April-May

At Timberhill ramps, also known as wild leeks (Allium tricoccum), are a rite of spring. One of the first wild plants to appear after the spring thaw this pungent member of the onion family is a delicious wild edible.   Ramps smell like garlic, cook like onion and taste like leeks. The plant is easily identified by its smooth green leaves and red lower stalks. All parts of this bulb forming perennial are edible.  We find it in the mixed hardwood woodland along Brush Creek.  

Digging ramps

Ramps can be cooked whole or the greens and stems separately.  Bill and I like them with scrambled eggs.  For this recipe I cook the ramp stems and a minced shallot in bacon grease until tender. After pushing the stems and shallot to the side  I cook the chopped greens until slightly wilted. To complete the recipe I add four beaten eggs, salt and pepper to the stems and shallot in the pan.  The eggs are cooked until softly set and somewhat moist and topped with chopped ramp greens.   Delicious!

Ramps (Wild Leek)

Here in Decatur County, Iowa the greatest weather changes occur in April.  This year it was more pronounced than usual.  The daytime high reached seventy-eight degrees on April 8.  Two days later 52” was the daytime high.   Cold weather continued into the next week culminating with a ten and one-half inches snowfall on April 14-17. The following week daytime high temperatures again reached 78.  After the snow melted spring ephemerals again covered the woodland floor.  By May 6 spring larkspur and hoary puccoon were coming into bloom.  I even found a frog orchid blooming in the West 40.

Frog orchid (Coeloglossum viride)

With its finely cut foliage lousewort is often mistaken for a fern.  In late April a dense cluster of small yellow snapdragon-like flowers bloom on top of the stem.  Lousewort is a root hemiparasite.  It is able to produce its own food through the use of solar energy but obtains water and nutrients from a host plant.  Roots of hemiparasites attach below ground  atop the roots of their host, robbing the host of water and nutrients.  A soil fungus acts as a bridge between the parasite and the host. Lousewort alters the plant community structure by robbing plants such as woodland  sunflower of nutrients and opening the site for more conservative plants. Once established, these plants spread like a fairy ring in an ever-widening circle.  Woodland sunflowers parasitized by lousewort become less vigorous.  As the sunflowers decline space is opened for more conservative forbs such as slender bush clover and blazing star.  

Lousewort (Pedicularis canadensis)

At Timberhill the two to four-week morel mushroom season usually begins in April. Although I have found morels as early as March 27 and as late as June 1 the season usually ends in early May.  It takes quite a bit of rainfall in order for morels to fruit.  Also, they have been particularly abundant in years that we had both March and April snowfall.  Since that was the case this year I expected a bountiful harvest.  On April 8 Bill and I found the first specimens in our West Creek and West 40 units after daytime high temperatures of 79” on April 7 and 78” on April 8.  That’s just what morels require to begin fruiting.  Temperatures dropped the next day and continued to fall throughout the next week.  Between April 14 and 17 ten and one-half inches snow fell.  However, morels began fruiting again after the snow melted. We collected thirty specimens on April 25, more than enough to prepare our favorite recipe: chicken with morels and cream

Chicken with morels and cream

During morel season it seems that I am either praying for rain or praying for rain to stop.  By April 22 I was praying for rain.  Thankfully we got 1.05 inches on April 24.  On April 25 we collected thirty specimens. Through the first week of May daytime highs dropped into the fifties – not warm enough for morel fruiting. Hot, dry weather always ends morel fruiting.  Now I’ll find out if they also shut down after cold, dry weather.  

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