Planning a Winter Garden – You need to start in July

Planning a winter garden? You need to get started in July!

Planning a Winter Garden

Fall and winter gardens are becoming very popular! I’ve been gardening in the winter time with cold frames and hoop houses for 9 years now. But it amazes my how much more popular it has become since I started. What used to be a novelty is now becoming common place even in the coldest parts of the country.

If you live in Zones 3-7 July is the time to start planning a winter garden. There are several tasks you need to get done early in order to be ready to plant your winter and fall garden. And these tasks need to get done in July and early August for most of us.

Planning a winter garden
Find your planting date

The first and most important step in planning a winter garden is determining your planting date. Fall crops and winter crops are planted at the same time. Your winter garden is an extension of your fall gardening efforts and you need to get started planting (either indoors or out) earlier than you might expect. You need to be planting seeds and seedlings for your fall and winter garden between 6 to 8 weeks before your average first frost date. Some even as early as 10 weeks. So to know your planting date, you need to know that average first frost date.

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The easiest way I have found to determine your average first frost date is to simply Google it! Most state land colleges have detailed records for frost dates for all the cities in your state. Finding this list is a good starting point. Also asking other gardeners in your area or calling your local extension agency (if you have one) can also help you get that date.

Planning a winter garden #3

Once you have your Average First frost, count back from that date 8 weeks. This will be your target date for starting most of your fall and winter crops. You have about a 2 week window to get those crops in the ground. Anything planted after about 5 weeks before your first frost most likely won’t be ready for harvest in time and will need to be protected with a cold frame and over wintered for and early spring harvest.

Let’s use my garden as an example. Our average first frost date is October 1st. Counting back 8 weeks gives us a target planting date of August 1st. So I need to get my fall and winter seeds planted between August 1st and August 15th.

Plan your Crops

Part of planning a winter garden is choosing the crops you want to grow. There are as many as 30 different crops that can be planted for fall and winter harvest. ALL of them are considered cool weather crops. Don’t plant things like tomatoes, squash, beans or corn. Temperatures in the fall will prevent these from growing.

Planning a winter garden #2

Instead you will be planting lettuce, carrots, spinach, swiss chard, Asian greens, radishes, etc.

For a more detailed list of the crops you can grow for fall and winter harvest check out these two posts I wrote as part of my winter gardening series:

Crop Selection #1
Crop Selection #2

Buying seeds

In July you need to be ordering those seeds from your favorite seed companies. As the popularity of winter gardening has grown many seed companies have responded by offering many hardy varieties of seeds and some that are even bread specifically for these cold weather conditions.

I love Johnny’s seeds for their huge selection of fall and winter ready seeds. Also Territorial seed company is now getting a very respectable supply and even publishes a fall seed catalog.

Prepping the soil

Part of planning a winter garden is getting the soil in your beds ready! And entire extra season of gardening will put a lot of stress on your soil! Be sure to treat it right be amending it will plenty of organic material before you plant your fall and winter crops.

Planning a winter garden #5
Fire up your seed starter again

One of the biggest challenges that fall and winter gardeners face is space! My planting date for my fall and winter garden is August 1st. My summer garden is still flourishing at that time. In fact in many cases it is just really starting to kick in! So I can’t just clear out productive plants to put in a fall garden.

The easiest way around this is to fire up my seed starter again on August 1st and start many of my seedlings for fall and winter indoors! You can’t do this for every crop, but most of the leafy greens (think lettuce, chard, kale, Asian Greens, etc) can be started indoors on your planting date and then transplanted outside 6 to 8 weeks later when your summer crops are winding down.

Plan for a method of protecting your crops from the cold

As the fall progress into winter you will need a way to protect your crops from the freezing temperatures. This is accomplished with either a cold frame or a hoop house. You need to get started now on planning and building these structures.

Planning a winter garden #4

To learn more about building cold frames and hoop houses you can check out these two posts:

Building a simple hoop house
Building a garden cold frame

Take my Year Round Gardening Video Course

The last step in planning a winter garden is to get all the knowledge you can! A great way to do that is to take my 5 hour Year Round Gardening video course on the Online Gardening School!

