Growing Ramps; Thinking Hair and Tequila

Friends Drift Inn Farm – Gardening

Planting ramps in the secret places of Kentucky's Appalachia

How To Plant Ramps – Phase 1 Spring of 2013

Click to Learn What is a Ramp?

It is funny how life works. When I first began writing about farm-to-table living in Kentucky’s Appalachia I was chided by many food experts because I knew nothing about ramps. Academics insisted by virtue of my location, I should be rolling in ramps – as stinky a prospect as that may sound like it just is not so.

I talked to the old grannies. I talked to the young hunters. I worked through local historical materials trying to find mention of ramps, sometimes called “ransoms.” I did not find much. I stood up at a Master Gardeners meeting and made a piteous appeal, “Does anyone know where I can find local ramps?” Only one fellow seemed to understand what I was asking.

He sized me up but said little. Ramps are kind of like moonshine; you just do not talk about what goes on with strangers or folks outside your kin. When someone says they “might” know something about mountain mysteries it translates they darn sure do.“Might” means you have to pass muster before confidences are shared.

We do not have a ramp eating culture in the majority of our county. We just don’t. But way up in Phelps, over the mountain in Freeburn, there are a few ramp growers sworn to secrecy. When you consider 50 ramp seeds are selling for $5.50 a pack; when you think that a scant handful of harvested ramps sells upwards of $4.00 a bunch you begin to understand what an economic impact ramps could have on our region.

Demand outside the mountains is at an all time high. We will take flatlanders money; and we will earn it!

My friend grows ramps in a fenced area, guarded by dogs and our brand of mountain security. He takes ramp thieving personal. Ramps are good eating; but they are also a source of supplemental income that sure comes in handy! But growing ramps is the exception rather than the rule; at least in my little corner of Appalachia.

Of Shampoo and Booze

Ramp seeds look similiar to onion seeds; the yellow dust on my hands is from bone meal a calcium booster

Enter Grow Appalachia, an initiative launched by John Paul Dejoria, co-founder and owner of John Paul Mitchell Systems (JPMS) hair products and Patron Tequila. Grow Appalachia is working to restore agriculture activities in the mountains; strengthening our local food system and building a foundation for economic sustainability. Hair and tequila; who knew? Giggles

I am impressed with many of Grow Appalachia’s projects. Some of the John Paul Mitchell executives have roots in Harlan County; they understand mountain ways and they respect them. This is a group that reaches out gently, an organization that says “Hey have you thought about….” rather than some overbearing directive “This is what you should be doing.” I like that. I am excited about the possibilities that restoring agriculture to our region holds!

Last week I received a large quantity of ramp seeds from Grow Appalachia. Charlie rolled his eyes. I danced around the ballroom waving the packets over my head and whooping!

Ramps, I shall have my own secret patch! If they grow, a process that will take 18 months plus some, I will be able to harvest seed and begin the slow process of establishing ramp beds in our community.

How to Plant Ramp Seed

Raking leaf litter under a hardwood tree for a ramp seed bed

In a secret location, on a mountain slope underneath a canopy of hardwood trees I raked leaf litter clearing away weeds and loosening the rich moist soil. I threw bone meal on the areas, hoping for an extra boost of calcium which some resources indicate improves ramp growth and yield. I had the boys tote some 20 gallons of water to the site, carefully splashing the soil and seeds to quicken the marriage.

Then I covered the soil back up with a thick layer of leaf litter, just as I had found it. I marked the areas, because 18 months from now who knows if I will remember where I planted them. I do not want to forget my ramp secret!

Restoration and growth takes time. To all you academics out there who fussed at me about my ramp ignorance, know this. Ramps were not grown on Johns Creek in modern memory. But hopefully that is changing! In a couple of years you will smell me coming! Giggles

Disclaimer: I received the ramp seeds at no charge. It is part of an ongoing project. I am not compensated by any entities mentioned above. The opinions expressed are based on my own observations.

Friends Drift Inn receives a small commission for purchase made through affiliate links.


More About Ramps and Foraging
More About Ramps
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About Joyce Pinson

Joyce Friend Pinson is a regional farm-to-table columnist for the Appalachian-News Express. She is a local television host. Her column show and blog, Friends Drift Inn, explores food, gardening, and real life farm-to-table stories from the perspective of a baby boomer in Appalachia. Joyce has a background in agriculture, media, and small business. Joyce is an heirloom gardening addict and home canner. She has a penchant for big hats, pointy toed shoes, and bourbon. Along with her husband Charlie, Joyce really does live in a barn where they ballroom dance. And laugh. And cook. And giggle.