's always better to error on the side of an early harvest. Waiting too long causes the bulbs to separate, they won't store as well without their protective papery skin.
I've still got a few hundred head out in the garden as different varieties ripen at their own pace.
I harvested most of mine a little early, but we eat lots of garlic and it will be gone before you know it. I needed the space to grow some other things too.
As soon as I get the garlic out I add compost then plant bush beans, cucumber plants, cole crops and other plants.
It's a good idea to pull a few heads to see how they are doing. If the soil isn't soft enough to gently pull the bulbs up, carefully pry them out of the soil with a garden fork.
I never wash them off, just shake off as much dirt as I can. You can clean up the roots with a hand pruner after they are cured. I prefer to keep them dry for the best possible storage.
Some of my garlic hangs outside most of the summer. I'll bring a bunch in the kitchen stored in onion bags and then bring everything inside when the weather gets cold.
One of the most wonderful treats from the plant are the mature seed heads of garlic, called scapes.
They are cut off the plant soon after emerging from the center stalk so all of its energy into the bulb.
I eat most of the scapes, but leave 10 or so in the garden. Even though they are separated from the plant, they still produce tasty bulbets which are clones of the head.
They make a great garden snack.
If I wanted to, I could save some of the bulbs and replant them in October. I prefer to order new seed garlic from my favorite garlic farm, Bobba-Mike's Gourmet Garlic Farm in Ohio. There bulbs always look better than mine, so I want to start with the good stuff.
If you want to grow garlic, think about ordering over the summer, they always sell out. You can also find garlic locally for planting, but you need to get it from a farm which doesn't treat the garlic. Commercial garlic (most from China) is treated to stop sprouting and often isn't hardy.
Get your garlic to plant from a garlic farm, local farmer or farmer's market. I always buy some heads at Janoski's Farm and Greenhouse in Clinton, Pa. The heads are big and I've had lots of success with them.
When you buy garlic as food, you get it cheaper than when buying as seed.
Garlic has very few pests or diseases, can be grown in a variety of conditions and just like everything else out of the garden, it's to die for.
In the immortal words of Pittsburgh artist Johno Prascak, "It would be a sad world without garlic!"