I’ve designed this course to teach you everything you need to know to grow a fall and winter garden and even to get started much earlier in the spring! This is a very extensive course that I’ve worked hard to make interesting and informative. Just follow the link below and you can get this normally $40 course for half off! Just $20!

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Picking Melons – Harvesting the perfect Melon

Picking melons can be tricky some times. Here a guide to picking the perfect melon every time. How to harvest watermelon or cantaloupe from the garden!

Picking melons

August is our favorite month in the garden.

Why?  Because here in Utah that means it’s time for the melons to be ready!!  Since we started growing our own melons several years ago we have decided there is nothing better than home grown vine ripened melons.   We wait all year for this 4 week period where we can snack on melons any time we want.  We love home grown melons so much that the grocery store melons no longer appeal to us.  They just can’t stand up to that home grown taste so we have pretty much quit buying them.  We just gorge ourselves for 4 weeks and then do without for the rest of the year.


This post is for those of you that are fairly new to growing melons and picking melons.  One of the hardest things to figure out is when to pick them. I remember one of the first times we grew water melons, we saw this beautiful sugar baby melon and waited patiently for it to ripen.  But I really didn’t know what I was doing and picked it too soon.  It was still white all the way through and we wasted it!

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So now that I’m a pro at it (no I am not prideful), I thought I’d pass along what I have learned on picking melons.  We only grow Watermelons and cantaloupe so I will pass along what I have learned on those and ask my readers to add some input on other types of melons.

Picking Melons – Cantaloupe

Cantaloupe (or muskmelons) are actually fairly easy to pick at the right time.  Mainly because they pick themselves.  You will know it is time to start watching your cantaloupes when they lose their green color and start to get a pail orange color.  The “netting” will also become more pronounced.

Notice the cantaloupe on the bottom is starting to loose its green color and get a pale yellow/orange

When this starts to happen keep an eye on them.  Where the vine attaches to the melon will start to separate.

Notice the vine is starting to separate from the melon

The melon is ready when you give a gentle tug and the vine pulls free.  If you tug and the vine holds on then give it another day and try again.

A gentle tug will cause the vine to separate from the melon when its ready to pick

The key is that the vine slips off with just a gentle tug.

Picking Melons

At this point I usually then bring the melon inside and let it sit for a day or two on the counter and then it’s perfect!

Picking Melons – Watermelon

Watermelons are much harder to tell when they are ripe!

Watermelon is much harder to pick.  There are several ways folks will tell you to go about picking melons but for most of us those methods just don’t work.  But there is a simple trick.  Let’s talk about some of the “wives tales” first before we get to sure method:

1.  If you tap on the melon with your knuckles the “thunk” will sound similar to the sound you hear if you do the same thing to your chest.  Professional melon growers use this trick to pick ripe melons but over their life time they have tapped on thousand of melons.  Us gardeners just don’t have the experience (or practice) to reliably pick a ripe melon by sound.

2.  When the spot touching the ground turns from white to yellow.  I will admit that this is a good indication that the melon is getting close, but it is just not 100% reliable.  When you see this color change then you know it’s time to starting watching for our main method.

So here’s the trick:

If you look closely at a water melon you will notice that there are little curly tendrils all along the vine.  A water melon is ripe when the tendril closest to the melon dries up and turns brown.  The tendril usually looses it’s curly end and what’s left becomes dry, straight and stiff.  It will slowly dry up and turn brown all the way up to the spot where it attaches to the vine.  It’s important that you wait until it dries up completely.  Once that tendril is dry the watermelon will hold on the vine for at the very most a week so but don’t leave it too long or it will get over ripe and mushy.  But once that tendril has dried you need to plan on getting it harvested.  Here are some photos:

Here’s what the tendril will look like before the melon is ripe

Here’s a tendril on a melon that hasn’t started ripening.

This one is starting to ripen, notice the curly part has fallen off.

Again this one is getting close but it’s not ready yet.

This one is getting close but it’s not ready yet.

This one is ready!!

The tendril on this one is perfect, its ready to pick and eat any time.

