How Can I Tell When Root Vegetables Are Ripe?

“How can I tell when an underground veggie (onion, potato, etc) is ready to harvest.   I have tried growing onions and I get large green growth above ground and there is basically a marble-sized onion bulb underneath — or smaller!” Question from Naomi of Oakdale, California

Answer: It’s an excellent question. In most cases, it is pretty easy to tell because most root crops bulb up at the top. You can expect this to happen with beets, onions (see image below), radishes, turnips, and rutabagas. It also happens to carrots and parsnips, though sometimes their bulbous tops are less prominent.

Potatoes, sweet potatoes, and garlic are different matters. These tuberous (or bulbous in the case of garlic) crops remain underground, so you need to gauge how the plants up top are growing to determine harvest time. Here are guidelines for harvesting each.

Potatoes: “New Potatoes can be harvested as soon as the plants begin to bloom. Wait for larger potatoes. These can be harvested after the plants have fully died away. You can harvest all of your potatoes at this time for storage, or just harvest them as needed. Be sure to get them all out of the ground shortly after the first frost of the season. Otherwise, they will develop an unpleasant sweet flavor.” (Click here to read the full Ask a Garden Expert.)

Sweet Potatoes: “Sweet potatoes are harvested 90-120 days after transplanting or immediately after a frost has blackened the tops of the plants.” (Click here to read the full article.)

Garlic: “Dig up the garlic bulbs in summer when the leaves have declined significantly and start to turn brown.” (Click here to read the full Ask a Garden Expert.)

I hope that these tips helps.

Happy gardening,

Jessie Keith

Black Gold Horticulturist

Here is what a fully bulbed onion looks like.

How Do I Harvest and Store Hardneck Garlic?

“I planted garlic bulbs for the first time and chose the hardneck variety ‘Music’. I understand that they will be fully mature around the first of August. Where is a good place to cure the bulbs for the duration? I live in a USDA Hardiness Zone 6 area.” Question from Belinda of Fort Wayne, Indiana

Answer: I have actually grown ‘Music’ garlic with great success. It’s a hardneck garlic, which means it has hard “necks” above the bulbs that keep them from being braided, unlike softneck garlic. Hardnecks are also more cold hardy and have fewer, larger cloves than softnecks. ‘Music’ is also a porcelain garlic, which means thin, white, satiny skins surround the extra-large cloves.

Time to maturity depends on the garlic variety and growing location. ‘Music’ is an early to midseason variety. In Indiana, I would expect it to be ready for harvest sometime in July.

In spring, your garlic plants will emerge and leaf up. By summer, each will have tall, upright, oniony leaves and produce a heron-shaped stem and bud; remove the stems and bulbs as they appear, or they’ll deplete the cloves below of energy. But, don’t throw them the stems away. They taste great stir-fried or sautéed.

Dig up the garlic bulbs when the leaves have declined significantly and start to turn brown. Wipe the bulbs clean of dirt, and hang them to dry for a week or two. ‘Music’ is an unusually good keeper for a hardneck. Count on its bulbs to keep for up to several months, if properly stored in a cool, dark place. (Click here for more tips on how to grow garlic.)

Enjoy your fresh garlic next season!

Jessie Keith

Black Gold Horticulturist