Harvesting Scallions, Garlic and Onions

This scallion is ready to harvest!

This scallion is ready to harvest!

Depending on the species, scallions may be simply young onions harvested before the bulb begins to form or they may be bunching onions, which are closely related to onions, but do not go on to form a bulb when mature. Although when to harvest depends on the farmer’s or gardener’s preference, this is typically 2 to 2 1/2 months after planting, when the white base of the scallion is about the thickness of a permanent marker. While green and white parts of the scallion may be eaten, they will keep longer if the roots and tops are trimmed. Be sure to wash off all soil and store in the refrigerator, wrapped in a damp towel or plastic bag to keep fresh before eating.




Timing garlic harvest can be tricky. Although hardneck garlic begins to form a bulb in the spring and can be harvested just a few weeks after trimming the scape, it will keep best for long-term storage if harvested after some of the leaves have begun to die back, but before all of the leaves have died. Softneck garlic does not form a scape, but typically begins to form a bulb with separate cloves around the time of the summer solstice, and again- can be harvested when some, but not all of the leaves have died back.

Garlic in the Edible Treasures Garden at The Field Museum, managed by Peterson Garden Project.

Garlic in the Edible Treasures Garden at The Field Museum, managed by Breanne Heath of Peterson Garden Project.

When garlic is harvested before some of the leaves have died back, the bulb is compact but there is not enough of a papery covering over each clove, resulting in a shorter storage life. When garlic is harvested after all of the leaves have died back, the head is less compact as the cloves begin to separate, once again resulting in a shorter storage life.

If you’re planning to store garlic, it is best harvested on a dry day. One gently pulled from the ground, get to a dry place with good circulation and out of direct sunlight as soon as possible to cure. Do not wash off the soil yet, and keep the leaves and stem intact for several weeks. Once cured, gently brush off loose, dry soil. If you need to wash off stubborn, stuck-on soil, rinse gently so as not to damage the papery covering and thoroughly dry. Trim off the leaves, roots, and cut the stem up to a few inches from the bulb and store in a dark, dry place at room temperature.

If you’re planning to eat garlic right away, the stem can be trimmed and the bulb washed without going through the curing process.

Have you seen green garlic at markets? This is garlic that has been harvested after the bulb started to swell, but before it began to separate into cloves. This is typically harvested mid-late spring.

Like all vegetables that grow below the ground, it can be tricky to determine when the best time to harvest will be. Harvested too soon, and the onion may not store well long-term, or could have grown even bigger if left in the ground just a little while longer. Harvested too late and the bulb may begin to soften. Here are some ways to tell if your onion is ready to pick:

This onion isn't quite ready for harvest, but will be in a few weeks.

This onion isn’t quite ready for harvest, but will be in a few weeks.


– Leaves have died back. As a biennial plant, this is the onion’s way of preparing itself for overwintering – sugars are pulled from the leaves into the bulb, and a papery covering forms for protection. This process also prepares the onion for long-term storage for consumption.

-The shoulders of the onion bulb are poking out of the ground, with a papery covering seen on the bulb.

-The neck of the onion (above the bulb, below the leaves) has softened, and the leaves are no longer held upright, but are falling over.




To harvest onions, pull gently from dry soil on a sunny day. Unlike garlic, onions do not need to be immediately moved to a cool, dark area and should even be left on the soil for a day or two to dry, as long as there isn’t rain in the forecast. When this is done, the roots will dry out and the papery covering on the bulbs will become more apparent. At this point, cure them much like garlic – without washing off the soil, and keeping them in a cool, dry place out of direct sunlight for a few weeks. As the onions dry, the bulbs will shrink slightly and the papery covering will become tighter to protect the bulb. When the onions are ready for storage, the leaves will be very brittle and can be snapped or pulled off. Trim the roots and gently rub off soil before storing in a cool, dark place.

This onion is ready to cure!

This onion is ready to cure!

Did your scallions or onions overwinter last year, and produce flowering stalks in the spring? When this happens, the bulb becomes soft, as energy is drawn from it to produce the flower stalk. After maturity (again, usually around the summer solstice), the seeds will be ready to collect from the flower stalk to plant for next year. 


written by Breanne Heath