Careless harvesting can ruin a fine crop of garlic, however, and timing is all-important. Left in the ground, the bulbs grow overly large, and can split their papery casing. Garlic is harvest-ready usually sometime in July or early August, when the lowest three or four leaves have died back; that is, when the plant is about half green, and the rest is withered and brown. Loosen the earth with a trowel or spade to release the plants.
Careful drying means good long-term storage. An hour or two in the sun does no harm, but after that lay the bulbs (tops and all) in a single layer—a propped-up window screen works well here—in a dry, shaded spot, such as an airy garden shed, carport or barn; it's best if the bulbs don't get wet. In 10 to 14 days, they should be completely dry. Then, using secateurs, trim tops back a few centimetres from the bulbs, and gently rub the bulbs to remove dirt and loose skin. Store the bulbs at room temperature or lower, somewhere not too humid (and not in the fridge). Homegrown garlic is good stuff, miles away from pallid imports, and you'll be reaching for it often—for both flavour and health.
Although one specialty catalogue offers more than 40 garlic cultivars, each a little different in size, colour and taste, it is more typical to find a couple of varieties. They're all good, so plant what you can get.
- 'Music':a favourite with both commercial growers and gardeners, for dependable yield and good flavour.
- 'Persian Star': an old standard.
- Northern Québec' and 'Alberta Hardy': two of many regional cultivars adapted to colder areas.
- 'Leningrad': Strong hot flavour; said to store very well.