This has been some strange weather so far this year. Due to unusually warm temperatures in March, I was climbing hills very early in search of the first morel mushrooms of the season. Some friends of mine found a few, but tiny ones, and it was enough to lure me into the woods weeks ahead of the usual schedule. But, the warm weather was followed by cool and dry, and now, two weeks later, no new morels have been found.
As I have mentioned before, I just love being in the woods and surrounded by nature, and morel season is my favorite part of the year. When morels are around, I am scaling my surrounding hills and ravines from morning to night, and it can be grueling physically. Normally, the ramps and fiddleheads show up around the same time as morels, and I could pick some as I hunt mushrooms if I really wanted to, but I never have, since it would slow down my morel hunt. This year is different. I am collecting ramps and fiddleheads while daydreaming about morels. This way I figure that I will notice when morel season is starting, and at the same time I will be getting in shape for the hunt.
Once I started looking for ramps, I was surprised at how many there were to be found.At our Easter gathering, I stepped out behind my uncle’s garage to find my first ramp. Ten feet away was another, then another. I dug out a half dozen or so with my fingers (not recommended), cleaned a few off, and tried some raw. They were strong and very tasty. Later that day I found one just thirty feet from my house, and from that one I could follow a trail of them up a wooded hillside. These things are everywhere!
Here are some useful tips for collecting some ramps for yourself:
First, make sure to bring some gloves and a small garden shovel. Next, find a shady wooded area and carefully look around. If you find one ramp, search the immediate area and you will likely find more. A general rule of thumb is that if the ramp has three leaves, it will have a bulb on the end. Two leaves and it is likely slender, similar to a young green onion. If I find small looking ones I will leave them and check back later. When a ramp is fully mature, the leaves are nearly ten inches long and two inches wide; the leaves will also become more shiny and more deeply textured. Rules of thumb have their exceptions, and sometimes a two-leaved ramp can have a big bulb (deer like these too, and will sometimes pull out a fresh leaf), and some three-leaved ones can be tiny. A usual good telling sign is the shininess of the leaves and their size, if the deer haven’t nibbled them down. Once you have collected some you will learn more what to look for.
The bulbs of the ramps are usually three or four inches below the surface, and can be difficult to uproot. This is why you will need gloves and a garden shovel.
Place the tip of your shovel about an inch and a half from the base of the ramp, tilt it straight up-and-down and push it into the earth to about 4 inches deep. You may have to wiggle it left and right, or even re-position it if you hit a tree root or a rock. Pull the shovel back quickly, the handle all the way to the ground, and the ramp will pop up. Be careful here, as even loosened like this the bulb may break off as you pull the ramp. I find that shaking the shovel in an up-and-down motion as you pull on the leaves helps the bulb to come out easily.
The ramps in my woods are plentiful now, and I want to be sure they will be like this in the future. I am careful to take only part of a patch that I find, and I will be collecting seeds this fall to replant.
Tonight I will make a gallery of ramp photographs that will aid you in ramp identification, and help you to have an eye for them when you get out to search.
Good luck and happy hunting,