The hot days of July are here, and that means the garlic is about ready to harvest. You should dig up your garlic when several of the lower leaves have turned brown, but a few at the top are still green. Timing is everything with garlic, because too early means incomplete growth but too late often means split bulbs and poor winter storage.
Timing is especially challenging when you grow several varieties, because they all ripen at different times. Seeds of Diversity keeps a collection of 135 garlic varieties in small plots at the Everdale organic farm in Ontario. It takes a keen eye to spot the varieties that are ready to harvest, and several trips to the field to get them all. Starting in mid-July, we harvest the first early softnecks. Then a few dozen more a week later, until by mid-August the latest varieties come in.
Garlic should be cured with the leaves and stems intact, in open air to let excess moisture escape. Once the outer bulb skins feel dry and papery, trim the stems a little above the bulb and keep the garlic in a dry, cool place. Remember, if it gets hot and you smell garlic fragrance in the air, that's the flavour escaping!
We maintain small samples of many varieties to ensure that they're preserved and available for growers to multiply. Every year, we've sent samples to other growers across the country to diversify the garlic that Canadians grow, and we've been lucky to be able to adopt some orphaned varieties from growers who downsized their own collections. A small amount of many varieties will be available again this year, probably less than usual because of the heat stress in Ontario, but healthy and good for propagating. For growers who agree to multiply and share, we'd be glad to help you start a few varieties that are hard to find elsewhere.