How (and When) to Harvest Garlic

garlic is ready to harvest

The tips on my garlic leaves are beginning to yellow, this tells me harvest time is near. There is one way to know for sure and that’s to dig a bulb. Looks like we’re good to go!

Once the tops start yellowing off there will be no more bulb development so don’t hold out for bigger bulbs at this point. If your bulbs are small it’s because they were hungry, dry, soggy or had too much competition from weeds. Get them up and have another go next year.

Should you follow popular lore and let the tops dry right off before harvesting, you’ll notice that when the top falls over it exposes the bulb inside. By this time the bulb is over mature and is likely to have split – growing a new lot of cloves off the side. Both these things mean the bulb is no longer sealed in a skin. It means moisture is in, decay has begun, and ends with the sadness that is a short shelf life.

The trick is to start checking your bulbs when the tips of the leaves start yellowing. As soon as the cloves are formed, but while most of the tops are still green, get them out of the ground.

The Wait for Dry Days

harvest times

To prevent fungus and decay in storage it’s important to let garlic dry off a bit while still in the ground, and it’s crucial to harvest on a dry day. A sunny, dry week pre harvest is ideal, but that’s not going to happen this year in Levin! There’s plenty of rain forecast in the weeks ahead, so I’ll just take whatever dry days I can get. I don’t want to hold out for a long dry spell and risk over mature, split bulbs. According to Met service there’s 3 dry days at the start of next week, so Wednesday has garlic harvest written all over it.

To make the most of a short period of pre harvest curing I’ve pulled the mulch off. Weeds don’t help drying out either, so if your patch be weedy you need to clean it up.

Harvest gently

time to harvest

Pulling garlic is a saying, don’t take it literally – pull and the top will come away in your hand! Go along the row with your standing fork to loosen the bulbs first, then get down on your knees to lift each bulb out. Brush off the worst of the dirt, (don’t bang it you ruffian – you’ll bruise it!) and lay it down.


garlic curing

Curing is the process of drying, and is best done slowly.

Once all the garlic is out of the ground, hang it or lay it on racks – tops and all. Don’t clean it. Choose an airy spot out of full sun for 2 – 4 weeks until the outer most bulb wrappers are dry. At this point trim the roots – leaving a bit of stubble; and the tops – leaving a small ‘neck’. Both practices achieve a well sealed bulb. Gently remove the outer most dirty skin. You want a few layers remaining, so don’t be too heavy handed/ enthusiastic. That’d be tea your drinkin’ at your garlic cleaning party – whisky when the jobs done.


  1. Kay mclennan says

    Oh Kath a whole patch of mine has developed rust. I’m gutted. What happens if I harvest too early?

    • Oh bother! As long as the cloves are formed I’d get them up on the next dry day. If not quite ready then trim off as many rust affected leaves as possible, get the mulch and weeds off the bed, spray with seaweed or raw milk weekly.

  2. Nancy Thompson says

    Hi Kath when is a good time to plait the garlic and do you have any tips and tricks for doing this?

    • Hi Nancy
      Plaiting garlic is a bit of a knack! Best watched rather than written about – I bet there are a million u tube videos to show you how. Best time is once its dry (you don’t want too much moisture in the plaits) but not so dry that the stems are brittle and break while you plait.
      Until I got the hang of it I used to tie three bulbs together at the base of the necks and then start the plait – cheating, but made it easier!
      best Kath