Here’s another shot of the tendril, the melon is in the top right corner of the picture. When the tendril looks like this the melon is ready to eat.

A mistake many new comers make is to pick the watermelon to soon and then think they can leave the fruit sitting out and it will ripen. Watermelon just doesn’t do that.  Once you pick a watermelon it won’t ripen any more unlike other melons and other fruits.  So be sure to wait for the tendril to dry up!

Picking Melons 1

Here’s a photo of that perfect melon from above right after it was picked.  It tasted awesome!!  So the tendril rule works on any melon that is considered a watermelon, no mater the variety or size.

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So here’s my call out to my readers to help others with picking melons.  I know many of you grow other types of melons.  Please send me a few photos and a quick description of how to pick a ripe melon, what ever the type and I will put these together in another post that we can share with other growers.   Or just all a picture of you picking melons in the comment section below.  Send your photos to  Thanks!!

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Putting in a late planting of beans in July

As summer progresses there are fewer warm season crops that you will be able to plant and still have a dependable harvest. A late planting of beans is one crop you can usually plant in mid summer and still get a harvest.

late planting of beans

When putting in a late planting of beans you need to keep a couple of things in mind.

1. The days to maturity of the variety you have choose.
2. The declining amount of sun as you move towards fall.


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What varieties to choose for a late planting of beans

In order to be successful with a late planting of beans you really need to have at least 75 days until your first real threat of frost.

This also means you need to choose varieties that have a pretty short maturity date. Green beans will really be your only choice for a late planting of beans. And I would recommend that you choose bush varieties not pole beans.

Bush beans spend a lot less time growing plant material and seem to just get in to the business of growing beans a lot quicker. There are a lot of tasty varieties of bush beans that have maturity dates right around 60 days. I would suggest choosing one if these varieties.  To learn more about growing green beans check out my complete guide to green beans!

late planting of beans 2

Declining sun light as fall approaches

One thing to keep in mind when putting in a late planting of beans is the declining amount of sunlight as fall approaches. In mid summer we hardly even think about shorter days. But as your late planting of beans progresses day-length will become an issue. Be sure to add at least 10 days to your maturity date before deciding what varieties to plant and when.

Choosing the latest date for planting

As a warm weather vegetable beans are very sensitive to frost. So the planting date you choose for your late planting of beans needs to be based off your average first frost date.

Find the days to maturity for the bean you have chosen on the back of your seed package. In the case of the variety I’m planting this year the days to maturity is 60. Add 10 days to that number to account for the declining sun light 60+10=70.

late planting of beans 3

So my beans need at least 70 days to mature. My average first frost date is October 1st. So counting back 70 days gives me July 20th. So my absolute drop dead date for planting beans is July 20th. But I want a little time for the plants to develop a good sized harvest so just for good measure i add another 10 days. So my goal is to in my late planting of beans by July 10th. For my area this is really as late as I can go.

So now find your own last frost date and count backwards at least 70 days and you will find when you can put in a late planting of beans.

A late planting of beans is a great way to fill some empty space in your summer garden. Smaller bush bean plants fit well into a mature garden and are a great option for rounding out your summer garden.

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What is my Garden Zone? Using the USDA Hardiness Map

What is my garden zone? Knowing your garden hardiness zone is an important part of planning and planting your garden.

What is My Garden Zone

You may have noticed that I often refer to garden zones in my posts. Knowing the answer to the question, what is my garden zone, is an important first step in gardening.

What is my garden zone

I’m actually quite surprised how many people don’t know their garden zone. I guess as an long time Gardener I’ve kind of forgotten what it’s like to be new to gardening. So I’m writing this post to to help those of you that are just starting out figure out what is my garden zone.

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Knowing your garden zone is particularly helpful for year round gardening.  If you would like to learn more about year round gardening check out this post!

Finding your garden zone

I will take a minute to explain in this post what a garden zone is and how to use them. But for those of you that just want to jump to the USDA website and grab your garden zone here’s the link.

What is a garden zone

Gardening zones are helpful first step in learning what to plant and when to plant in your garden. The garden zone map was established by the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture). It often referred to as a plant hardiness map and each zone is determined by the Average annual extreme minimum temperature expected in an area. Knowing this extreme low will help you know what plants will survive the winter.

