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Finding and Growing Ramps

May
2

When the trilliums bloom, look for ramps!

Ramps (Alliium tricoccum) or wild leeks are the stinky springtime treasure of the Appalachian region–the white parts can be used in cooking similar to a strong onion or garlic, and the leafy greens are just as edible. (See Cooking with Wild Ramps.) You can buy ramps–but where’s the fun in that? Go find them, and grow your own! They can be found in patches on hillsides and near streams in shady, forested areas. Start the hunt around mid-April.

Ramps lover that I am, I set out to discover if ramps were growing on our farm. Much to my disappointment, I came up empty on the hunt, so I turned to the secondary ramp-hunting strategy–networking.


When a neighbor from across the river happened by on the road and asked me what I was doing, I told him, “I’m looking for ramps!”

He said, “I’ll show you ramps.”

Life’s an adventure, so I hopped on the back of his four-wheeler, and along with his dog, we set off across the river and down the country road for the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. And did he ever live up to his promise.


Just look at those ramps!





Great, big, gorgeous patches of ramps, all over the hillsides on his farm.





Notice the broad, smooth leaves with purplish stems and small white bulbs just below the surface of the soil. If you’re still not sure, you’ll know you’ve got ramps the second you pull them from the ground–the pungent odor will hit you right away!





I brought home a bag full of fresh ramps–not for eating, though. These are for planting. According to my neighbor, you don’t find a lot of ramps in this county. His ramps were cultivated–by cutting off the root end of fresh ramps and planting them in the soil. Now he’s got a veritable ramps-palooza.





And so, eager to develop my own great, big, gorgeous patches of ramps on our farm, I cut off the root ends and planted some that way. I also planted some whole, bulbs and leaves attached, just as I planted garlic a few weeks ago. (To sow ramps from seed, dry them then plant as soon as possible in the fall as the seeds don’t store well.)





I chose several shady areas that looked ramp-friendly on our farm and divided my ramp bounty among them, recording the locations in my farmhouse notebook. With this triple strategy, I hope to see ramps shooting up at trillium-time next year. It’ll take several years for these ramps to establish and spread, so I won’t be dining on my own ramps anytime soon. But it’s a start, and something to look forward to!

Post Update: Read the results post, one year later–A Garden of Ramps.

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Posted by Suzanne McMinn on May 2, 2008  

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  1. 5-2
    6:59
    am

    OMG – I recognize those plants, we do have them here in wisconsin! Dang, I am gonna have to waddle my prego butt out to the woods and find me some! Good going girly -your a farm gal for sure. :)

  2. 5-2
    7:49
    am

    I don’t think we have ramps here in Oklahoma. However, the poke salit (or salad) is growing quite nicely now. We don’t have enough to bother with cooking a mess – so will just enjoy looking at it.

    Amelia in Oklahoma

  3. 5-2
    7:49
    am

    Chickens and ramps…What’s next for you?

    It’s so amazing that you don’t spend your days sitting at a desk, in front of a computer monitor. Okay, you do when you are posting and book-writing. LOL. I meant the day-to-day grind kind of thing, in an office.

    I need a lotto win! :lol:

    Happy Friday to all. My dad is flying in from Vancouver, BC tonight, for a week; should be fun!

    -Kim (in Kingston, ON)

  4. 5-2
    7:54
    am

    Unfortunately your neighbors right, County just doesn’t have alot of Ramps. But they are out there as you have see, so good luck growing your own. :thumbsup:

  5. 5-2
    8:06
    am

    I have never dug ramps. But I used to help dig yellow root, mayapple and ginseng. Those were fun times. Except when I dug up a nest of snakes. :eek:

  6. 5-2
    8:15
    am

    I remain incredibly impressed. :clap:

  7. 5-2
    8:26
    am

    Amelia is right, we do not have Ramps in Oklahoma, but we do have wild onions…looks a lot like a small onion you plant in your garden but more pungent. Same concept as a Ramp. My mom was just like you, crazy about them and out hunting them and again, just like your post a few days ago, the first thing she would do is make scrambled eggs and wild onions. I seriously did not appreciate her effort because to me it was just like a regular o’l green onion… :) we also use to look for wild mushrooms …now those were good. I have not seen one in years…I use to think it was soooo boring as a kid walking the creeks looking for these things…and as a mom does, she tried to make it fun by telling me “it is just like hunting for Easter Eggs”….that never really worked for me…but I had fun once I got there. Do you have wild sand plums? sand plum jelly is the BEST!

    Tresh in Oklahoma

  8. 5-2
    8:52
    am

    I’ve never heard of ramps, so I don’t know if we have them here in Illinois or not. What we all start hunting for this time of year is the elusive morel mushroom. Those are what I crave all year long and spend hours tromping through the woods for! :hungry:

  9. 5-2
    9:03
    am

    I love your blog! It’s the first one I read every morning when I get to (work?) :clap: I don’t live in the country but I wish I could raise chickens. They’re precious!

