Ramps, or wild leeks (botanical name: Allium tricoccum), were once relegated to growing in the wild, but this springtime vegetable is 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.
Where Ramps Grow
Ramps are a native plant found growing in moist woodlands of the Appalachian mountain range, in eastern North America. Ramps appear in early spring and many areas still celebrate their arrival as the first cooking green of the season.
They grow from a small bulb, spreading and colonizing over time. The leaves emerge in early spring, but the plants are ephemeral, disappearing within a month or two and remaining dormant until the following spring.
Leaves are an elongated oval shape that tapers to a point. They resemble Lily of the Valley leaves, although a bit slimmer. Ramps are ephemeral and the leaves disappear in late spring, as the weather warms.
The flower stalk tends to emerge as the leaves are fading. The flowers are a pinkish-white and the seed is dispersed close to the mother plant.
Days to Harvest
Although you can harvest your ramps at any time, harvesting before the patch has had a chance to enlarge will very quickly deplete your entire ramps patch. Give the patch a few years to spread out, then harvest by thinning out the largest plants, digging the whole clump, bulb and all. Be careful not to damage neighboring plants.
Conditions for Growing Ramps
Ramps are spring woodland plants so they need protection from the extreme sun and heat of summer. If you can't plant them on the edge of a woodland, where they will be sheltered as the trees leaf out, at least give them a spot in shade to partial shade.
To grow ramps in your yard, try to pick a site as close to their native growing conditions as possible. They are usually found in moist areas, under deciduous trees. The soil should have a good amount of organic matter in it and be well-draining.
Although ramps like regular moisture, they do not grow well in wet soils. If other woodland flowers, like bloodroot, trillium, and trout lily will grow in the area, ramps should do fine. They are only actively growing for a short period in the spring, so there is little room for error.
Should You Transplant or Grow Ramps from Seed?
Growing ramps from seed can take a long time. The seed embryo is not fully developed in fresh seed and may remain dormant. To complicate matters further, it needs to be warm and moist, to break root dormancy and then cold, to break shoot dormancy. Depending on the weather of any particular year, it can take a couple of years for the seed to finally germinate.
The best time to sow ramp seeds is in late summer/early fall. Scratch and loosen the top layer of soil and press the seed into it. Cover with about an inch of shredded, damp leaves and be patient.
The fastest route for starting ramps is seedlings. Native plant nurseries may sell small pots of them.
To transplant, be very careful not to damage the roots or bulbs. Plant at the same depth they were in the pot and space the plants about 4 to 6 inches apart, to allow them to spread. Water the plants well and mulch the whole bed with something like shredded leaves or leaf mold.