What is my garden zone

(map provided by the U.S. Department of Agriculture)
Garden zones are expressed with a number between 1 and 12, with 1 being the coldest and 12 being the warmest. You will notice there is a general trend on the map (see the map here) for the warmer zones to be in the South and for the zones to get colder as you move north. You will also notice the coastal areas are warmer, particularly along the pacific coast.  There are very few areas in the country at the extremes. The bulk of the country sits in zones 3 to 9 or really even zones 4 to 8 for the largest part of the country. There are no zones 11 or 12 in the Continental US.

So what does a garden zone mean?

Knowing your garden zone can tell you a lot about what can be planted in your garden and when. For example if you live in zone 5 your maximum low will be around -15 degrees????? So there will be many plants that you just can’t grow outside in your area. Citrus would be a great example, you really can’t grow an orange tree any where colder than zone 9 or possibly 8.

Knowing your garden zone can also tell me some fairly solid information about what your weather is overall, if you live in zone 8 then I know you live in a generally warm area with very mild winters, very little frost and a long growing season. If you live in zone 3 then I know you have very long, cold and severe winters with early frost and a very short growing season.

Is the zone system perfect?

The answer to that question is a big NO! There are whole group of gardeners that are very critical of the USDA zone system. That has caused the USDA to add sub zones. So you may often hear someone say they are in zone 5b or 7a.

In our case the zone listed on the map for Salt Lake City is 7. But ask anyone in our area what is my garden zone and they will tell you 6. Even our extension agents disagree with the USDA and agree we are in zone 6. But then if you add in local micro climates it even gets trickier. For example we live right at the center of our valley at the lowest point and less than 800 yards from the river. Every winter all the cold air sinks to the low point. We have frost sometimes weeks before our neighbors who live only 5 miles away. I’ve talked to a lot off gardeners who live where we do that feel like they might even be zone 5b.  I’m starting to shy away from that, I think my garden is a solid 6a.

So you can seen there is a lot of subjectivity to the system, and it is far from perfect. But the zone system really can be helpful as a starting point.

How do you find your garden zone.

There are hardiness zone maps all over the Internet.  Many Ag colleges even publish their own.

What is my garden zone 1

The above image comes directly from the U.S. Department of Agriculture website. As you can see it’s pretty vague and hard to read. But it does give you the general idea, you can see the trend of warmer to colder as you move northward and inland.

But the best way I have found find out “what is my garden zone” is to use the USDA Website. Follow this link. On the top left hand side there is a spot for you to add your zip code. This will get you a good idea of your zone.

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Next start talking to your gardening friends and neighbors and see what they think. You may get the input, like us, that even though the map says one zone, your area may behave like a zone that is warmer or colder than the map describes. Also keep in mind that many gardeners think their gardening lives are harder than they really are, so take what they say with a grain of salt.

Finding the answer to the question, what is my garden zone is super important. If you gather as much info as you can about your garden and the zone/climate you live in you will have a much better idea of what to plant and when to plant it. And your garden zone is a good first step.

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Harvesting Garlic from your backyard garden

The timing for harvesting garlic can be a little tricky.  This post will help you understand when you should be harvesting garlic from your backyard garden.

Harvesting Garlic

Garlic is a relative new comer to our garden.  We have been gardening for over 20 years, but 2017 represents only our 7th year of growing garlic.  One of the most frustrating things for me when we first started was when to harvest.  It’s hard to find a good description of when you should be harvesting garlic.  So hopefully this will help you!

When should you be harvesting garlic

First off, for most of us that live in the north, mid July is when you will really start thinking about harvesting garlic.  If you live further south your harvest time may be earlier.  You know harvest time is approaching when you start to see the tips of the leaves starting to brown.  I will usually wait for the first 2 or 3 leaves on the bottom of the plant to brown and wither.  When this starts to happen, give your plants one more good watering and then stop watering for anywhere from 2 to 3 weeks before harvesting garlic.

