Legacy Extension garlic project keeps growing in Maine gardens

For nearly a quarter-century, Dave Fuller has been teaching untold numbers of people ages 5 to 90 how to grow hardneck garlic. It’s been one of his areas of expertise as a University of Maine Cooperative Extension agriculture and nontimber forest products professional based in Farmington.

He has provided hands-on training for commercial growers and home gardeners in the cultivation, harvest, curing and storage of the pungent perennial in Maine. With Extension crops specialist Steven Johnson, Fuller has produced UMaine Extension publications and videos that have grown garlic enthusiasts worldwide. Together with Johnson, Fuller also has had several garlic research projects, including the latest, a three-year study of the effects of scape removal at different growth stages on the size of the harvested bulb. 

This fall, as he prepared for his retirement from UMaine Extension in February, Maine’s garlic guru knew he needed to find a home for the 800 bulbs he’s used in his research. He contacted colleagues and Master Gardener Volunteers who worked with organizers of school and community gardens, including tribal gardens, where some of the 100 pounds of garlic could be planted and used for educational purposes, help with food sovereignty efforts and feed the hungry.

In 54 locations in almost every Maine county, Fuller’s garlic now has a second life.

“It’s a cool way to extend the teaching,” says Fuller, noting that hardneck garlic was a relatively new crop in Maine when he started growing it 28 years ago. Indeed, as part of his interview for his UMaine Extension job 24 years ago, he did an educational program on garlic.

“I began and ended my career with garlic,” he says. “It’s a beautiful plant, easy to grow and used in all the world’s cuisines.”

Fuller’s favorite facet has to do with the allium’s perennial appearance in the garden — the last to be planted in the fall and the first to appear in the spring. His favorite recipe: roasted garlic smeared on a fresh baguette.

There’s no telling how much garlic is growing in Maine due to Fuller’s expertise and enthusiasm. He never tires of answering the most-asked question: when do I harvest it?

“It’s a calling,” says Fuller, a UMaine and University of Southern Maine alumnus. “Serving the people of Maine while using my knowledge and experience has been a dream job.”

“Of all the vegetable groups, people are high on tomatoes, but garlic is a whole other thing. People are gaga on garlic.”

Roasted Garlic
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F
Cut the very top off bulbs of hardneck garlic to expose clove tips
Place the bulbs on a cookie sheet lined with aluminum foil.
Coat the tops of the bulbs with olive oil and bake until soft, about half an hour.

Contact: Margaret Nagle, nagle@maine.edu