-by Sara Smith, Durham County Extension Master Gardener Volunteer
Garlic is one of the easiest plants to grow and preserve. Harvest it in late September to early October when the leaves are about two thirds dry. When lifting them from the ground, keep the entire plant whole. Carefully brush the dirt off, but don’t wash them.
You can make a braid with leaves of softneck garlic, or tie the scapes (stalks) together of the hardneck type. Be sure to stagger the bulbs so that they don’t touch. Hang them in a well-ventilated, shady place. Some people like to hang them in their kitchen for decoration and ease of access.
After about two weeks, you can remove the tops of the garlic and store the bulbs in a dark cupboard or drawer. They will keep for about six to eight months. The ideal temperature is 65 degrees.
Fresh garlic will not keep long in the refrigerator but you can preserve it in oil or vinegar or freeze it. Freezing garlic makes it a bit mushy, but the flavor stays delicious. The easiest way is to just pop it whole in a freezer bag either peeled or not. Some people like to chop it up, wrap it tightly in plastic to form a block and then freeze it. When you want to use it, just break off a small amount or grate it. Many chefs like to puree garlic in oil and then keep it in the freezer. The oil keeps it from freezing solid so a measured amount can be scooped out and immediately added to food.
Garlic can also be preserved in vinegar. As with the oil preservation, always refrigerate it, never keep it at room temperature. Because of garlic’s low acidity, it can develop botulism toxin. If it develops mold, discard it. Add as many peeled cloves as will fit in a glass jar and cover them with vinegar. The vinegar will pick up the flavor of the garlic and can be used as well as the garlic.
Garlic can also be dried in the oven or in a food dehydrator. If using an oven, turn it to 140 degrees for two hours and then down to 130 degrees until completely dry and crisp.
Dried garlic can be mixed with salt at four parts sea salt to one part garlic powder to make garlic salt. Process in a blender briefly. If you go too long, it will cake. Store the garlic salt in an airtight glass jar.
Always remember to save the biggest and best cloves to plant for next year’s crop. Bon appetit!