A Guide to Curing and Storing Garlic

Fully cured, cleaned and trimmed garlic

You waited seven, maybe nine months, for all that homegrown garlic to finish growing. Now that you’ve dug it all up, you want to savor it for as long as possible until the next garlic crop is ready.

This is when curing becomes your friend.

Curing is the process of letting your garlic dry down in preparation for long-term storage. Curing your garlic allows you to enjoy the flavor of your summer harvest well into winter… and one of my favorite things about garlic is that it still stays fresh long after it’s been plucked from the ground. No pickling, no canning. Just a simple head of garlic that looks and tastes the same as the day you pulled it.

Garlic that you want to eat right away can be used right away, straight from the garden.

Garlic that you want to cure should be moved to a dry, shady, airy place — this can be under a tree, on a covered porch, or in a well-ventilated garage. Lay the bulbs out one by one to provide good air circulation. Garlic is susceptible to sunburn (it can literally cook under the sun, which deteriorates the flavor), so you want to minimize the amount of direct sunlight it gets during the curing process.

No need to clean off all that dirt for now — you’ll tidy them up when you trim them. Don’t wash your garlic either… after all, the point is to dry them out!

Garlic harvest being cured under a shady tree

You can also gather the garlic into bunches, tie them up, and hang them from their stems. If you’re feeling crafty,  you can even braid the stems, just like the beautiful ones you see in Italian restaurants. Braiding only works with nimble softneck garlics, and I find it helps to remove the scraggly bottom leaves first. The garlic is braided while some of the leaves are still green and pliable, and hung to dry in a shady spot.

Braided garlic

Do not remove the leaves while the garlic is curing. The bulb continues to draw energy from the leaves and roots until all that moisture evaporates. Keeping the leaves intact also helps to prevent fungi or other lurking garden contaminants from spoiling the garlic before it’s fully cured.

After a month (or possibly up to two months, if your weather has been humid), the roots should look shriveled and feel stiff like a bottle brush, and the leaves should be completely brown and dried.

Shriveled roots on cured garlic

Brown and dried leaves on cured garlic

To clean up the garlic for storage, trim off the roots and leaves to 1/4 or 1/2 inch. More dirt will dislodge and a couple extra layers of bulb wrappers may flake off, giving you a nice and neatly packaged bulb. Remember not to remove too many wrappers in case you expose the cloves.

Cured, cleaned and trimmed garlic

If you braided your garlic, you saved yourself an extra step and can simply snip a bulb off the braid when you need it.

Set aside your most beautiful heads of garlic with the biggest cloves to use as seed garlic the following season.

Beautiful garlic bulbs set aside for seed garlic

Stash it all in mesh bags, woven baskets, old terracotta pots, brown paper bags, or even cardboard beer/soda cases — as long as the container is breathable and the environment stays dry. I have even heard of people storing garlic in old pantyhose by hanging it from the ceiling, putting a knot between each garlic head, and scissoring off a knot when needed — but really, who has pantyhose laying around these days?!

Garlic sorted and stored in nylon mesh bags

Once properly cured, garlic can store for several months. In general, Silverskins and Creoles are the longest-storing garlic (sometimes keeping up to a full year), followed by Porcelains, Artichokes, Purple Stripes, Rocamboles, and lastly, Asiatics and Turbans, which have the shortest shelf life (average of five months under the most optimal conditions).

Temperature, humidity and ventilation all play key roles in determining how well your garlic will store. A “cool, dark place” is the usual recommendation, and it doesn’t get any simpler than a spare cupboard or closet shelf at room temperature.

If you want to get technical, the ideal storage condition is between 55°F and 65°F, around 60% humidity, with good air circulation. Garlic tends to sprout at colder temps (thus, no refrigerators!) and dry out in warmer temps. Lower humidity may cause dehydration (especially in Rocamboles, which are more finicky than other varieties), while higher humidity may bring in fungus and mold. Light is not a factor in storage, as long as you keep your garlic away from direct sun.

All that said, there is no exact science to storing garlic and I like to keep it simple. I save and reuse nylon mesh bags (the kind that potatoes and onions come in), sort my garlic into them, and hang my harvest in a storage room.

Garlic stored and hung in nylon mesh bags

If you’re lucky, you’ll be breaking out fresh cloves in winter and perhaps even through the following spring!

