A bountiful supply of homegrown Garlic and Onions means a long, happy winter filled with lots of savory home-cooked meals. If you are growing these crops in your garden this year, it’s almost time to think about harvesting them. To ensure the best quality and longest storage life, it is important to harvest both Garlic and Onions at the right time, and to cure and store them properly.
Harvesting, Curing and Storing Garlic
Determining when Garlic is ready to harvest is one of the most important aspects of growing Garlic. If you harvest it too soon, the cloves will not reach their optimum size. On the other hand, if you wait too long, the cloves will begin to separate and the head won’t store as well.
Garlic heads, whether fall or spring-planted, Soft- or Hard-neck, are usually ready for harvest sometime in late July depending on actual weather conditions. Soft-neck Garlic does not usually produce scapes and is good for storage up to a year. Hard-neck Garlic produces delightfully artistic and delicious scapes and is best used within just a couple of months of harvest. When the lower leaves begin to yellow and wither, use a garden fork to gently lift and remove several bulbs. If they’re plump and fully formed, they’re ready. If not, bring those heads in the house and eat them. Check back on the others in a week or two.
When harvesting Garlic, take extra care not to bruise the bulbs. Gently shake or brush off most of the soil and then transfer the plants~with stems still attached~to a cool, dry area out of direct sunlight. Spread the plants out in a single layer; good air circulation during the curing process is very important. Garlic bulbs should cure for about a month. The process is complete once the stem is completely dry all the way down to the head. Cut the stems off about an inch above the top of the head and put the heads into a mesh bag or basket. Any bulbs that haven’t dried properly or show signs of decay should be used up first. Store Garlic in a dark place with relatively low humidity. Ideal storage temperature is a chilly 35 to 40 degrees F. Maintaining a consistently cool temperature will prevent sprouting.
Sweet or Pungent Globe Onions
There are two main types of Globe Onions: Sweet (short-keepers) and Pungent (long-keepers). Sweet Onions are typically large and juicy with thick rings and thin skins that are easy to peel. They are often referred to as mild, Spanish or Bermuda Onions. Typically grown from seed or plants since the Onions themselves have no long-term shelf life and cannot be planted as sets, our favorite Sweet Onion is the Yellow Granex Sweet Onion. Sweet Onions have a lower sulfur content than Pungent Onions~this means they don’t make your eyes water as much, but they also have a much shorter shelf life. Sweet Onions are delicious eaten raw in salads or on burgers, are great in pickles, salsas and chutneys, and are also wonderful grilled, roasted or made into onion rings.
Pungent Onions, also known as Storage Onions, are dense and hard with thin rings and smooth, tight skins. A high sulfur content makes these the best choice for cooking, as heat both sweetens and intensifies their flavor.
Harvesting, Curing and Storing Sweet or Pungent Globe Onions
Harvest Yellow Granex Sweet Onions as needed, any time from midsummer on, and use them within a month or two. Harvest Storage Onions a week or two after their stems have flopped over. Flopped stems signal that the plant has stopped growing and that the cherished Onions can be unearthed. If possible, harvest Onions during a stretch of dry weather. Pull them gently from the soil and handle with care to avoid bruising. Don’t remove any leaves. If the weather is dry, spread the Onions out right in the garden for a few days, but then transfer them to a warm, dry, well-ventilated place where they’ll be out of direct sunlight. A barn floor, garage floor or covered porch is good. As the Onions are curing, their leaves will gradually dry out, the neck just above the bulb will wither, and the bulb’s papery skin will be pulled tightly around the cloves. It may take up to a month for this to happen. Once the necks appear to be completely dry, use scissors or pruning shears to cut the stem about an inch above the bulb. If you can still see moisture in the stem, let the Onions cure for another week. Before storing, cull any Onion bulbs that are damaged or did not cure well. Use these up over the next couple weeks. Store the rest in mesh bags or small baskets with good ventilation. Keep them where it’s dry, dark and cool; 35 to 40 degrees F is ideal. (For next season's consideration, our favorite kitchen garden Storage Onions grown as sets include Yellow Stuttgarter, Red Wethersfield and White Ebenezer Onions. We also carry a Red, Yellow and White Onion Set Mixture for smaller-sized gardens that crave Onion diversity.)
Time to Order Fall-Planting Garlic and Shallots
Harvest time also means it is almost planting time for next year’s crop of Garlic and Shallots. In our kitchen, Shallots are an essential ingredient for vinaigrettes, pesto, delicate sauces, omlettes, quiches, soups and so much more. The simple truth is that we can’t live without Garlic or Shallots. Plant them this fall so they’ll be ready to harvest next summer. Right now, we are well stocked with both Red French Shallots and Grey French Shallots, but since we almost always run out, we encourage you to reserve yours now. In most parts of the country, fall is also the best time to plant Garlic. We offer four different varieties for fall planting: Early Italian Purple Garlic, Inchelium Red Garlic, German Red Rocambole Garlic and Spanish Rojo Garlic. We urge you to try them all so you can taste-test their distinctive flavors and discover your own personal favorites.