  10. 5-2
    9:07
    am

    I love the concept of foraged food. I don’t know exactly what Michigan has (I’m not native) but I hope to go Morel Mushroom hunting in the next couple of weeks.

    Also, with all the farm activity, when do you find time to write?

    Love your blog!

  11. 5-2
    9:34
    am

    I’m from Michigan and we find wild leeks when hunting for morel mushrooms. Will be hunting next weekend for both! Thanks for sharing!

  12. 5-2
    9:35
    am

    I’m such a city girl. I’m amazed by all you’ve accomplished out there!

  13. 5-2
    9:43
    am

    I don’t think we have ramps here in Arkansas either. Maybe in the hills or mountains, but not here in the flats. I’ve been reading about ramps on some of the food blogs, and would like to try them.

    We have a farmer’s market on campus starting tomorrow. I’m thinking about coming out to see if they have ramps or morels. I’d love to try both.

    We do have wild onions, but I spend too much time digging them out of my lawn to ever think about cooking with them. But then times are getting tough, I may learn to cook a lot of things I haven’t before.

  14. 5-2
    10:21
    am

    I’ve never seen them here in the midwest…but it doesn’t mean we don’t have them… Hope yours take hold and spread!

  15. 5-2
    10:42
    am

    :mrgreen: sweet lord woman, you’re after my heart! first chickens, now ramps? good thing you’re a gal or my own dear hubby would be looking for me, wondering where the heck had i gone. not to fear, i won’t just show up on your pie porch. dh is looking for a mountain home for me. we actually stopped to look at chickens together. 52 isn’t the only sweety you know.

    margiesbooboo

  16. 5-2
    11:47
    am

    I have a friend who gets a bunch of ramps when she comes home and sells them in NYC for some ungodly amount of money. No ramps in NYC. Go figure!

  17. 5-2
    11:50
    am

    I want ramps! I am going to have to find some seeds/starts and plant my own. The leaves themselves are beautiful and will work wonderfully in my garden (one year, I planted chick peas for this very reason)….well, until I pull them up to eat them, that is.

  18. 5-2
    12:06
    pm

    I’ve never even heard of these. That is so neat!
    BW

  19. 5-2
    1:37
    pm

    Oh boy. My husband loves ramps. I do too, but I’m more careful about eating them than he is. Why? Because they will make you smell like a ton of smashed garlic for several days after you eat them! I’ve heard stories about kids who ate them and got sent home from school because of the smell, about the West Virginia Hillbilly (a classic newspaper now defunct) using ramp juice in their ink so peoplewould know how they smell, and almost getting sued by the US Post Office, and many more such tales.

    They are delicious, and are a new favorite ingredient of gourmet chefs in big cities. Here they grow wild for the digging. BUT you better know how to cook them. Raw is potent and deadly to friends and enemies both. Suzanne, you’ve got the red ramps and they’re the strongest. The white ones are milder. I like to parboil them and then add them to fried potatoes. They’re delicious that way and a lot of the smell is lost in the parboil stage.

    You can freeze them, too, but be sure to triple bag or more, or everything in your freezer smells like ramps.

    Oh, they don’t grow in most of Jackson County, either, and my hubby looks down his nose at transplanted ramps–he swears they’re not as strong. I doubt there is any difference at all except in his mind. He goes to the Williams River country to dig them, although there are plenty closer than that. He just loves that country, and it’s a good excuse to go there.

  20. 5-2
    2:13
    pm

    Wow! They sound delicious and well worth the trouble, Suzanne – good luck! Granny Sue, you info was great too.
    I wonder if they grow in Connecticut…I’ll have to find out!

  21. 5-2
    3:46
    pm

    I don’t think we have ramps in Oregon.

  22. 5-2
    4:24
    pm

    Reminds me of when I was a kid. My grandmother would go to Williams River and dig ramps. We went to vist nearly every Sunday. When we pulled in the drive and got out of the car, we could tell she had been ramp digging the day before.
    The aroma would be all over. She too fried them with potatoes and then added eggs.
    I think she must have found the red ones. Ewww wee!!

  23. 5-2
    5:24
    pm

    They sound realy yummy. I wonder if they grow in Utah?!

  24. 5-2
    10:19
    pm

    Suzanne, my hat is off to you for responsibly cultivating and caring for your land. What a great example of stewardship! Thanks for sharing that ~ and great pics, as they will help me know what to keep an eye out for when I visit East Tennessee.

  25. 5-3
    1:35
    am

    Your picture of trilliums really took me back! I used to live in trillium country and remember picking the fruit from them. Lemony! :heart: I haven’t seen trilliums in 30 years, and sadly, onion lover that I am, I’ve never even heard of ramps until I read about them in your blog. You’re so lucky to have both of them growing wild in your area!

