If you find it difficult to know when the right time to pull your garlic, or to cut your scapes is, you are not alone. I have been growing garlic for many years and I still need to refer back to my gardening journal to refresh myself every year!
You garlic plants will start to send up their flowering stalk (the scape) around early July. Snipping off this stalk encourages more of the plant’s energy into the bulb developing underground. The earlier you snip the scape gives you a larger bulb, sacrificing some storage life. Leave your scape on until the curl starts to straighten, and you increase bulb storage life greatly. Whenever you cut them, be sure to use your scapes to make a pesto, or use as a tasty addition to any stir fry dish such as pad Thai. Mmmmmm….garlicky good!
Knowing just when to harvest your garlic is also tricky. When you see the leaves of your plants just starting to die back (usually about early August), it is time to harvest your garlic. Some of the sheaths (papery wrappers) surrounding your garlic may be damaged during harvest and cleaning, but you ideally should end up with at least a few sheaths in tact for curing and storage. If you wait too long to harvest, you could end up compromising sheath thickness. Be gentle pulling them out of the ground and get them into a shady, airy place as soon as possible. Never leave them sitting in the direct sun.
Curing your garlic is necessary to prepare it for storage. Hang it in bundles of approximately 10, in an airy, cool, shady and dry place. Direct sunlight, as well as heat, and moisture, can delay the curing process, compromise bulb quality, and encourage disease, such as fungi or mold to grow. You will know your garlic is cured when the central flowering stalk is dry and pithy when cut. Typically curing takes about 4-6 weeks. As a test, trim to about 1 to 2 inches above the top of the bulb – if it is still juicy, they are not ready.
Once cured, snip off the central stalk and gently rub away any dirt from the outer wrappers around the bulb. Trim the root hairs with scissors. Ideal storage of your garlic bulbs is in a cool, dark and dry place (not your fridge or a moist basement or beside the wood stove)! Be sure to save a few of your best bulbs for your planting stock for next year.
Please note that this info. is “borrowed” from planting notes provided by Hope Seeds.