Harvesting Onions and Garlic

25 July 2023

Aromatics add zing to savory dishes. Many people took up gardening during Covid and have since expanded their crops. If onions and garlic are among the vegetable patch, this should be helpful.


This is basically a cooler weather crop. They grow rapidly during the early spring and the above-ground, green growth is what will support the large bulb development. As the days grow longer and the temperature warms, the bulb grows to usable proportions.

When the onion has reached its maximum size, the tops will weaken and fall over. When at least half of the tops have toppled, it is time to harvest. Pull or dig the onions with the tops attached. Hang them in bunches, or spread them out over a warm, airy spot, but out of direct sun. Leave them for two to four weeks until the necks and tops are dry. You can enhance the process by using a fan. After the tops and necks are completely dry, clip the tops and roots to one-half inch from the bulb and place the onions in storage.

Thorough drying or curing will ensure the longest life for your onions in the coming months.

Store them in loose baskets, crates, or mesh bags in an area with good air circulation. For best results the area should be 32 to 40 degrees with humidity of of 75% or lower. Warmer temperatures will cause the onions to sprout and moist conditions will cause the roots to grow. If onions freeze, they will not be edible for several months.

Milder onions have bulbs that are more succulent but will not last as long as others. They should survive for only 2 to 4 months. Stronger flavored onions can last all winter.

If you are ambitious and want to grow onions next year, you can start from seed as early as January. Place the seeds ½ to ¾ inches apart in a pot or flat using seed starting mix for the soil. Keep them in a warm location of about 75 to 80 degrees until you see tops emerge. When they are 1 to 2 inches tall, move them to a cooler spot or drop the temps to 60 to 65. At this point give them plenty of natural or fluorescent light. Start fertilizing when they are 2 to 3 inches tall. To prevent spindly plants and encourage a more stocky plant, trim the ends when they get to be about 4 or 5 inches high.

All of this can take up to two months, so you can back time for outdoor transplant. When you move them outdoors, which can be relatively early compared to other plants, you may need to protect them from cold snaps or unexpected freezes.


About mid summer, garlic is ready for harvest. Keep track of the leaves and when about half of them are yellow but maybe 5 or 6 leaves are still green, they are ready. If you prefer, you can test dig up a bulb and if the cloves are not completely filled in the wrapper, they need more time. If you delay too long, the skins will split and the cloves will be exposed to the soil, become too moist, and decay. Dig too soon and the cloves will not be mature enough for use.

Since garlic has a strong root system, use a pitch fork to loosen the soil. Use caution to avoid bruising the bulbs. Leave the roots and leaves intact and tie them by their leaves in groups of ten. Hang in a warm, dry, well ventilated area for several weeks. At that point you can cut the stems and roots about a half inch from the plant. Remove any dirt with the outer layer but don’t expose the cloves. Store the cured bulbs in a cool, dry location. Longevity will depend on the variety and the storage conditions, but you should have them for about a year.

Plant in the fall. They propagate from a whole clove. It should take about 1 to 2 months at 40 degrees soil temperature to stimulate the clove into a new bulb.

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