  26. 5-7
    12:51
    pm

    Can ramps be grown by bulbs in Maine..If they are wild,are they indiginous to our area? Ahhhh..the snow just left us..can dandelion greens and fiddleheads be far behind…

    KMW

  27. 5-7
    1:03
    pm

    Kathleen, I don’t know if ramps would grow in Maine or not. They are native to the Appalachian area. But you could try!

  28. 5-11
    10:35
    pm

    Hi All,

    I’m a displaced engineer working in SW Virginia (living weekends in SC). On my way to Ashville to visit my Mom on Her day, I noticed a sign for a Ramp Festival in Flag Pond, TN. I stopped for a plate of ramps and taters and oh my they were great! I also found a guy with a boxful of ramps for sell and bought three bunches. Mmmmm!!!

    I also want to cultivate some of these jewels, but I am living in an apartment for now. I will have to do some guerilla farming in a secret spot…

    Do I plant on a north slope? Do they need most shade or some shade? Any tips to select my spot would be greatly appreciated. But hurry they won’t last long!

    Living in an apartment….God I miss my chickens!

    -Brian

  29. 5-12
    5:26
    am

    Brian, I don’t know if a north slope is necessary or not. The ramps I dug up were on a north slope, though, and I planted mine on a north slope on our farm. A nice shady wooded area is best! They like shade.

  30. 9-25
    10:45
    pm

    I’ve tried for years to start ramps growing on my property. Like you, I split them up and placed them strategically around the woods in places I thought they were most likely to be happy, however, the most recent attempt was the simplest and most successful. The last ramps I got (last year), I simply took a whole clump and buried them right next to my front porch in the flower bed. Guess what – this year I had a nice little clump of ramps come up and stay happy. I didn’t feast on them yet, not enough, may be in a couple of years.

    PS. yOU WANT TO TRY SOMETHING REALLY EXCITING, TRY BEE KEEPING. YOU MAY HAVE SEEN OUR RECENT ARTICLE IN THE TIMES RECORD. OUR CLUB MEETS EACH MONTH, ALTERNATELY IN ROANE/CALHOUN COUNTIES. NEXT MEETING AT ROANE COUNTY LIBRARY THIS SUNDAY THE 28TH AT 2:00 PM. I THINK YOU SHOULD GIVE IT A SHOT. YOU WOULDN’T START YOUR BEES UNTIL NEXT SPRING. WE WILL PROBABLY GIVE A CLASS BEFORE THEN. ONE OF OUR SPEAKERS THIS MEETING WILL DEMO MAKING LIP BALM AND WATER PROOFING FOR SHOES/BOOTS. IF YOU GO TO BEECULTURE.COM YOU CAN GET LOTS OF GREAT INFO ON BEES.

    YOUR TOPICS ARE ALWAYS INTERESTING. KEEP UP THE GOOD WORK

  31. 1-18
    1:37
    am

    I pick wild mushrooms and also ramps. Just last year i gathered up what i guessed to be 20 to 40 thousand ramp seeds and with the help of my young boys planted them in several areas around the woods near my house. I also planted some in two local parks. the woods there have a small plot of ramps that i have harvested over the past two years but i wanted to fill the hills and valleys with them!!!!!!!! next year I will gather up more seeds and do the same i wish i would have started doing this 6 years ago! Mushroom Man

  32. 1-18
    1:40
    am

    Oh yaeh I forgot to mention I live north of Pittsburgh Pa
    GO STEELERS! MUSHROOM MAN

  33. 2-16
    10:24
    am

    So … are the ramps you planted last year starting to show up this spring? I’m wondering if they’ll grow in my Pacific Northwest garden. There’s an outfit in Richwood that sells bulbs and seeds.

  34. 2-16
    9:21
    pm

    I don’t know yet! We probably won’t be able to tell for another month or so if something’s coming up that looks like ramps. I hope so!

  35. 3-13
    10:35
    am

    We planted ramps last year. I was curious when they should be coming up. I did notice some of them flowered last year, so that gave me hope that I will get something this year. Getting excited!!

  36. 3-14
    1:31
    pm

    I did go out and look yesterday, and I did find some coming up. We planted them in bunches, so it will take awhile before we can harvest from our area. We more than likely will have to go and pick them from the same place we picked last year, and also transplant more in our woods.

  37. 4-29
    4:40
    pm

    did your ramps come up that way i never heard of that before so your saying to just cut the roots off the bulb right>>

  38. 4-29
    6:25
    pm

    Yes, they did. You can see this post with more pictures of how I plant them.
    http://chickensintheroad.com/blog/2010/04/18/have-your-ramps-and-plan-them-too/

    The original ramps I planted this way two years ago are still growing and coming up every year!

  39. 4-24
    12:56
    pm

    How is your experiment going? I am thinking about trying to grow some as well!

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