Feature Stories

Ramps, part 2: Sustainable Ramp Harvesting

By Bjorn Bergman | Photo By Bjorn Bergman 0

Editor’s Note: Read part one to this series on ramps, "Wild Delicacies Under the Forest Floor," by Bjorn Bergman to learn more about this unique wild edible.

Ramps—that wild vegetable tasting of a mix of onions, garlic and leeks—have to be my favorite springtime food. If you have the opportunity to harvest ramps from the wild, please ensure that you are collecting them in a sustainable manner so that they’re available for years to come.

Know the laws and get permission: In Wisconsin, it is illegal to dig ramps on state-owned lands unless you get permission through a general use permit from the property manager. Learn more by calling the Wisconsin DNR at 1-888-936-7463. When harvesting on private land, get permission to do so from the land owner.

Harvest in a sustainable manner: While many argue over what constitutes a healthy ramp population in a forest patch, I think it is best to harvest conservatively. Studies show that only 5 to 10 percent of the ramps in a patch should be harvested each year to ensure their future survival. When I harvest ramps from my friend's patch, I do the following:

  1. Harvest only the largest ramps in a clump (ramps grow in clumps of 5 to 10). This assures that the smaller plants are left to mature and go to seed.
  2. If there are a number of large ramps in a clump, take—at most—only half the plants. By leaving some older ramps, it guarantees that the clump will recover.
  3. When harvesting, keep moving around the patch. This assures that you won’t accidentally harvest too many ramps from one location.

Taking these precautions guarantees that harvesting is done in a sustainable manner.

Use a neighboring-ramp-conscious technique: If digging bulbs, use a soil fork or a small hand trowel and a knife to dig them rather than a large shovel. Shovels disrupt the root system of neighboring ramps and other plants much more than a soil fork or hand trowel and knife will. To dig ramps, loosen the soil with the soil fork or hand trowel and use the knife to cut the ramp roots beneath the bulb. Once you sever the roots, the ramps should pull out. In the place where you dug the ramp, cover the bare soil with leaves. This will reduce the susceptibility of the site to invasion from unwanted species.

When in doubt, harvest only the leaves: Alternatively, you can harvest only the super tasty ramp greens. This practice doesn't kill the ramp or cause soil disruption. If you choose to harvest only the leaves, harvest only one leaf from plants with two or more leaves.

After your harvest, try these delicious ramp recipes by Bjorn Bergman:

Wisconsin Ramp Pesto

Bacon and Ramp Skillet Cornbread

Bjorn Bergman is passionate about local and sustainably produced food. He has volunteered and worked in Wisconsin's organic and local food movement for the past 6 years. Bjorn spends his days dreaming about ways to cook with ramps and cheese (his two favorite foods), working as the Promotions and Educational Coordinator at the Viroqua Food Co-op, riding his bike way too much, and getting his hands dirty in his backyard garden. He has a bachelor’s degree in Environmental Science Biology from the University of Wisconsin – La Crosse and lives in Viroqua.

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