After a couple of days outside in the shade, it was time to get my garlic harvest into shape to store. Usually, when garlic is almost ready to harvest, the leaf tips turn tan and the green tops flop over, right at the soil line. When that happens on a few of the plants, I'll bend the rest of the crop down too and pull the soaker hose away to let the soil dry out for a few days before digging up the bulbs.
This year, my garlic didn't do that. The tops just dried out and all turned tan at once, still standing upright, and earlier than usual. They're really nice-sized bulbs - I got five pounds of garlic from a 2' x 4' patch. But having to pull dry plants out of still-damp soil means I don't know how well they'll store this winter. When garlic is harvested with the tops still somewhat green out of dry dirt, as it cures the wrapping layers stay intact, protecting the cloves inside all winter and into the spring. But the outer layers were already so dry that they flaked away as the dirt dried, leaving less wrapping around the bulbs. I'll have to keep an eye on the bulbs later this season, and if they start feeling shrunken inside the wrapping I'll have to do something - probably make garlic powder by peeling and dehydrating what's left.
But I prefer fresh garlic, and Mother Nature meant for it to last through the winter to grow anew in early Spring. So I'll try curing and storing it as usual for now. I didn't want to chance rubbing away any more layers, so my garlic braid isn't quite as pretty and shiny-white as usual. I just cleaned off the dirt a bit and trimmed the roots with shears. The bulbs too dry to braid are in a basket on the counter to be used first. I use braided garlic from the bottom up in order to keep the decorative aspect nice as long as possible, so I started braiding with smaller bulbs, those with cloves starting to separate, and those with the least wrapping layers. I add in bulbs to the right, left, and center as room is available, keep braiding a bit more at the top, and then bend the braid to the back. Then, using a short length of string, I tie tightly close to the top bulbs (the stems will shrink as they dry), criss-cross wrap a few times and tie again higher up, and then knot a hanging loop. I'll leave the braid out in the open kitchen to cure for a couple of weeks, then move it into the cooler, darker pantry to store. Then, I'll just have to keep an eye on it, watching for withering. The two biggest, nicest bulbs, those with the long stems not part of the braid, I'm saving to break apart to plant come October.