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.