Curing garlic in bunches hanging from the ceiling. Photo by Southern Exposure Seed Exchange
After you’ve harvested, you’ll need to cure your garlic and trim it. If you want to save your own seed stock, rather than buying new, I’ll tell you how to do that.
Author’s note: See Garlic drying and curing methods on my website, SustainableMarketFarming.com for more about signs of garlic maturity, harvesting garlic and more photos. See Everything You Need to Know About Garlic for caring for garlic the rest of the year.
Cure your garlic for 3 to 6 weeks or even longer, with fans if the humidity is high. Don’t set the fans too close to the garlic — your goal is to improve the air flow, not blast the bulbs and shrivel them up. The key is to dry down the necks. Leaving the roots and the leaves attached till after curing helps the drying-down process.
Bundling. Growers of small amounts of garlic — or complicated harvests of relatively small amounts from many varieties — sometimes tie the garlic plants in bundles and hang them from nails or hooks in beams. This method takes a lot of twine, and can be slow.
Shingling. We once spread a single layer of garlic on a wood upstairs floor of the barn, when our harvest exceeded our storage racks. “Shingle” the garlic plants with each bulb resting on the leaves of other bulbs, so that the bulbs and roots are all uppermost, for best airflow.
Horizontal racks need to be sturdy. We made stackable wood slatted racks to dry our bulb onions, as onion necks are not strong enough to hang onions by. Later we made larger netted wood frames that we hang from a pulley in the beams. We can fill them layer by layer, starting at the lowest one, and gradually lower the upper racks as we need to fill them. This kind of system would work for garlic too, but is not practical on a large scale.
Horizontal racks can either have the garlic threaded bulbs up through the holes of the netting, or the plants laid flat, shingled. Shingling saves space (racks can be closer to each other vertically), but it is harder to dry garlic this way in a humid climate.
For a nice design of racks for drying onions, and perhaps garlic, see this post about the Urban Agriculture Collective of Charlottesville, Va., on my website, SustainableMarketFarming.com.
Vertical netting. Nowadays, we hang our garlic in nylon netting fastened vertically around the walls of our old tobacco barn. This is a good method for humid areas as the garlic is in a single layer and can get good airflow. The walls of the barn limit the amount we can hang there. Other growers have used chicken wire or snow fencing.
We have considered making free-standing frames covered in netting, so we can deal with higher yields. This is a slower method than laying plants on horizontal racks.
Removing cured garlic from vertical netting. Photo by Nina Gentle
Step-by-Step Garlic Curing with Vertical Netting
1. We like our garlic arranged in order of harvesting, to make it easier to find dry garlic when the time comes to trim it.
2. We start at knee height, working upwards, threading one garlic plant in each hole of the vertical netting hanging around the barn walls. (The netting stretches downward with the weight of the garlic. Starting lower would lead to garlic piling up on the floor.)
3. Take a garlic plant, fold over the top quarter or a third of the leaves, and push the leafy part through the netting. The leaves will unfold behind the netting. Leaves shouldn’t poke through to the front.
4. We work back and forth in rows, filling a 4- to 6-foot-wide (1.2 to 2 meters) section per person.
5. We continue as high as we can reach before moving sideways to the next section. We make walls covered with garlic, day by day until done. This sequential arrangement simplifies trimming, and makes the best use of the fans, giving the garlic the best chance of drying evenly. Damaged bulbs are “farm use” quality and are set on horizontal racks to dry. Arrange box fans to blow on the drying garlic. Even in an airy old tobacco barn, fans are essential in our humid climate.
6. Wait 3 to 4 weeks, then test some bulbs for dryness by rolling the neck of the garlic between your finger and thumb. It should feel dry, papery, straw-like. If many bulbs are slippery, gooey, or damp in any way, delay the trimming until at least 90 percent of the necks are dry.
Selecting Garlic for Replanting
We use the hot summer afternoons (and any rainy mornings) to take our cured garlic out of the netting lining the barn walls and prepare it for storage. We did a field calculation that we’ve grown enough garlic when we have one whole bulb a week for each person to eat. I thought that was a lot, so I recalculated in the cool of the office. To my surprise, the answer is closer to two whole bulbs each per week!
Here, I spell out the tasks, including setting up, trimming and sorting garlic into three categories for replanting, for storing and for using soon. Garlic can be stored in the 55 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit (13 to 21 degrees Celsius) range, provided it has never dropped into the sprouting temperature range of 40 to 55 degrees F (5 to 13 degrees C).
1. Handle the bulbs gently so as not to bruise them, which would reduce the storage life.
2. Test bulbs for dryness by rolling the garlic neck between finger and thumb. If many bulbs are slippery, slick, or damp in any way, try again in a few days.
