Country Living Series

Sunday, October 16, 2016

A year's worth of garlic

In August, I harvested the garlic.

Last year I had the durndest time harvesting the garlic. This is because I made the mistake of mulching the bed with old hay ... and the hay grew. Additionally I was fighting a particularly pernicious grass which reproduces vegetatively through long roots.

Unless I can dig out those roots, the grass simply grows back. Breaking the roots into bits just increases the number of rootstocks that can regrow (kind of like that scene from the old movie "Fantasia" with the sorcerer's apprentice where the chopped up broomsticks reform into new broomsticks). It's nasty stuff.

So last year it took me three days to harvest the garlic in this fairly small bed. Most of the time was spent tracing out and removing the roots of those grasses.

So this year I was very very careful to keep the weeds out of the garlic, pulling them as they grew and tracing out grass roots as I found them.

So by the time harvest came, it was simple as pie to dig it all up. Took me only about an hour.

What a contrast to last year. I still had a few weeds...

...but I pulled those (roots and all) as I dug the garlic, so they wouldn't regrow and plague me next year.

The garlic quickly overflowed the bushel basket I was using... I stopped and trimmed the stems from the bulbs, then continued digging more garlic.

An hour later, all done.

The garlic filled the basket about two-thirds full.

After letting the garlic dry for a few days, I sat down in the barn and prepared to trim it. Some people prefer to hang their garlic whole, but since we don't have a root cellar or basement, I've found it's best to preserve the garlic by canning it. Trimming and peeling is the first step.

I grow a German porcelain-neck garlic. Rather than those annoying cloves that get smaller and smaller toward the center, this kind of garlic has large (and sometimes huge) cloves around a central stiff (or "porcelain") stem. It's got a nice bite to it, just as garlic should.

Here's some of the larger cloves next to eggs, for purposes of comparison.

This kind of garlic is fairly easy to peel. It's a pleasant task to sit in the barn for an hour or so at a time and peel garlic. It took me a few days to work through the whole shebang.

Occasionally the chickens would wander over and kind of hang around, keeping me company.

I pulled aside a fair bit of nice cloves...

...then counted out how many I needed, and kept them for re-planting the bed.

Here's all the debris from peeling.

The end result, peeled and ready to wash.

Total weight: 12 pounds.

Then came the laborious task of washing (and sometimes scrubbing) each clove to get the surface and ingrained dirt off. This is really really boring. I did it in stages to make it more tolerable, but it's still boring. If anyone has a better idea for how to wash garlic, I'm all ears.

After this, it was time to can the garlic. I chopped it up in batches.

The garlic shouldn't be cooked, but only parboiled. To do this, I boiled a large pot of water, then turned off the heat and dumped in the chopped garlic for about ten minutes.

While it heated, I got my jars ready. Since garlic is low-acid, of course it needs to be pressure-canned.

I drained the garlic, making sure to save the cook water.

Filling jars with chopped parboiled garlic.

Topping off with cook water.

Wiping the rims, which also lets me check for nicks.

Scalding the Tattler lids.

Then I pulled out my pressure canner. It's the first time I'd used it since I had the gauge checked last February.

Jars in the canner, two layers.

Up to pressure, adjusted for elevation. I kept it here for 25 minutes (pints).

I just love the sight of a finished canning project.

All this chopped canned garlic should be plenty to last us for a year. But if we wanted to look forward to more garlic next summer, I had to get what I'd held back for planting into the ground.

So in late September, I made sure the garlic boat was free of weeds...

...then laid out the cloves to space them evenly.

I had a couple of garlic plants sprouting from some cloves that got left behind when I harvested.

Once the cloves are spaced out, it takes no time at all to plant them. I had some cloves left over, which I gave to a neighbor who was interested in cultivating more garlic.

Then I gave the bed a nice layer of pine needle mulch.

That does it for garlic for the year. Except for (hopefully) some light weeding next summer, I shouldn't have to do much until it's time to harvest again.


  1. We peel ours by banging it around in a jar with a lid on, after which the paper comes off pretty well. We also ferment ours in salt water, instead of canning, which preserves it for years and takes far less work than pressure canning. It does stink some, and has a marginally greater risk of failure, though, but it keeps the flavor far stronger.

