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Preparing Garlic For Storage

Updated: Aug 25, 2023

Hello Friends! It is late August here on the farm and we're busy with all aspects of harvesting crops, slogging through the last of the weeding, and the biggest task is of course cleaning, sorting, and grading the garlic crop. As a small-scale garlic farm, we do all of this by hand. Each bulb has its stem clipped about 1" above the bulb, taking the care to make it parallel to the bulb so that there are no sharp tips that will stab into other bulbs during shipping; and each bulb has its roots trimmed to about 1/4" long. A variety of tools can do this job, but we swear by Felco Pruners, #2s if you're right-handed and #9 for the lefties. Keep them sharp, oiled and replace the springs yearly and they will treat you well for many years. The bulbs then have their dirty wrappers gently removed and then the bulbs are sorted into different categories based on sized, health, and "wow" factor. Here are the categories we use:

Premium Seed - 2.5" in diameter or greater. This is the cream of the crop and goes out first. This ensures our largest bulbs make it to our early orders. Some years and some varieties produce a lot of premium bulbs, and other years and varieties produce a limited amount of premiums.

Standard Seed - 2-2.5" in diameter. As the name suggests, this is everything else that is seed quality, and typically the bulk of the crop.

Our Seed - Those gorgeous bulbs that we want all to ourselves. By saving the best for own plantings, we improve our seed stock and can provide you with even better stock in the future.

Table/Culinary - Small bulbs, double bulbs, and wonky bulbs. Great to eat but not great for planting.

Processing Garlic - Suspected bacterial, fungal, or pest issues. This garlic is sold at a substantial discount to an herbal processor and our local food pantries.

Your categories will be different but important things to think about is what will you plant this year, what will you eat soon, and what will you save for later.

Saved For Seed - Always plant the nicest bulbs you can. Large cloves from large bulbs will produce more large bulbs. You want to choose bulbs with robust, healthy roots systems; clean, appropriately colored bulb wrappers, and a pleasant earthy smell. Planting inferior seed will lead to an inferior crop next year. Plant the best and eat the rest!

Shorter Term Storage - Plan to eat your large bulbs, early bulbs, and damaged bulbs early. I aim to use these up by the end of October. Large bulbs make impressive gifts and damaged bulbs are great for summer canning projects like salsa and pickles.

Long Term Storage - Small bulbs store longer, save these for last. There are a lot of factors that go into producing garlic for storage. Variety, harvest timing, curing conditions, and storage temperatures and humidity levels all play a crucial role.

Once your garlic is trimmed, cleaned, and sorted, you'll want to store it somewhere cool, dry, well ventilated, and out of direct sunlight. For commercial storage we aim for 55-65* F at 55-65% humidity in a dark cellar. For my home garlic, I keep it in the cold corner of my pantry in an open cardboard box or basket and it stores until March. If you have an insulated garage, this would be a great spot in most climates.

As you work your way through your garlic, be sure to promptly use any bulbs that are beginning to dry out or look shriveled. Take the time at least once a year to try each variety you grow in a side-by-side taste comparison. Note which ones you like best raw, and which are better cooked.

I hope this helps you prepare your garlic for fall storage and get the most from your garlic crop. We'll be back soon to talk about preparing your soil for planting garlic. Most of us will plant in mid-October, 2-3 weeks after our first frost. Our friends in Alaska will plant earlier and our Southern friends will plant anywhere from October to December depending on you winter temperatures. For all of us, it's time to begin preparing for the next garlic crop.

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