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GREEN THOUGHTS: It’s a hardneck life


YOU SHOULD CONSIDER YOURSELF RICH if you have a garlic plot to harvest right now. This most flavorful, easy-to-grow member of the Allium family is planted in fall and harvested in high summer. Master Gardener Nancy Scott, an enthusiastic cultivator of all things vegetable, sent us this report on harvesting the pungent cloves.

“This year’s theme at the Vegetable Demonstration Garden at the Parker School in North Greenbush was alliums. Master gardener volunteers from Cornell Cooperative Extension of Rensselaer County planted garlic and ornamental alliums last fall. The garlic bulbs were broken into cloves and planted pointy side up into the prepared beds about 1-2 inches deep and about 6 inches apart. This allowed the roots to form before the cold weather set in. Once the warm weather arrived in the spring, the plants sent up their leaves.

Hardneck garlic is a daylight sensitive plant, so when the days began to get shorter again after the end of June, the loss of light signaled to the plant that it was time to mature. As a result, it was time to start harvesting in late July. Some people like to wait until the leaves are all brown on the plant. This could bring the harvest into August and at that point, the papery coating on the bulb can begin to break down. The garlic will still taste fine, but there’s more of a chance of the bulb breaking apart. It also means some of the garlic will rot and not store as well.

Resist the urge to just pull up the plants. Use a garden fork to pull away the mulch, and push into the dirt a few inches from where you think the bulb will be. Some varieties can get pretty large, maybe 5-6 inches in diameter. Pull down on the fork, and pop the bulb out of the ground. Knock off as much dirt as possible and gather in bunches of about 6-10 bulbs. Wrap with rubber bands, or a loop of twine. Hang in a cool, airy place for about 2 weeks. I put mine in the garage, which is not all that cool, but it is airy and shady.

After 2 weeks you can trim the roots off the bottom, brush off any loose dirt, and clip off the stem. At no point should you wash it off. Store the bulbs in a mesh bag or some other container that will allow good airflow. Do Not store in a plastic bag or sealed container, as it will rot.

If some of the cloves break apart or are damaged, use them first. And if you are lucky enough to have more garlic than you can use in 3-4 months, you can freeze it. Just break it into cloves and put it in a freezer bag. Squeeze out the extra air and toss in the freezer. Once it is defrosted, it will be a little mushy, but just fine and tasty for cooked dishes. Enjoy!”

To see a video of Nancy harvesting garlic, visit Cornell Cooperative Extension of Rensselaer County’s YouTube Channel.

To contact David Chinery, horticulture educator for Cornell Cooperative Extension of Rensselaer County, email

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