  2. What resource do you use to know how long and at what pressure to can at?

    1. My canning bible is "Putting Food By" by Hertzberg/Vaughan/Greene. Others prefer the Ball "Blue Book Guide to Preserving." Both are good. The Ball book is probably better for beginning canners.

      - Patrice

  3. I suspect you're trying to stay away from chemical, but Round-up would certainly take care of the long roots from the grass. Bonus points because plants aren't affected by glyphosate in the soil, meaning you can plant your garlic as soon as the grass is dead. Just my two cents worth.

    -Blind Ambition

  4. My understanding is that comercial garlic is peeled by blasting the skins off with a jet of compressed air. Do you and Don have an air compressor in your shop? Wear leather gloves for safety (air injection risk).

  5. If you harvest the garlic earlier, when only about the lower 1/3rd of the leaves are dry, the cloves are wrapped up inside several layers of peel. The dirt only reaches the outer one or two layers of peel. Allow them to dry for several weeks then brush the dirt off before peeling. The dirt never reaches the cloves. No scrubbing required.

    1. I was going to say pretty much the same thing. That's what I do with mine. The proper time to harvest is when about 1/3 to 1/2 of the leaves die. I trim the roots off, hang them in my garage for about a month to cure and then cut the tops off and store the bulbs in an onion sack hanging in the basement. I usually plant one hardneck variety and one softneck which keeps longer. The past few years it's been Georgian Fire and Polish White. Huge cloves on both.

  6. Love, love, LOVE garlic! Food, medicine, seasoning - so useful! It has pretty much become a perpetual crop matter how careful you are, you always miss a few. Or A LOT, as was the case here this year. I had meant to plant two 24' rows last year, which would have given me about 100 heads this year. Somehow I ended up planting two 24' rows on both sides of a bed (sigh)so I ended up with 200 heads! When I went out this spring to start checking on things, discovered about 36 plants coming up in last years garlic bed. And about 50 coming up in the previous years bed...and about 40 in the 3-years-ago bed. And gobs and gobs coming up where I had put last year's less-than-perfects...on an area of pure sand so it would compost. Since I had already accidentally planted twice as much as I would need, nowhere here to move them, so gave them to a neighbor. Those "extra" plants planted THREE hundred-foot rows for him! You know you have a big garden, working good, when your "extras" can plant multiple 100-ft. rows of anything! (hehe)
    And I agree with the previous poster...harvest the garlic when the outer 2-3 leaves are dry and the inner leaves are still green. Let dry well then you can just brush off the dirt and trim the tops and roots. You might have to pull off one layer of the papery cover to get dirt stains off, but pull off as little as possible. If the papery cover is intact, covering all cloves, it will store in a mesh onion bag in a cool dark place until next harvest. You will end up with beautiful white paper-covered heads. One of my buddies has a certified organic farm and they grow about 7,000 lbs of garlic each year!

  7. The grass looks like kukuyu grass or some variant. Very tough to get rid of without using max strength Roundup.

  8. Anonymous on Oct 17, 8:28 am is correct regarding the garlic. Here in Pennsylvania in Zone 5, we plant around Columbus Day (or whatever is convenient), and harvest in June or July, when the lower leaves are turning brown and the tops are still green. Bulbs stay intact, and I don't think I've ever had a dirt problem with cloves. Let dry (cure) in a dry, shaded spot, then bag in onion or orange bags. No scrubbing needed.


  9. I have a little rubber tube about the diameter of a paper towel tube that I place the garlic in and roll back and forth on the counter. The skins pop right off and it is easy to clean too.

    1. We use the same rubber tube. Works great.

  10. After air drying to cure, we braid ours and hang it in garage from hooks with a plastic onion bag loosely tied at the bottom to catch the bits of dry stalk and peel. When we want a bulb of garlic, we just twist one off, adjusting the bag downward as we go. Easy, no fuss, no canning, and the garlic is preserved with all its nutritional value intact.

  11. Definitely agree with the others that you are waiting too late to harvest your garlic. Should be harvested in June or early July when the tops are still green.

  12. Don't your chickens ever get into the pine straw to dig around? Mine would. Mind do! I never heard of canning garlic, but it's a good idea. Twelve pounds of garlic would last me twelve years.

  13. Those weeds look suspiciously like "Sedge" grass. There's a product called Sedge Hammer specifically for it. It's slow acting, but does the job.