20130501-131343.jpg
© 2013 maria. All rights reserved.

This Year, Plant Your Ramps And Eat Them Too

We all love our ramps in the early spring, but why bother to grow them? I can think of three good reasons.

Before I started thinking about planting ramps from the greenmarket, I studied the North Carolina State University Extensions's website, which describes the growing conditions ramps prefer in the wild.  According to Jackie Greenfield, Agricultural Research Technician, and Jeanine M. Davis, Extension Horticultural Specialist,

Ramps grow naturally under a forest canopy of beech, birch, sugar maple, and/or poplar. Other forest trees under which ramps will grow include buckeye, linden (basswood), hickory, and oak. A forested area with any of these trees present provides an ideal location for planting a ramp crop. Areas that host trillium, toothwort, nettle, black cohosh, ginseng, bloodroot, trout lily, bellwort, and mayapple should be suitable for growing ramps. If there is not a wooded area available to grow ramps, a shade structure can be erected over the planting site.

Choose a well-drained site with rich, moist soil high in organic matter. Soil moisture appears to be an important environmental variable influencing seed germination, seedling emergence rate, survival, and growth rate of the plant. Thus, adequate moisture must be maintained throughout all seasons, not just the active growing season.

Keep in mind that the growth period for ramps is limited to only a few weeks in the spring, during which time the plant is dependent on having adequate light, moisture, and nutrients for survival.

It's important to know the conditions that woodland plants require in the wild. Trust me, I spent my whole childhood digging up spring ephemerals and planting them in my yard, thinking they'd thrive in cultivation. But they won't live longer with more sun, or a different kind of soil, and they don't like your fancy fertilizers, thank-you-very-much. Woodland plants want exactly what the North Carolina pamphlet describes: moist soil that's high in organic matter, full to part sun in the spring, and part-shade to shade in the summer. They're either really picky or really low-maintenance, depending on how you look at it.

I also brushed up on re-growing scallions in water. I thought the knowledge would come in handy once I bought my ramps, and it did.

It was hard to find ramps that still had good roots at the Carroll Gardens market last weekend. Look hard! You can't plant your ramps unless the bulbs are intact.

Ramps, of course, are a different species than scallions. They are able to regrow their roots in water, but they only put out leaves once a year and that time is already past. (Scallions can regrow their leaves year-round.) So when I got my ramps, I refreshed them in a glass of water for 24 hours before planting. By the time I was ready to chop off the green parts for ramp risotto and pot up the bulbs, I could see significant new root growth.

20130501-131343.jpg

I left several inches of stem when I prepared my ramps for planting. It's important to get the planting depth right and I felt that the color of the stem would tell me how deep these bulbs wanted to go. Any part of the stems that's white was originally underground.

Right now I'm overbooked with large-scale garden projects, so the ramps will have to live in quart-sized pots until I can give them a permanent home later in the spring. My soil mix was compost, peat, and some vermiculite. I generally don't use a lot of vermiculite in my vegetable beds because it's very expensive on a large scale, but I felt it was crucial for ramps. They need the soil to retain some moisture without being soggy - something compost and peat don't do that well.

20130501-131419.jpg

Once you've planted them, you'll want to give the ramps a natural mulch. This means leaf litter - not mulch from the hardware store. Remember, we're trying to mimic natural conditions. North Carolina State University says mulching is a must.

20130501-131548.jpg

It's just like in nature! Because these guys are tender, and in transplant shock, they're not going to get more than an hour of full sun this month. I doubt they'll regrow their leaves or bloom well in June. Right now, they're focusing on root growth.

After planting, I had a chance to visit the Brooklyn Botanic Garden and compare my planting method to the ramps in the Native Flora Garden.

20130501-131645.jpg

20130501-131726.jpg

You can see here how much sun ramps should get in the spring. Next year, I'll make sure they get 3-6 hours of full sun from March until early May, when I'll move them to part-shade for the rest of the year.

Here's what the canopy above the ramps at the Botanical Garden looks like now:

20130501-131818.jpg

And here's how deep they're growing in their leaf mulch.

20130501-131922.jpg

20130501-132008.jpg

I got pretty close to nature by just doing research, but seeing ramps at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden was even more instructive. I think I'll add a bit more leaf mulch after taking another look at the photos.

I'll be sure to post updates on my home-grown ramps as the year goes on. As garden projects go, this one has been pretty easy to execute so far!