Turning the water off on your plants does a couple of things.  First it forces the bulbs to pull energy down from the leaves.  Second it allows the soil to dry out.  Mature garlic doesn’t like to sit in wet soil.  This will effect the storage length of your garlic and can also promote rot.  Let those last 2 or 3 weeks the bulbs are in the soil be a time for them to start the drying process.

Harvesting Garlic 2

Your garlic is ready to harvest when about half the leaves have dried up completely.  That’s the trick!  If you plant has 12 leaves, then when 6 are dried and wither it’s time to harvest.  It really that simple!

Harvesting Garlic

Harvesting garlic is simple but you need to be gentle with the bulbs.  Using a shovel or even better a digging fork, gently lift and loosen the soil around the bulbs.  Then very gently pull the bulbs from the pre-loosened soil.  All the time during harvest be careful not to tug on, bruise or damage the bulbs as this will shorten your storage life significantly.

For some extra help on harvesting garlic check out this YouTube video I did last year:
When to Harvest Garlic

Curing Your Garlic

Curing is the next step.  Hang your garlic in small bunches or lay them out on a screen in a cool, airy, dark garden shed or garage.  Be sure the spot you choose has lots of air circulation and the garlic is out of direct sun.

Harvesting Garlic 3

Curing takes around 2 to 3 weeks.  Curing is complete when the outside layers are dry and papery and the cut stem is dry about 2 inches above the bulb.

I also did a video on curing garlic last year so you can learn more here:

How to Cure and Store Garlic

Carefully clean any remaining dirt from the bulbs.  Trim the roots to about 1/2 inch.  Soft neck varieties can be braided as an attractive way to store them or you can cut the stems off to about 2 inches and store them loose in a mesh bag.  A cool dark spot with temps between 50 and 60 degrees is ideal!

Harvesting Garlic 4

Hard neck varieties can store for up to 6 months.  Soft neck varieties can store for up to a year under the right conditions.

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Seedlings you should start in June for a fall harvest

I know in June it’s hard to even imagine cool fall temperatures. But there are seedlings you should start in June for a fall harvest. This post in meant for those of you living in Zones 4 to 6.

seedlings you should start in June

This post contains affiliate links, clicking on them with not cost you any thing extra, but does allow Stoney Acres to make a small commission on your purchase through the Amazon Affiliate Program!

Temperatures are approaching 100 degrees in our zone 5/6 garden. We still have the 6 hottest weeks of summer to look forward too. But despite all this heat there are seedlings you should start in June. These June started seedlings will be ready for transplant in mid August, just in time for the first signs of early fall!  You will be starting this seedlings indoors in your seed starter or at the very least in a sunny window seal.

Let me start this post out by reminding you if you want to learn more about seed starting or year round gardening I have video courses on both topics. Follow those links and you will get up to a 50% discount.

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What seedlings you should start in June

There are many cool season crops that can be planted in both the spring and fall. I’ve even found a few cool season crops that do even better in the fall than spring. One thing to keep in mind with fall planting is declining amounts of sun light. If the crop you are planting says it will mature in 75 days from transplant add at least 10 days to that number when planting in the fall to compensate for less light when the plants hit maturity.  You should target having your fall seedlings ready to transplant out into the garden roughly 6 to 8 weeks before your last frost.  This will give these plants plenty of time to develop and will also have them maturing once the hot summer temperatures are gone.

Here’s your list of seedlings you should be planting in June for fall harvest:

Fall grown broccoli will do really well. Be sure to choose varieties with the shortest maturity dates. Target varieties that mature in around 75 days.

seedlings you should start in June 2


Both traditional and Napa type cabbages do well in the fall. Again look for varieties with short maturity dates of around 75 days. Don’t bother with the larger head types this time of year, they just won’t have time to mature.


Kohlrabi needs time to size up in the fall, so getting starts going in June will have them ready for harvest shortly after your first frost. A little frost will improve the flavor of kohlrabi!

seedlings you should start in June 3


Because it is more of a leafy green, kale will do fine if planted directly in the garden in the fall. But if you would like big healthy leaves early in the fall then get some seedlings planted now in June.

