Garlic and onions in fried potatoes served with a few slices of garden fresh tomatoes makes a breakfast fit for a queen. It makes the whole house smell good, too. Potatoes and rice always seem better with a little garlic thrown in there.
We’re not talking about powdered garlic or dehydrated flakes of garlic. Only real garlic cloves will give the strong flavor and aroma that we seek.
If you like garlic as much as we do, then you really should be growing your own. It doesn’t take much effort to grow garlic and once it’s established you’ll likely have it forever.
Once the heat of summer is upon the garden garlic bulbs start maturing. They may send up a strong central stalk with a flowering head that will produce several baby garlic bulblets. The bulblets can be planted as can the cloves from the underground bulbs.
Cut off the flowering stalk before the flowers develop so that the plant’s energy will go into producing bigger garlic bulbs in the ground instead of tiny bulblets in the air.
The trick in growing garlic that will store well is to harvest it at the right time. Garlic bulbs have to mature in their second year, at least at our northern Pennsylvania location, so it’s a long-growing crop. If you do it right though, there should be no problem having garlic year round.
Watch the lower leaves of the plants as they dry and turn brown. Some plants will mature sooner than others and they may have to be pulled out first. When two or three sets of leaves have turned brown or died back, it’s time to harvest the garlic. Use a pitchfork or similar tool to pry up the garlic bulbs. Shovels tend to bruise or cut the bulbs and you don’t want that. Pulling up the plant with your hands may not work either as that often breaks off the bulb in the ground.
Once the garlic is out of the ground knock off clumps of dirt with your hands and lay the plants in a single layer on a sheet in the shade. Don’t dry the garlic in the sun as that will be too hot and take away some of the essence of the pungent plant that we’re trying to harvest.
If left in the garden too long or when conditions are too wet, the outer leaves, and therefore the outer membrane-like layers that cover the garlic bulbs will disappear. For the best storing garlic we want to retain as many layers as we can for covering the garlic bulbs.
In 2012 the harvest date for our Pennsylvania garlic was the 10th of July. It’s been a very hot summer and not very wet, so that may be an early harvest date when compared to other years.