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Growing Ramps

Growing Ramps

Growing Ramps

Ramps (Allium tricoccum), otherwise known as wild leeks, are native perennial wildflowers commonly harvested as wild food. With a distinctive flavor somewhere between garlic and mild onion, ramps are considered a spring delicacy. For a few short weeks after the snow melts, ramps dishes can be found at upscale restaurants and occasional farmers markets throughout the northeast. Ramps are so highly sought that they are one of the most over-harvested wild edibles. They grow slowly and it takes a long time for wild populations to recover if a forager takes too many.Like other members of the onion family, ramps grow from underground bulbs. In the early spring, the bulbs send up two long, glossy, oval leaves that smell oniony when torn or bruised. The leaves grow to about six to eight inches tall and three inches wide before dying back in the early summer, just as the leaves begin to come out on the trees overhead. The foliage and bulbs are the edible parts of the plant and must be harvested before the leaves go dormant. After the foliage has faded, six-to-ten-inch bare flowering stalks emerge from the ground, topped with small white flowers in globular clusters.Harvesting ramps takes a little care in order to maintain a stable population. Though the bulbs are often considered the best eating, digging them up clearly kills the entire plant. Harvesting only the foliage is a more sustainable way of keeping ramps in the garden from season to season. Removing only a single leaf from each plant is the most effective way of keeping the bulbs healthy and growing. Removing all of the foliage won’t necessarily kill the plants, but it can weaken them by cutting down on photosynthesis. Ramps are a delicious wild edible food beloved by chefs and locavores. Also known as wild leeks (Allium tricoccum), they are a member of the onion family and are a perennial woodland wildflower native to the eastern deciduous forest from Canada to Georgia and west to the prairie states. In Maine ramps are known from only several dozen locations and are considered rare and in need of protection. Their preferred habitat is not common: moist, fertile soils under deciduous trees (such as sugar maple), frequently along rivers and streams. Ramps are often seen growing with other wildflowers indicative of rich woodland soils, such as blue cohosh, bloodroot and Dutchman’s breeches. In healthy wild populations, hundreds of plants can carpet the forest floor with 8-inch-long and 2-inch-wide leaves.

Ramps are a true spring ephemeral, taking advantage of the early spring sunlight to grow and store reserves in the root system before trees leaf out. The foliage stays green for less than six weeks before fading to yellow and then completely disappearing. In midsummer, white, globe-shaped flower clusters emerge and attract pollinating insects. When the shiny black seeds ripen in September, it takes a sharp eye to find them as no leaves are present, and the green and tan seed stalks blend in with other vegetation.More organic growers should propagate ramps in order to reduce pressures on wild populations. Fortunately, such shade-loving perennial species require much less regular attention than typical field-grown plants. Once you set up and plant the beds, you need only visit them occasionally to check on them and apply extra water in a drought. Your operation will take at least five years to be up and running, but you will have a desirable (and high-value), low-maintenance crop that can be harvested on wet, early spring days when you cannot do other farming tasks. I have been propagating and growing ramps for more than 25 years. My cultivation recommendations follow.In the shade of deciduous trees, make a series of low raised beds edged with lumber or logs and amend the soil with lots of well rotted leaves. Build up to 10 beds eventually so that each year you harvest plants from only one bed, leaving the other beds to grow. Composted leaves and aged deciduous (not conifer) bark are the best soil amendments for this plant. If your soil is very low in organic matter and nutrients, some compost could be added initially. Yearly mulching with leaves should take care of the long-term nutrient requirements of this species.Ramps (Allium tricoccum), commonly called wild leaks, were once limited to growing in the wild, but this springtime vegetable is now being grown in more and more vegetable gardens. They have a flavor that blends spring onions and garlic. Ramps are delicious eaten on their own, or they can be used to flavor other dishes. The leaves, stems, and bulbs can be blanched, fried, or chopped and mixed into dishes from pancakes to meatloaf. (Source: www.thespruce.com)

 

 

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