Garlic – A Good Harvest – Possible Even with Too Much Rain/ Tips/Proof/and Some Fun.

If you’re a garlic grower you’ve probably checked out a few (or numerous) sources about growing garlic.

On any topic there’s always something that just about everyone parrots as part of their two cents worth. One such statement about garlic is “Harvest when it’s dry.” Another is simply “watch out for rain”.

Those two statements leave much unsaid.

“Harvest when it’s dry” gives rise to more questions. And what in the world do you do if natures throws a curve ball with torrential rains when it’s time to harvest?

The “watch out for rain” warning is one of my favorites. What exactly does that mean? And what are you suppose to do when you see rain on the horizon?

Why Wet Conditions Can Ruin Your Crop

The bottom line about harvesting almost any crop in wet conditions is that too much moisture invites mold and decay. With garlic (especially in heavy soils) it can also stain wrappers and make the bulbs tough to clean. (Two concerns primarily for market growers.)

Being knowledgeable about how garlic develops from a few weeks prior to harvest through the curing stage greatly increases your chances of having a great harvest that will store well in spite of wet conditions.

Knowing When to Harvest

Leaves starting to brown are an indication that harvest is near. A good rule of thumb is to harvest when 40% (up to 50%) of the leaves have browned.

Keeping in mind that water stress can also result in browning of the leaves, it’s good in a rainy season to pull the soil away from a few bulbs to see what’s going on under the soil. Are the bulbs a good size? Are the skins pulled tight over the cloves? You might want to cut a bulb open to take a better look.

What Happens When All the Leaves are Brown

The cloves dry and pull away from the stem. Similar to a flower opening. The bulbs can be used for immediate use in the kitchen, but they won’t store well when they’ve gone this far.

Two Things to Help You Better Understand When to Harvest

  • #1  –when garlic bulbs are formed

“— the bulb swells as the leaves START to dry down. Bulbs should be well-sized by the time about 25% of the plant leaves are brown.”

  • #2 – why the number of green leaves is a key factor in determining time of harvest

“Brown or dead leaves represent bulb wrappers, either — already decayed or in the early stages of decay — In other words, brown leaves above ground usually indicate bulb wrappers that will be lost as the garlic is harvested, cured and cleaned.”

It’s important to save as many bulb wrappers as you can to help insure better storage. Green leaves represent the wrappers that will most likely make it to storage.

I learned both things from Ron Engeland’s book, Growing Great Garlic (considered the definitive garlic grower’s guide).

After Harvest

Keep the garlic out of direct sun and get it to the curing area as quickly as possible. (Direct sun deteriorates quality.)

Do NOT wash.

Leave the roots and leaves on the bulbs until after curing.

Curing to Preserve Your Garlic

Curing usually takes 2 to 4 weeks. It can take up to 2 months if conditions are humid.

The most important things you need to consider in choosing your curing location are

  • good air circulation and
  • protection from the sun.

Below is a picture of the Greenberg’s curing set up.  The old corn crib on Troy’s grandmother’s neighboring property perfectly meets the requirements for air circulation and protection from direct sun.

Now for the FUN:

As you will recall from past posts, is a small family owned company growing organic garlic on about one acre. The “laborers” 😊 are the Greenberg kids (and an occasional borrowed neighbor)  under the supervision of their Dad, Troy.

5 of the Greenberg kids and a neighbor bundle and tie garlic after harvest.

The garlic growing area is saturated this year from all the rain.

Troy tells me that this section of Wisconsin gets torrential rain just about time for garlic harvesting every 3 to 5 years. So far they’ve had no trouble with the mold and decay associated with harvesting in wet conditions. They, of course, do everything they can to follow good principles for garlic growing — many already mentioned at the beginning of this post.

Because of the rain, the Greenbergs now have their own temporary pond, complete with giant frogs.  The kids take advantage of the water and have fun while it lasts.

The Greenberg kids sail their boat on the rain-made pond.

Frogs came when the rain made the pond.

Special Scoops for TMG Readers:

Scoop #1
In spite of all the rain, Troy was very excited about the huge bulbs of Russian Giant, a purple stripe variety of garlic. Some of the bulbs are 3 inches! That’s some kinda BIG garlic!

Last year they didn’t have enough to sell. This year they do!

You’re getting this scoop ahead time, so if you want to grow this “giant” put your order in now! (Click on the Get Garlic icon in the left margin.)

Scoop #2
For ordering early (before August 31, 2017) you get 10% off. (Don’t woryy, garlic won’t be shipped until September.)

I didn’t see the 10% early bird special on GetGarlic website, so be sure to ask for it when you order before 8/31/17.  (Update: – Use the code earlybird2017 by August 31, 2017 to get the discount.)

Scoop #3

When GetGarlic first started, they over bought Northern White, a porcelain variety.

When they realized they’d grown too much, they put it on sale. (Other garlic is $19.00 a pound and Northern White is $16.34 a pound. A substantial savings of 14%.)

Troy told me customers have loved it because it’s so beautiful and the cloves get so big.

This porcelain variety would be a great one to try, even for beginners. And with 10% off by ordering before August 31, 2017 you save a bundle.

Final Thoughts

Hopefully you found a piece of information in this post that you didn’t already know and that you can apply next season to get an even better garlic harvest.

And I hope the pictures and stories that Troy shared made you smile!

When you order your garlic from, please thank them for their continued sponsorship of TendingMyGarden. (This is their 3rd year with TMG.)

Their sponsorship goes a long way towards making it possible to keep TMG up and running and continuing to give you the help you need to be successful.

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  • This was the first year I tried to grow garlic. I chose two sources including GetGarlic (at your recommendation). I’m glad I bought from GetGarlic as their garlic arrived sooner and grew tremendously! I am growing garlic again this year but will use my pasts success with GetGarlic to guide my source of seeds and planting. BTW, I also grew some in my daughter’s garden. Another success…

  • I’ve been self-sufficient in garlic for several years, which I find enormously satisfying. I got my bulbs locally, which is probably good general advice. People here (South Shore of Nova Scotia) grow mostly hard-neck varieties; that’s what I have, but you can’t make pretty braids with it. I do hose it down before bringing it in; I have to dry it in the rec room as I don’t have a barn space, then I trim the bulbs and keep them in a cold room. It keeps until the scapes arrive the next year, and longer.

  • What a wonderful post! I have been growing garlic for 4 years and I learn something every year.
    This season I harvested garlic from Get also on your recommendation. I will purchase from them again although my goal is to grow enough to also have seed to plant the following season.
    Thank you Theresa for explaining the brown leaves are lost layers over the bulbs.

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