Everyone who has gardened for awhile will give you their theory on when to harvest your garlic. All I can say is that for the past couple years the harvest has been great, and here is what I have been doing....
- I put them in the same spot every year, probably not the best advice since this crop takes a lot from the soil, but I do it purely because it looks best against the wall where I put them, first in the spring when nothing is up, then when the scapes come up and add a curly sculptural element behind all the other color and texture.
- Last year, I took most of my kitchen scrap compost ( we have in a bin outside) that wasn't nearly composted, and put it directly in the soil before I planted the bulbs. I mean whole eggshells, slimy banana skins, everything! I buried the uncomposted compost a bit in the soil to let the microbes have at it. After all, they would have all winter!
- Then I bought the largest of the German Hard Neck bulbs I could find in the Farmers Market and planted each clove 2 inches deep in the soil and kitchen compost. They were about 4 inches apart. I planted them in early November. They say that only large cloves produce large cloves...
- I added about 2 more inches of regular compost in early June after they were about 2 feet high.
- Then when the scapes came up, I left some on, and others I used in arrangements or to cook with. I didn't seem to matter, the bulbs were of equal size whether the scape was left on or not.
I once heard from a farmer that you should harvest when the scape uncurls and the tip is parallel with the horizon. This sounds scientific, but I think you should leave it in the ground until the scapes go straight, and they are about to bloom. Many people take the scapes off to encourage bulb production as opposed to flower production. This makes sense to me, they just look so great in the garden, I tend to keep many intact. I also heard from friends that harvest should happen when you are down to 5 green leaves on the stalk. I like this theory, and really that is about the same time as when the scapes uncurl. In Maine, I would say the first weeks of August are a safe bet!