Jamey pulled our garlic the other day. We found that the right time to pull it is when some of the leaves/stems are turning brown, while most are still green. Other years, we waited until the stems were all brown. The bulbs with all brown leaves had more cloves that were already separating from the bulb and tended to sprout faster. If some of the leaves are still green, the bulbs' papery covers are more intact, keeping the cloves from splitting and sprouting as soon. I still have a braid hanging in our kitchen from a year ago. For that braid I used all bulbs with the paper still intact and they are still intact today.
When I tried braiding garlic for the first time last year, I was a bit disappointed by instructions I found on line. Maybe there are better ones out there, but I couldn't find them. It took some trial and error for me to figure it out. My braids certainly aren't perfect, but they hold the garlic together well.
Today I am writing for you what I wish I could have found- instructions with pictures (I'm a visual learner).
Start by cleaning as much dirt as possible off of your garlic. This may mean peeling off the very outer layer of paper. Using a scissors, trim off the roots. I use about 15 bulbs per braid, but you can make them any size.
*Update 7/17/09*: It was two weeks ago that I braided my garlic (seen in the pictures above and below). They are holding together well, but the braid does not appear as tight as it did when I first braided them. As they dried, the braids loosened. Everything is still holding together fine, it's just the visual appearance of the braid that has changed. To maintain a tight-looking braid, let your garlic dry out for several days and braid them when the stems have gone all brown. This is what I did last year- see photo here.
Choose three bulbs and lay them out in front of you with the leaves pointing toward you. (I find that standing at an outside table works best- this time we used two saw horses and a board.) Put the bulbs together and point the three stems in three directions- one straight toward you, one down and to the left and one down and toward the right, crossing the ones going left and right.
Now, the rhythm of this goes something like this... 1) add a new bulb, keeping it tight against the other three and placing it's stem in the middle with the stem already pointing toward you. 2) cross the left stem over and into the middle (as if you were braiding hair), making sure that where it crosses over is right up against the bulbs 3) add another bulb, keeping the bulb right up against the others (even over-lapping a bit) and add it's stem to the stem(s) in the middle
4) cross the right stem(s) over and into the middle 5) add another bulb adding it's stem to the middle group 6) repeat steps 2-5 over and over. You cross over from the left, add a new one to the center, cross over from the right, add a new one to the (new) center, cross over from the left, add a new one to the (new) center, cross over from the right, etc.
The key is to add each new bulb's stems to the middle each time, remembering that the middle group of stems is always changing- you are not repeatedly adding the new stems to the same group of stems.
Once your braid is long enough or you've run out of garlic, continue to braid the stems just as you would hair until you run out of stems or until it's long enough for you. Tie off the end tightly with twine. You can also tie the stems tightly just below the bulbs (where the bulbs meet the stems) to keep them tight against each other.
We used a couple different kinds of garlic together in these braids- some hard necks and some soft.
I really hope this was helpful and not too confusing. If you find that you catch-on midway through a braid, take it apart carefully and do it over- it will be worth it. These three braids we hung in our kitchen. They last all year long. As you need a bulb, just snip it off, close to the bulb, starting from the bottom of the braid. Once you've used all the bulbs, you're left with a very pretty dried braid. Perfect for turning that scarecrow of yours into a female scarecrow:-).