How Do You Know When to Harvest Elephant Garlic?


Elephant garlic is a biennial plant. This means it needs two growing seasons to complete its life cycle. Suited to its name, these are comically big with one clove around 5 cm wide. While its size does justice to the name, it is still a misnomer. Elephant garlic is not really garlic but a variety of leek.

However, it does have a mild garlic flavor. In the first year, it grows up to a single bulb. While in the second year, this bulb typically splits itself into multiple cloves. While it is a biennial, it will act like a perennial as new cloves will grow the following year. For beginners, determining the time to harvest elephant garlic can be a little tricky.

Harvest garlic when most of the leaves on have turned yellowish-brown and begin to flop over. Going by the standard guidelines, elephant garlic is usually planted in early fall and ready to pick between May and July the following year. For fall-planted garlic, this time is enough to split into cloves. However, spring-planted elephant garlic can be harvested after 90 days but will most likely be a single bulb.

Several factors can impact the growth and harvest timing of elephant garlic. But with little attention, the process can become straightforward. Here are all your questions answered specific to elephant garlic growing climate, culture, harvest timing, and care:

How to Grow Elephant Garlic?

The growing culture plays a major role in determining the harvest time. Here are some of the factors that need to be considered while planning to grow elephant garlic:

Light

Elephant garlic prefers partial to full sunlight. This means that they should get at least six hours of direct sunlight on the majority of days. While they can grow in partial shade as well, the bulbs would usually be smaller in size.

Soil

Elephant garlic grows best in rich, deeply cultivated, well-drained soil with a neutral pH level of around 6.0-7.0. Clay loams are a much better option as compared to sandy soils for garlic. All you need to be sure of is that there is adequate surface drainage.  Since elephant garlic is a member of the onion family, it should not be grown in the soil that has borne an onion family crop in the last three years.

Water

Elephant garlic needs consistent watering when they are actively growing. There should be enough water for the soil to remain moderately moist. However, be sure that you do not overwater, as you may get the soil soggy, which can rot the bulbs.

It will help if you water in the morning, which will ensure that it is dry before nighttime. You can also use the drip or trickle system, which delivers water at low pressure at the soil level.

Temperature

Elephant garlic can tolerate the given temperatures considerably well, but it can definitely use some help. You would need a planting site that is partially sheltered and protects the plants from harsh winds. You can also put a layer of mulch around them, which protects the roots from extreme temperatures.

Humidity

Excessive moisture or humidity can result in fungal growth. This can be prevented by proper soil drainage and air circulation.

How to Prepare the Soil Before Planting Elephant Garlic?

To prepare the soil for plantation, dig it to about a spade’s depth, remove stones and level and smoothen the surface. Then, work some compost into the soil for a good organic fertilizer. You can add one more layer of compost if you decide not to harvest your bulbs next year. Also, since surface drainage is essential for elephant garlic, making raised beds is recommended.

How to Sow Elephant Garlic?

The bulb is made up of ‘cloves’ that are all held together by a thin paper-like covering. Before planting, you need to separate the cloves and plant each one of them individually. It would be best to place the cloves (1 inch below soil level) with their pointed end facing up.

Also, keep a distance of around 10 inches between each clove in all directions to allow them to grow. Cover up the holes, water them in. You can also mulch your bed with straws or other organic materials. This will protect the roots from frost, keep weeds down, and maintain moisture.

How to Take Care of My Elephant Garlic Plants?

With regular watering, good ventilation, and rich biodiversity in your garden, you can reduce the incidence of any issues related to your garlic alliums.

You can also consider cutting off flowering stalks, also known as scapes of your garlic plants. They have a mild garlic flavor and can be used in stir-fries, salads, or even pesto sauce.

Moreover, cutting them off when they are 8 to 9 inches tall will allow your plant to focus on bulb growth better. However, some growers like to use them for ornamental reasons.

There are certain weeds and pests like downy mildew, leaf blast, bulb and neck rots, and purple leaf blotch that can affect your elephant garlic plants.

To prevent this, you should practice crop rotation, hand hoeing, purchasing disease-free bulbs, and herbicide applications.

What Are Some Companion Plants for Garlic?

One can plant garlic with beetroot, lettuce, tomatoes, strawberries, and summer savory. Garlic itself is great as a companion plant owing to its strong smell that repels a range of pest species. It is a natural deterrent to the usual garden pests, as it accumulates sulfur in the bulb that acts as a fungicide and prevents pests such as aphids.

Also, some growers recommend planting chamomile close to alliums, as it is said to improve its flavor.  However, it is suggested to keep peas and beans away from garlic as it could stunt their growth.

How to Harvest Elephant Garlic?

When you notice that the leaves are drying out and bending over, it is time to harvest the garlic. At this point, you should stop watering them since excessive moisture can cause the bulbs to rot in the soil. To harvest, you need to gently dig the bulbs out using a small hand trowel or a border fork.

It would help if you stored the freshly harvested garlic bulbs in a cool, dry, and dark place. You should also save the largest bulbs if you wish to replant next season. However, it is best to buy new bulbs right before the planting season.

How to Cure Elephant Garlic?

You can either use freshly harvested garlic or even cure it for storage purposes. You would need around 3 to 8 weeks, depending on the ambient humidity. Some like to braid the tops together and hang them up in small bunches to cure.

To ensure that they have good air circulation, you can even set up a fan on a low setting. This will further accelerate the curing process. Once the bulbs are cured, you will be able to observe a tough shell formed around them.

How to Preserve Elephant Garlic?

To preserve the garlic, you need to trim away the leaves and roots. Also, remove the stalks half an inch above the bulb. You need to leave the skin on the bulbs and store them at 45-55° F with an ambient humidity of around 50%.

You can put them into a ventilated container like a mesh bag for longer shelf life and better flavor. This will easily last you 10 months and develop a much fuller flavor than freshly harvested elephant garlic. Also, peeled cloves can be stored in an air-tight container in the freezer, while fresh garlic leaves can be sliced and used like chives.

How Can I Use Elephant Garlic?

You can use elephant garlic for both – culinary purposes or propagation. Several epicureans use garlic cloves as a flavoring agent. All you need to do is slice and sauté in butter or olive oil. It can also be cooked or grilled, which can give it a sweet and delicate flavor.

One can also eat it raw in a salad or use it as a spread on slices of Italian bread since it is milder and less pungent than usual garlic. Other than garlic itself, you can also use the scapes in some ways.

They can be pickled, fermented, stir-fried, and even used raw in salads. It is also one of the key ingredients for pesto. You can even freeze it in a resealable bag, raw, for up to a year.

Conclusion On Know When to Harvest Elephant Garlic

Elephant Garlic is an interesting perennial herb that will continue to add beauty and grace to your garden year after year. If you are starting to grow garlic, you should try and source locally-grown, organic garlic from growers, shops, and farmers’ markets.

If that is not feasible, you can also look for heirloom and non-GMO varieties suited to your climate online. Whether you use it for culinary purposes or propagation, growing elephant garlic in your garden will turn out to be an amazing and insightful experience.

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Tony O'Neill

I am Tony O'Neill, A full-time firefighter and long term gardener. I have spent most of my life gardening. From the age of 7 until the present day at 45. My goal is to use my love and knowledge of gardening to support you and to simplify the gardening process so you are more productive

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