3. If 90% seem dry enough, proceed, starting with the ones that have been hanging up the longest.
4. Gently remove plants from the netting into a bucket or crate.
5. Set up a comfortable place to work, with a supply of garlic, a compost bucket, a pair of scissors, a ruler, a green net bag and a red net bag.
6. Some people like to mark off 2 inches and 2 ½ inches (5 and 6 centimeters) on the arm of a plastic lawn chair, a nearby wood structure, or their knee. This saves handling the ruler repeatedly.
7. Some people like to move the box fans for more or less fan action while working. Those that do this need to remember to reset the fans to blow on the garlic when they leave.
Trimming garlic roots close to the bulb. Blue nail polish optional. Photo by Brittany Lewis
Trimming Garlic and Sorting
1. Cut the roots off the garlic into a compost bucket. Cut as close as possible in one or two snips.
Cut the leaves off the garlic, leaving a ¼- to ½-inch (0.5 to 1 centimeter) stub. Cutting too close reduces the storage life.
2. Do not remove any skin. We want long storage not pretty-pretty. Skin protects from damage and from early sprouting. If you need pretty, tidy it up closer to point-of-sale.
3. Decide if the bulb is dry. Feel the cut neck. The remains of the stem may have a Styrofoam texture. They should not be damp.
4. If damp at all, put the trimmed bulb on a rack to dry further.
5. If more than 10 percent are damp, cancel the shift or selectively pull dry bulbs from the netting.
6. If the neck is not damp, decide if the bulb is storable.
7. If damaged, sprung apart or mushy anywhere, put it on the “farm use” rack. If storable, decide if it’s seed size and quality. If it could be 2 to 2 ½ inches (5 to 6 centimeters), measure it. If obviously smaller or larger, don’t measure it, just put in a red bag. It’s for eating.
8. If the bulb is between 2 and 2 ½ inches (5 to 6 centimeter) and in good shape (not obviously more than 10 cloves), we put it in a green net bag to save for replanting. “Green for Growing”. Very large bulbs are more likely to have many cloves, some of which will be small and hard to use. Don’t plant these!
9. When a bag if full enough (we’re not all Amazons), tie the neck closed and lay the bag down on the floor away from the barn windows, which let rain in.
10. At the end of the shift, tidy up: Return all scissors and rulers to the jar, take all compost material out, consider doing a run to the compost pile area. Lay down any bags that are more than 1/3 full, as the weight of garlic in a vertical bag can damage the bulbs at the bottom. Leave no garlic in buckets. If necessary, gently set garlic on the floorboards, rather than leave it in a sweaty plastic bucket. Make sure no garlic will get rained on if rain blows in the window. Reset fans as needed. Unplug any no longer needed.
11. Periodically weigh the tied-off green bags, make neck tags from masking tape, saying “Hardneck Garlic” and the weight. Use the bathroom scales. Weigh a person with and without a bag of garlic.
12. When we have enough seed garlic, stop using green bags, stop measuring. Simply trim, sort and bag. We save 140 pounds (64 kilograms) of hardneck seed garlic to plant about 3,000 row feet (900 meters).
13. When all the hardneck garlic is dealt with, record in the log book all the weights of the bags of garlic as you take them to storage.
Short-term. Take the green bags of seed garlic to the garden shed. Lay them on the top central shelf. Take the red bags of eating garlic to the basement and lay them on the shelves. Fifty-five to 70 degrees F (13 to 21 degrees C) is a good temperature range for storage until the fall. Weigh the “farm use” hardneck garlic, record the amount in the log, take it to the kitchen. It does not need to be refrigerated now.
Through winter. When temperatures seem likely to drop to below 55 degrees F (13 degrees C) in the storage room, clear high and dry shelves in a walk-in cooler, CoolBot storage building, or, if you are working on a small scale, a refrigerator. Thirty-two to 39 degrees F (0 to 4 degrees C) is a good temperature range. Avoid 40 to 55 degrees F (4.5 to 13 degrees C), or the cloves will start to sprout.
Pam Dawling has worked at Twin Oaks Community in central Virginia for more than 27 years, growing vegetables for 100 people on 3.5 acres and training many members in sustainable vegetable production. She is the author of Sustainable Market Farming and The Year-Round Hoophouse. Pam often presents workshops at MOTHER EARTH NEWS FAIRs and at sustainable agriculture conferences. She is a contributing editor with Growing for Market magazine, and a weekly blogger on SustainableMarketFarming.com. Connect with Pam on Facebook, and read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.
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