Get to Know Maine’s Garlic Guru

Get to Know Maine’s Garlic Guru

An exit interview with David Fuller, the Cooperative Extension’s outgoing agriculture expert who popularized every Maine gardener’s favorite overwintering crop.

David Fuller, UMaine Cooperative Extension’s outgoing agriculture expert

From the March 2022 issue of Down East magazine

How did you get into garlic?

I’ve always loved plants, and garlic had a curiosity factor. In the U.S., most garlic is grown in California. For old Yankees, it was definitely not part of their gardening experience. I started growing different varieties 28 years ago and eventually settled on two: German Extra Hardy, a “hardneck” variety with a thick woody stem and only four to five cloves, and Inchelium, a long-storing “softneck” type with larger cloves than you see in the grocery-store softnecks.

What led you to Cooperative Extension?

I was working as an assistant manager at an Agway store in Skowhegan when I became a master gardener through the Extension. In 1997, I heard about a job opening. As part of the interview process, you had to teach a class, and I decided to teach about how to grow garlic. No one in the class had grown garlic before, so it worked, let’s put it that way.

What have you learned since then?

[Crops specialist] Steven Johnson and I focused on hardneck garlic, which grows best here. To grow garlic, you plant cloves, and we found that bigger cloves produce bigger bulbs. Planting cloves tip up also results in larger bulbs. So does removing the flower stalks called scapes — you can get bulbs that are up to 53 percent larger.

Any plans for retirement?

I’m interested in just about everything in the natural world. I like doing woodlot management, and I’m working on a book about the natural history of spruce gum. And I will still grow garlic. Right now, I’ve got about 50 bulbs each of hard- and softneck. If a neighbor does me a favor, I leave him a bag of garlic — it barters very well.