Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Musings about the seasons, and RAMPS!!

Maybe it's just me, but it seems that many of the seasonal cultivated vegetables are appearing on the market considerably earlier than usual. Vidalia onions, for example. I've seldom seen them on the market earlier than, well, about now, but we've had them at the store for a couple of weeks already. South Carolina peaches, for another example. I'd say June 1 at the earliest under most circumstances, but here they are on display a couple of weeks before the end of May. They're a little hard yet, but they're gonna be good once they soften up a little. Local rhubarb and local asparagus, for two more. I didn't expect either one until around the end of May, but we've had them both for the last couple of weeks already

Makes me want to revise my internal timetable for things like local berries, cherries, grapes, peaches, and apples, the gourmet fruits of the Midwest. Is it global warming, or is my timetable totally kerfluffled to begin with? I don't know.

More postings on this as conditions warrant.

We're had several shipments of Morels in the last couple of weeks (more or less on time), and local guys have brought in some really nice 'schrooms, as well. They're goooooood!!

But we've also had a couple of opportunities to buy Ramps, those pungent and completely delicious wild leeks found wild only in the East, usually in damp spots on the forest floor after canopy has mostly closed (they like both damp soil and shade). Which got me to thinking about the long-term viability of stripping the woods of foods like, well, Morels and Ramps.

As far as I know, Morels are (not yet) cultivated by anyone and and enough escape (so far) from mushroom hunters that they're not in any great danger. In the West, Morels seem to like disturbed areas in the woods, of which there are many, and in the East, seem to be associated with dead elms, of which there are (still) many. So (for the time being), I think they're safe and abundant.

But Ramps are a different case. They're members on the allium (onion) family, which means they flower on a tall stalk, take months to set and mature their seeds, and replant themselves in the immediate vicinity of the mother plant by falling from the stalk to the ground. Pull a Ramp (or worse, all the Ramps in a patch) and you may have destroyed the whole thing. My Ramp customers have noted in the past few years how they seem to be becoming less abundant and readily available (the Rangers at the Smoky Mountain National Park have noticed too, and banned Ramp hunting within the park beginning in 2002).

One result has been investigations into cultivating Ramps. One is "Cultivating Ramps: Wild Leeks of Appalachia," by Jeanine M. Davis and Jacqulyn Greenfield (http://www.hort.purdue.edu/newcrop/ncnu02/v5-449.html), a paper written in 2002 which details research into taking Ramps out of the wild and into the gardens of specialty growers.

Seems to me it would be a fairly small but potentially lucrative type of farming, although the advice seems to indicate a 40-acre wood of the right type might be the best place to farm. Not the traditonal kind of thing, not at all.

But I've wondered about it this spring. Hmmm! Wonder if I could buy a chunk of suitable woodland.....

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