by guest blogger Tim Mountz of Happy Cat Farm
This time of the year if I am not in the fields planting, I am out in the woods. I do a lot of trail-running, but I’m also an avid hiker and forager. I grew up in the woods and was always eating things that I found. My parents got me Euell Gibbons‘ books when I was about 10, and after that I wanted to live in the woods and forage for all my food. Things didn’t really work out that way, but I have been foraging every since.
It’s so nice to be back outside after a winter of cleaning and packing seeds. This winter wasn’t really that bad. But it wasn’t really a winter, come to think of it. And this spring has been hot and early. I spent the last few weeks in the woods because the ramps were up and ready to pull almost two weeks ahead of schedule.
The name ramp comes from the Old English “ramson,” a name given the European bear leek, the counterpart to ours, so named because bears love them. The wild ramps of the Northeast (Allium tricoccum) where I live are native edible plants that grow in large swaths along the banks of our rivers and in the upland soils of our mixed hardwood forests. Foraging for ramps is fairly easy. Once you learn to spot their long, oval, pointy leaves, you’ll start to see them everywhere.
But anytime you forage it’s best to keep these 5 rules in mind:
1. Everyone in, everyone out. This means everyone who helps in the gathering gets a fair share at the end of the day.
2. Bring an ace. At least one person in your group has to know exactly what you are looking for. Essentially, don’t eat things you don’t know.
3. Keep secrets. If someone takes you to a special forage spot (aka, a honey hole) you never go there without the person who showed you the spot and you never tell other people how to get there. This is a longstanding bit of forager etiquette.
4. Always have permission. This is the land of the free and home of the brave, but not everyone likes to share his or her land or access to its bounty. So ask the landowner—you don’t want to get shot or go to jail.
5. Take only what you need. Foraging should be a sustainable act, so don’t pick all of everything you find. Leave some for the land, for the animals, for next year’s crop. Unless it’s a non-native invasive you’re foraging, in which case, knock yourself out.
If foraging isn’t your thing, remember you can also grow your own ramps, although it isn’t easy. Ramps grown from seed can germinate in 6 to 18 months (6 if the fall is warm and 18 if not). So this does take some patience and planning.
At our farm, we also grow ramps from bulbs of seeds we planted years ago, which is a lot easier than growing them from seed. We just dig the bulbs and pot them up, and our ramp patch is off to the races. We also sell them as growing plants, which can just be planted as any plant would be.