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July 14 2011      34 comments     Linda Ly
Hierbas   Jardín

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  • Arthur

    Everyone, and I do mean everyone, says cure the garlic with the leaves on, but I can’t find any real information on curing with the leaves cut off. I’ve been growing 300 plants for 5 years and for the first time last year I cut off the leaves at harvest leaving 6 inches of the stem. I dry them in the basement spread out on a table with a fan running on low speed. I cut off the roots and clean them up after 3 weeks or more. Honestly, I couldn’t tell any difference. I just harvested this year’s garlic a couple days ago and am repeating this same technique. Is this just plain heresy? I’m not really that much of renegade, a friend of mine started doing this several years ago and I finally decided to save some work and give it a try. -Arthur

    • http://www.gardenbetty.com/ Linda Ly

      The main reason you keep the leaves on is to prevent contaminants from spoiling the garlic while it’s curing. In your case, running a fan and leaving 6 inches of stem on likely serves this purpose, as you’re providing steady air flow and not cutting close to the bulb. However, most home gardeners trim their garlic tightly for storage (the way you see it in the store), so it doesn’t make sense to cut the leaves before curing, only to cut them again (closer to the bulb) after curing. All the work is saved for the end.

      It’s also my unscientific opinion that leaving the leaves on during curing prolongs storage life, as the leaves finish concentrating all their energy into the bulbs before they die. I’ve been told this by commercial garlic farmers, but I’ve never compared it in my own experience. My Silverskins and Creoles have stored for about 10 months on average (possibly longer, but they’re all eaten by then).

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  • bob

    First time with garlic as well thank you for your post verrry helpful got Italian red growing in Chicago looking good but not ready yet your pics very helpful thx again

    • http://www.gardenbetty.com/ Linda Ly

      You’re welcome! Good luck with your crop.

  • Beverbe

    Hello GB,
    We’re just about to harvest our first crop of garlic. Your post with the photos and step by step explanations have been very easy to understand…and I appreciate that. :)

    • http://www.gardenbetty.com/ Linda Ly

      Enjoy your harvest! Homegrown garlic is fantastic.

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  • papaya07

    My neighbors cure garlic in their apartment, and I wake with burning eyes. What can I do?

    • http://www.gardenbetty.com/ Linda Ly

      I haven’t heard of this happening before, so I can only suggest approaching your neighbors with this issue, assuming it’s indeed the garlic causing the burning eyes and not another irritant in your own home.

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  • Lynne

    My elephant garlic tastes bitter – it was just harvested. Do I need to age it before it tastes right?

    • http://www.gardenbetty.com/ Linda Ly

      No, garlic should taste the same whether it was just harvested or just cured. It typically tastes more bitter as it gets older or starts sprouting.

  • Katie

    I didn’t come across your blog until too late. I harvested too late and my bulbs came apart and did not develop the flaky covering. Has this ever happened to you? Will they last? Any tips to salvage this crop?

    • http://www.gardenbetty.com/ Linda Ly

      They won’t store well without the wrappers, so you should use those ones first. If your entire crop is without wrappers and you won’t be able to use it all within a month or two, you could try refrigerating peeled cloves, or freezing chopped garlic. There will probably be some flavor degradation, but at least you’ll still have some garlic on hand.

      • maryy

        We have stored garlic cloves in the refrigerator in a paper bag thru the winter and into July.

  • Catherine

    Organic farmer friend of mine died last year and I’ve once again grown a crop of garlic from what he gave me. It’s soooo beautiful and I hope I can continue to grow it each year as a tribute to him.
    Your website is very helpful. I know how to harvest and cure garlic, but I just thought I’d verify that I’m correct. Thank you!

    • http://www.gardenbetty.com/ Linda Ly

      You’re welcome, and hope you have an amazing crop next season!

  • Teresa Marie

    Thanks – very helpful. For years I’ve just been pulling from the ground, washing, drying for a few days in the kitchen and then popping into a tupperware :) That seems to have worked so far, maybe I’ve been lucky

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  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_AIOYO37LA2WUG42BMDRX7TMB64 Dorothy G

    It seems we have a veritable field of ‘wild’ garlic that comes through our irrigation and sets up house throughout the edges of our gardens, lawns & orchards–great to know how to take advantage of it besides the amazing aroma when I accidentally hit it with the mower!

    • http://www.gardenbetty.com Linda Ly

      Wow, I’d love to have a field of wild garlic around my house! Lucky you!

  • http://twitter.com/agardendiary Teresa

    Beautiful pictures and excellent information! Thanks! Just grew my first garlic this year. Tiny crop but will try more next year.

    • http://www.gardenbetty.com Linda Ly

      Thanks Teresa! I’m saving a few bulbs to seed next season’s crop, but I’m really intrigued by the other varieties out there… I’m going to try more/others too!

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