Written By Andrew Krutz.

Posted on April 7th, 2021.

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Getting leeks (or ramps) to spread in your woodlot for future harvest.

Wild leeks, ramps, spring onions, and wild garlic are all common names of Allium tricoccum, a type of wild onion that is common in parts of eastern North America. As the names suggest it has strong flavors of onion and garlic. In addition to its traditional use by natives, it has increased in popularity in recent years in restaurants. They are prepared in many ways. Pickled, made into soups, and fried (of course) are perhaps the most common. I’ve also seen many a forester pull one out of the ground, rub off (most of) the dirt, and pop it into their mouths. Perhaps they hope this will keep the bugs, and people, away. Talk about social distancing.

Being an early-spring vegetable they begin popping out of the ground in March and April on moist, but fairly well-drained sites. They are generally ready for harvest in late spring. You can often smell them before you see them. Taking a single leaf from each plant is the most sustainable way to harvest, but if done conservatively in a large patch, the bulbs can certainly be taken as well. Experienced leekers know where to find their reliable patches that they return to each year, because they know not to take too much.

Having recently purchased our home in the Catskills with 12 acres we hoped we would find some well-established leeks on our woodlot the following spring. No such luck. We couldn’t find a single one. Having lamenting this to our neighbor across the road he returned that afternoon in May with a 5-gallon bucket full of succulent specimens. Not wanting to let them wither away, we quickly began putting them into the ground. North to north-east facing slopes are preferred, but we do not have that. Therefore, we found a well-drained slope with good forest canopy cover. They grow best under hardwoods because they like the early season sun and shade later on. Unsurprisingly, after removing the leaf litter we found more rock than soil. Picture large gravel that is kind of dirty. That’s what we had to work with so we stuck them in the ground. The leaves quickly withered away and we had little hope for the future.

Checking the area the following March we were very pleased to find a pretty high percentage of our transplants were poking through the leaf litter. We only have roughly 20-30 plants so they have to spread much more before we can begin harvesting in earnest.  When the seeds form in September we will spread them across the most ideal microclimates we have and hope to see them emerge the following spring. Our goal is to have our population be self-sustaining in a few years and also allow us to harvest a fair amount. I will provide updates in the future!

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Leeks coming through leaf litter in late March.

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The best clump can be seen at the bottom of the screen. There are other individuals elsewhere in the photo.


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