Brussels sprouts

Love them or hate them, Brussels sprouts make a great addition to a fall garden. Maturity dates are very long, so get seedlings started in June. These June planted seedlings won’t be ready until as late as November, just in time for Thanksgiving dinner!!

Chinese greens/cabbages

You will be able to plant many of these Chinese greens again by seed in the fall. But for an early harvest try starting some seedlings in June. They will be ready in early September.

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If you decide to plant lettuce seedlings in June choose summer crisp varieties. These heat tolerant lettuces can be planted out in the garden in August for harvest in September. Look for varieties like Nevada, Muir, Concept or Cherokee. Plan on continuing to plant lettuce seedlings every 3 weeks from June until September for a continuous harvest until December!!

seedlings you should start in June 4

You will notice that nearly all the plants on this list of seedlings you should start in June are Cole family crops. All these cool weather loving crops need extra time to mature in the fall. They should be planted outside around 6 to 8 weeks before your first frost. Remember that the closer to 10 hour days, (in November) the slower your crops will grow. So you need to get the seedlings planted now, in June, so your plants have plenty of time to mature in the fall.

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Harvesting and Using Garlic Scapes

Using garlic scapes gives you an early second harvest from your garlic plants. Garlic scapes are a tasty addition to your early summer menu.

Garlic Scapes

This post contains affiliate links, clicking on them with not cost you any thing extra, but does allow Stoney Acres to make a small commission on your purchase through the Amazon Affiliate Program!

What are garlic scapes?

Lets start out our discussion on using garlic scapes by talking about what they are. Garlic scapes are the flower stalks of your garlic plants. Usually they will look like curly, pig tail like stems. If left on the plant long enough they will stand straight up and flower. It’s not really the best idea to leave the flower stalks on your garlic plants. Flowers draw energy away from the bulb and effect the quality and storage length of your garlic.

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You most often see garlic Scapes on hard neck garlic varieties. You will see an occasional scape on a soft neck plant, but hard neck varieties always grow Scapes. So if you want Scapes then you should choose to plant hard neck varieties.

Harvesting Garlic Scapes

Garlic scapes start to appear about 4 to 6 weeks before the time to actually harvest your garlic bulbs. Scapes will first appear as small stems with this little flower bulb on the end. They will grow to be as long as 2 feet long. They almost immediately start to curl as they grow. I usually wait until they have at least one and a half curls in them before I harvest them. Scapes are better quality if harvested before the curl starts to straighten out. Once that flower stalk starts to stand up then the scapes loose some of their appeal.

Garlic Scapes 2

Harvest by simply cutting off the stem where it emerges from the plant. I usually clip them off with a pair of scissors or garden clippers. Be sure to remove them before they start to straighten out and flower. Letting them flower will draw too much energy from the plant and will produce inferior garlic bulbs.

Garlic Scapes 4

Using Garlic Scapes

You use garlic Scapes just like you would green onions. You can use the entire scape and cut it up how ever you like. Garlic Scapes have a very mild garlic flavor and will go great in almost any dish that calls for garlic. You can use them in the place of green onions as well, just realize they will have a garlic flavor not onion.

Younger scapes (harvested shortly after they form) are very tender and can be eaten raw. As the season progresses the scapes will become woody and less tender and the flavor will also be stronger. These scapes will need a little bit of cooking to tender them up!

Garlic Scapes 3

We use garlic scapes jut like we would Garlic and we often add it raw to salads.  Here are few other ideas for using your garlic scapes from a few of my blogging friends:

Lacto-fermented Garlic Scapes

Garlic Scape Infused Olive Oil and 5 Great Ways to Use It

Garlic Scape Pesto / Dip

Lacto Fermented Garlic Scape Recipe

Storing Garlic Scapes

Store harvested Scapes in the fridge. We have had them last as long as 15 days. If you have a lot of Scapes plan on using them up quick or sharing them with family and neighbors.

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Each year I leave one plant with the scape attached.  I know that when the stalk stands tall the the flower head opens that my garlic plants are ready to harvest!

For more information on Growing garlic take a look at these posts and videos:

Planting Garlic in the Fall fb

How to Cure and Store Garlic

When to Harvest Garlic

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