Growing Garlic Part III

This article is part three of a 3-part series. The links for part one and two are is found just below. Happy reading!

Part I: Preparing garden beds for planting in autumn & planting the garlic cloves (read here)
Part II: Weeding and liquid fertiliser feeds in spring (read here)
Part III: Summer maintenance, harvest, curing and storage of garlic

Congratulations! Your garlic has made it through spring!

End of spring we want our garlic to look like these ones in the below photo. Nice and fat with lots of energy to make big heads.

Garlic at KoruKai Herb Farm

Keep weeding the garlic to get maximum airflow throughout the rows. Also keep up the watering and feeding with compost extract or compost tea until mid December (depending where you are in the country, far north probably less and far south 2 weeks more).

The garlic starts forming from early December (again dependent on your location), so don’t be despaired if your plants look nice and big, but have no bulb yet. Just give it some more time. They develop pretty fast in my opinion and fatten within 4-6 weeks. You can dig gently from the stem down into the soil and see how they develop over time. Just make sure to not disturb the roots.

I describe below our process of harvesting and curing them in order to store them for one year. We have used garlic after 1.5 years in storage and you wouldn’t know the difference to fresh garlic.

We harvest our garlic usually between Christmas and mid January. Again this depends where you are, on the weather conditions and the time of planting. 1-2 weeks before you want to lift them stop watering them and make sure you did not have a lot of rainfall. If you get a lot of rain then delay your harvest until the weather is right. You want them to be as dry as possible and not recently filled up with a lot of water.

Lift them on a nice sunny day with the forecast for 2 days of sunshine following the harvest day. Lift them gently to not damage them. I like to do that with a trowel. I grab the stem, aim for the space under the garlic with the trowel, slicing through some roots and then lifting them up on the stem. With the trowel I tap the roots to get as much soil off as possible.

Freshly lifted garlic.

Lay them out in the sun for one to two days to dry the roots. Do not wash them and treat them gently in order to not bruise them. Do not take the roots off at this stage and also leave the tops on. When cutting the tops off too early, you loose moisture and bacteria and fungi can travel along that cut into your garlic, potentially spoiling it prematurely.

A few hundred garlic heads drying in the sun at KoruKai Herb Farm.

After 24 hours I generally plait most of our garlic. I like the process of plaiting them. Once they are plaited, they are easy to hang and use up little space. I use 20 heads in a plait, which makes counting in the end very easy.

Cornelia plaiting garlic at KoruKai Herb Farm.
140 braided garlic heads ready to hang.

Then we hang them up in our car port, which is shady, dry and has a lot of airflow. The garlic will keep pulling in moisture from the tops into the heads as they hang.

After a month or two of warm summer weather we trim the roots off. This is also the time you can take the garlic heads off the braid if you wish to do so. You can also leave them hanging as they are and simply cut one off as needed. We take them all off the stems, remove the roots and remove any dried on soil from the outside of the garlic. Then they go into a paper bag or onion sack for long term storage in our house. With March approaching, we also get cooler nights and more rainfall, so it is a good time to get them inside once they are nice and dry.

I hope you found this blog series helpful. For questions, simply comment below.


  • Philippa
    22 December, 2020 at 12:39 am

    Hi Cornelia, thanks for your 3 comprehensive blogs. I endeavoured to follow your method this year because the previous year my garlic had succumbed to rust for the first time. I still got a harvest of small but usable garlic that year and although I was worried about the keeping qualities I managed to keep some long enough to re-plant this year and I’m still using it in fact. Unfortunately they succumbed to rust again this year. They have now lost all green leaves but there is a small bulb again…prob smaller still than last year. It’s just rained a lot and on closer inspection I can see the stalks are still green beneath the fully rusted leaves so I’ll leave them in until the soil dries out as you suggest even though they’re a pretty sorry sight! My guess on what to do next year is to start with new seed garlic (sad, will be first time since I started growing garlic maybe 6 years ago…hopefully I can get hold of some of yours! ) and work on improving my compost so that when I follow your methods, I’m applying quality teas etc. Any thoughts, do you think I can turn it around or do I need to break the rust cycle by not growing garlic for a while?

    • Cornelia Holten
      23 December, 2020 at 8:13 am

      Hi Philippa, We are also experiencing a challenging season this year with our crop. We have not had the time to give it enough love. The dry winter and the dry spring were a struggle for the garlic. We realised it far too late that it needed watering. The plants were stressed and developed rust in some areas. Luckily not everywhere. Because of this we may not have any seed garlic for sale this season as we only plant the best cloves and would not sell anything that’s not up to our high standard. Gardeners have mixed opinions on growing garlic from cloves where the plant had rust. Some say it doesn’t matter and some would not plant it. I believe that you need strong seed garlic and not weak one. A seed clove from a rust infected plant it very likely not strong and healthy and may lack some essential nutrients for growing. Therefore the development of rust is a consequence of the weak clove. The rust spores are everywhere and we need to focus on growing healthy plants that can withstand the rust. Beneficial fungi are here the key and we will continue to work on that over the next few years. We built a Johnson Su bioreactor (you can google it to find out more) and believe that it can be a great way to introduce beneficial fungi to the garden – more so than standard compost. Good luck with your crop. Yes, I would leave it another week or two to get bigger and soil dryier before harvesting. Put the dried tops into a bag and burn them in autumn.


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