Harvesting garlic at the right time ensures you get plump, flavourful bulbs. Timing is essential because harvesting too early or too late can affect the size and quality of the garlic. Here’s how to determine when your garlic plants are ready for harvest:
1. Check the Leaves
One of the most reliable indicators of garlic readiness is the condition of the leaves:
- Yellowing Leaves: As garlic matures, the plant’s lower leaves will start to turn yellow and die back. This is a natural part of the garlic’s growth cycle. Typically, you can start checking for readiness when about half to two-thirds of the lower leaves have turned yellow or brown.
- Green Tops: While the lower leaves are yellowing, the upper leaves should still be green and healthy. This contrast between yellowing lower leaves and green upper leaves is a good sign that the garlic is nearing maturity.
2. Examine the Bulbs
To get a better sense of the garlic bulb’s readiness, you can gently dig around the base of one of the plants and examine the bulb without pulling it out completely:
- Cloves Formation: Carefully brush away some soil to reveal the bulb. You’ll want to see well-developed individual cloves within the bulb. Each clove should be plump and well-defined.
- Size and Bulb Uniformity: The bulbs should be of decent size, with good overall uniformity. Smaller bulbs are not necessarily a sign of underdevelopment if they are uniform and fully formed.
3. Perform the “Pinch Test”
Another way to assess garlic readiness is to perform the “pinch test”:
- Pinch the Stems: Gently squeeze the stems of a few garlic plants between your fingers. If the stems feel firm and the skin around the bulbs is tight, it indicates that the garlic is ready for harvest.
4. Observe Flower Scapes (Optional)
Some garlic varieties produce flower scapes, curly stems that emerge from the center of the plant. If you notice flower scapes starting to form, it’s a sign that the garlic is nearing maturity. Many gardeners remove these scapes to divert the plant’s energy back into bulb development.
5. Timing Considerations
Garlic is typically ready for harvest in the UK in early to mid-summer (depending on variety), depending on when it was planted. Harvesting too early can result in smaller bulbs, while waiting too long may lead to over-mature bulbs that are difficult to store.
Determining when garlic plants are ready for harvest involves a combination of observing the leaves, examining the bulbs, performing the pinch test, and considering the timing of the planting. Harvesting garlic at the right time ensures you’ll enjoy flavorful and well-formed bulbs for your culinary creations.
Brian Sheridan has an allotment in Edgbaston and is a competitive grower. Brian is also a keen photographer and loves cooking. Brian and his wife Mary will also be running a stall at Edgebaston artisan market this year, selling products made from the allotment, including his award-winning relish!