You have gotten your garlic out of the ground, now the next step is to prepare it for curing and storage. The two main processes involved here are trimming and cleaning, and you will find that the methods used vary between growers. It is important to determine which methods are appropriate for you and your crop, since the success of these steps will determine both how well your garlic cures and, subsequently, how long it will last in storage.
Trimming is the first issue to consider, and applies to both hard and softneck garlic. Firstly, to trim or not to trim? The main factors in deciding this include how much garlic you have, and how you are planning to store it during the curing process. Growers producing relatively small amounts of garlic often cure it by hanging it in small bundles. With this method, there is no need to trim the leaves or the stalk unless you wish to do so for the sake of neatness. In proper conditions, the foliage and bulb should cure fully while intact.
Growers who produce gourmet garlic on a larger scale usually don’t have the luxury of space to cure garlic y hanging. Instead, we have to be rather mercenary about the whole process. Our main concern after getting the garlic out of the ground is how we are going to efficiently cure the maximum amount of bulbs in the minimal amount of space. For us, there is no question that we will have to trim the bulbs before we can continue the curing process.
The next question then is whether to trim in the field or back at the curing shed. In our case, we trim our garlic twice, first in the field, and again back at the shed. In the field, we swathe our stalks to approximately two inches, and undercut our roots to approximately three to six inches, before the garlic is brushed off and gathered. Back at the shed, the bulbs are allowed to dry for several days to a week before they are trimmed for a second time. There are no hard and fast rules regarding the amount to trim, and the amount will vary between growers. We cut the stalks to one inch above the bulb, and the roots to approximately one-half an inch.
Trimming the garlic to this final size works well for us. It allows the garlic to cure relatively quickly and thoroughly without taking up large amounts of space, and is also the size at which we sell both our retail and wholesale bulbs. The one-inch stalk provides a decent handle and also helps to keep the bulb wrappers intact for our customers without adding empty weight and thus an inflated price tag. The short tuft of root keeps the garlic looking natural, and prevents the roots from acting as a moisture trap. Leaves, stalk, and root matter all contain moisture which will slow the drying of the garlic and add moisture to the air. With small amounts of garlic hanging in bunches, sufficient air circulation ensures this moisture is not a problem, but for large amounts in a compact space, removing as many moisture retaining elements as possible is essential. The longer the drying period, the increased likelihood that pathogens will affect the bulbs.
How you trim your garlic is decided by whatever works best for you. Since we are trimming many thousands of bulbs, we use a modified band saw which gives us a quick, clean process. Growers producing smaller amounts, however, often use robust clippers or scissors, or even heavy duty knives. Whichever method you use, watch your fingers!
Once you have decided how you want to trim your garlic, you must decide how to clean it. Washing the garlic in water directly after harvest is the favored method of some growers because it provides clean, shiny garlic immediately, which is helpful for prompt marketing. This method must be used with caution. Washing the bulbs introduces moisture back into the skins and stalks, and you must be careful to ensure that the garlic has thoroughly dried before you sell it or store it to cure. Otherwise, you risk mold, rot, or other pathogens infecting the garlic. This is especially tricky since garlic should not be dried in the sunlight, so excellent air circulation is essential.
The brushing method is less risky, but somewhat more tedious than the washing method. The garlic is left for several days to a week or more to dry, then the remaining dirt and damaged skins are simply brushed off. This is the method we normally use, as we find it the most efficient and sufficient for our needs. Some bulbs, usually the first of the harvest, we brush by hand armed with gloves and a toothbrush. We do this for earlier markets and it can often prove to be a bit of a nightmare, since the remaining film of dirt and skins haven’t dried enough to brush off without some resistance. Once some time has passed, any remaining dirt and skins slip off with a couple of swipes of the thumb or, for larger orders, we send the bulbs through a cleaner consisting of multiple soft-brush rollers, which gently remove any outstanding debris. This method is much more efficient, but require bulbs that have adequately dried.
Whichever method of cleaning you choose, ensure that you handle the bulbs gently. Garlic, especially when fresh, has flesh and skins that are easily damaged. Any bulbs damaged during the cleaning process should be eaten or set aside for processing.