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Growing Ramps in the Vegetable Garden

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Ramps Plants

Ramps grow in damp woodland areas. They emerge in early spring and go dormant in the summer.

Photo: © Marie Iannotti

Overview:

Ramps, or wild leeks, are a native plant found growing in moist woodlands of the Appalachian mountain range, in eastern North America. The appear in early spring and many areas used to celebrate their arrival as the first cooking green of spring, with festivals.

With a flavor that blends spring onions and garlic, ramps are great on their own or used to flavor other dishes. The leaves, stems can bulbs can be blanched, fried or chopped and mixed into dishes from pancakes to meatloaf.

Description:

Ramps 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: Leaves are an elongated oval shape that tapers to a point. They resemble Lily of the Vally leaves, although a bit slimmer. Ramps are ephemeral and the leaves disappear in late spring, as the weather warms.

Flowers: 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.

Latin Name:

Allium tricoccum

Common Name:

Ramps, Wild Leeks

Days to Harvest:

Although you can harvest your ramps at anytime, harvesting before the patch has completely filled in 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.

Suggested Varieties:

I am unaware of any cultivated varieties of ramps, although there undoubtedly will be some, as ramps gain a following.

Hardiness Zone:

Hardiness Zone USDA Hardiness Zones 4–7

Exposure:

Shade to Partial Shade.

Mature Size

6–12" (h) x 4--6" (w).

Pests & Problems:

Ramps haven't been grown commercially long enough to really know which pests might attach them.

Growing Tips:

Since ramps have generally been grown in the wild, definitive growing requirements are still being studied.

Soil: 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.

Planting:

Growing ramps from seed can take a lot of time. The seed embryo is not fully developed in fresh seed and is 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. However ramps in the wild are becoming over harvested in recent years and many areas are restricting access to them. Native plant nurseries have begun selling small pots of them, so keep your eyes pealed. There are also some sources available online, if you search for ramps plants or seed. March/April is the ideal time for transplanting ramps.

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 4–6 inches apart, to allow them to spread. Water well and mulch the whole bed with something like shredded leaves or leaf mold.

You may also find ramp bulbs, which can be planted in February or as soon as you can work your soil. Plant so that the uppermost tip of the bulb is just peeking out of the soil. Water well and mulch with shredded leaves or leaf mold.

Sources:

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