The gift that keeps on giving: GARLIC. I bought a small batch of Russian Giant garlic bulbs two years ago from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds. After breaking the bulbs up into individual cloves and planting them late in autumn, I watch in amazement that fall, winter and spring as the little suckers did their thing. That winter was especially mild, which may have helped entertain my watching eye (not much to watch when the ground is normally covered in a foot of snow). Come the following July, I was pulling over 40 new bulbs of garlic from the ground. I reserved a few of my biggest looking bulbs of garlic for planting that following October, which brings me to this week. 40+ new bulbs harvested!
There are two types of garlic plants: hard-neck and soft-neck. I've only grown hard-neck so far because they offer scapes, which I so desired. Scapes are underdeveloped flowers. You cut them off before they can bloom which forces the plant to focus its energy on creating a bigger bulb under ground. But don't toss those scapes! They're delicious! Chop them up and use them in whatever you're cooking for an added oniony-garlicky flavor. Or toss them with some olive oil, salt, and pepper and grilled quickly on your outdoor grill for a very yummy side. My favorite thing to do though is turn them into a pesto, freeze, and use through the year on almost anything: chicken or pork, roasted veggies like cauliflower, or toss into some homemade tomato sauce. This year I made an Arugula Garlic Scape Pesto and I'm loving it! Just a heads up, I use pecans instead of pine nuts because they're much more cost effective, and Dave is allergic to walnuts, a very common replacement for pine nuts.
A few short weeks after you've harvested your scapes, you might notice the leaves to your garlic starting to brown and die. This is your cue. Once the first two or three layers of leaves have started to brown, it's time to harvest. Timing is key. You don't want to harvest too soon or the garlic won't properly develop its papery skin and segmented cloves. Wait too long and it might just start rotting under the dirt.
Once dug up, it's time to cure. Yes, you can use your garlic right away. But wham am I going to do with the other 40 bulbs? Curing is basically letting them dry a bit and helping prepare them for long term storage. I first lay our all my garlic stalks to air dry a few days. Then I clean them up of any excess dirt or brown plant material, trim the stalks so they're only about 4-6 inches long, and hang them upside down somewhere out of direct sunlight and that offers a breeze to finish the curing/drying. The timing on this can vary, but about 2 weeks is ideal.
Once all of that is done, store your garlic in a cool (60-65°) and dry spot. Under the right conditions, garlic can last a good 6-8 months. Other options I've ran across on the webs are pickling and freezing. I haven't tried either yet but am tempted to look into the freezing option. Last years harvest did great with the storage, but by the last couple of bulbs, I noticed some questionable cloves.