Growing your own garlic is not difficult but does require a bit of patience as the time from planting till harvesting can take 7-8 months. If you harvest garlic too early, you are left with very small cloves that are frustrating to peel, harvest too late and your cloves will have burst apart making your bulbs look unattractive and you will also have reduced your garlic’s storage life. In order to know when the right time to harvest your garlic is, you need to understand a little bit about the growth stages of garlic.
In Melbourne garlic is best planted in early Autumn (April-May). Planting at this time ensures that your garlic puts on lots of growth before turning its energies into forming bulbs. Once bulb formation is triggered by increasing day length and higher soil and air temperature, leaf growth stops. Garlic that is planted too late in the season won’t have enough leaf growth to support the formation of large bulbs. Temperatures above 33ºC signal the end of bulb growth and the start of drying off, this process is irreversible, so early, unseasonably high temperatures can sometimes result in a disappointing garlic crop, especially for gardeners in warmer climates as garlic bulbs can double in size during the last month of their growth.
Your garlic is ready to harvest when the sixth leaf (counting from the top of your plant) starts to brown off and there are therefore only five green leaves left on the top of your garlic plant. Each green leaf corresponds to a layer of protective skin that will cover your garlic bulb after harvest and is required for the optimum storage life of your garlic.
If you are growing a hardneck variety of garlic you will find flower stems (scapes) developing from your garlic plants during the last months of growth. It is best to harvest these on a regular basis (by pulling them carefully from the centre of your garlic plant) so that they don’t take the energy out of the garlic bulbs that are forming. Scapes can be chopped up and used as a garlic substitute in many dishes.
For more information on growing garlic visit my blog article: How to grow garlic