Harvesting Wild Ramps on the Farm – Sustainable Farming and Food Systems Student Post By Josh
Wild ramps are one of many natural delicacies that exist here in upstate New York. Their species name is Allium tricoccum and they are in the same family as onions, garlic, and leeks. They usually have two or three leaves and a white stalk that goes only an inch or so into the ground. Their root system is not very extensive and they can be harvested quite easily with a shovel or a knife.
There are a few different ways to harvest wild ramps. One is to uproot the whole patch and replant some back scattered about. The other is to cut down at the base of the white stalk or “bulb” as you might call it (though it is not technically a bulb) just under the ground. It is important to harvest ramps in a way that is responsible and thoughtful because the plants are very easily overharvested. It takes a very long time for them to regenerate themselves. Usually it takes about six years to totally repopulate a patch that you harvest from. A common rule of thumb for harvest is to not take more than 10% of the ramps that are growing in an area in a given year.
The plant grows its flat, long leaves only once a year for a very short time period in the early spring, before the leaves of trees fully emerge. It only has a few months to gather all of its energy to last through the summer and winter months. The reason for this is the dense canopy of the forest. This blocks out the sun from the ramps after spring. The plant has to form all of its carbohydrates in a short period of time and lives the rest of the year off of the energy it stores in that small window.
The plant shoots up a “scape” once a year to flower and drop seeds. This only happens if it gathers enough energy. The processes of spreading takes a long time, but ramps are prevalent in our woods. They provide a beautiful lush green mat in the woods. Wild ramps provide a great spring product for restaurant sales and markets, and they occur naturally. All we do is manage and harvest the patch. This falls into the category of agroforestry. The woods themselves provide an abundance of crops that most people would never know exist. Although ramps are easily overharvested, we can manage them responsibly to maintain their abundance, and keep them growing for years to come. The crop has many uses from making sauces for cooking with, to pickling, using in stir fry, or just eating on salad. This wonderful delicacy should be respected and harvested in a responsible manner ensuring we have them around for a very long time.