Where Do Peanuts Come From?
Peanuts are not actually nuts. They are legumes. The plant produces flowers above ground like most other flowering plants. However, after blooming and being pollinated the flower then turns downward and burrows into the ground where the seed pod and seeds develop. Peanuts do not grow within a tuber. Tubers are swollen roots. Potatoes are tubers.
A native to South America, the peanut has been cultivated by man since about 1000 B.C. The plant is a botanical curiosity as it flowers above ground; however, its fruit develops below ground. After pollination, the peg (the part of the stem containing the undeveloped seed) elongates and bends, growing into the soil where it develops into the familiar peanut.
All of the peanut plant is usable. The plant tops can be used for hay; hulls and nuts for livestock feed; hulls for mulch, fuel, or sound insulation and wallboard. The kernels are used for food: oil, flour, roasted seeds, and peanut butter. Peanuts contain thiamine and riboflavin and next to yeast, are the richest source of nicotinamide. The skins are high in B-complex vitamins.
A personal hero of mine, George Washington Carver, developed more than 325 products from the peanut, helping to create demand for the plant and establish it as a major American crop. He was born a slave about 1864 and died in 1943, a true legacy and remarkable man. He turned down many high paying jobs (even offered work by Henry Ford) in order to continue with his research and efforts to improve the economy of the South (he dedicated himself especially to bettering the position of African Americans) included the teaching of soil improvement and of diversification of crops.
Peanuts grow best in well-drained, coarse textured, sandy loam soil that is well supplied with calcium. Poorly drained, clay type soils should be avoided. Soils high in organic matter content or clay can stain the pods, particularly the Virginia types. A slightly acid to neutral soil (6.0-7.0 pH) is desirable. Soils with this pH range will reduce the problem of iron deficiency, which can develop in peanuts grown in alkaline soils.
Calcium is necessary for good pod and fruit development. Gypsum (contains calcium) applied directly to the plants in early to full bloom should supply needed calcium. Gypsum is normally applied directly over the plants at the rate of approximately 11 pounds per 1000 square feet. As a sidenote: gypsum can help to break down clay soils.
Raw unroasted peanuts can be purchased from many stores. Nuts that have been roasted have had the embryo killed by heat and, therefore, will not sprout. De-shell the peanuts carefully if they are not already unshelled, making certain the kernels stay complete. Split kernels will not germinate.
Shelled peanut seeds should be planted three inches apart and should be covered with 1 to 2 inches of soil. Nuts in the shell take longer to germinate and should be spaced twice as far apart. Row spacing for bunch types should be 24 to 28 inches and 30 to 36 inches for runner types.
In the pot: Sow the kernels about 2 inches below the soil surface and water in well. Lightly mulch to keep moisture and temperature stable. Place the pot in a sheltered spot…do not water the peanuts again until they have sprouted about a week later. After that, be careful not to overwater as peanuts dislike water close to their roots for long periods. A few deep waterings to ensure water reaches the taproot should be sufficient.
Within six-seven weeks, the plants should be producing yellow flowers. When these self-pollinate, the flower stalks (or ?pegs?) grow into the ground and begin to develop peanut pods.
The crop should be mature in about 18 – 20 weeks. The peanuts are ready for harvesting when a peg eased from the soil reveals a mature nut.
Using a peanut plant, I can test cow manure (used for gardening) for the weed killer/herbicide pycloram (picloram). This is one of those terrible herbicides and does not break down enough even though it may be passed throughout the food chain or composting. You can kill an entire lawn or garden or crop by using mulch or compost or manure that is infected with this herbicide. I make a small amount of tea from the manure sample, water the peanut plant and within a few hours (or minutes) the plant will wither if picloram is present. All herbicides are unhealthy for people and the soil and the environment but this one keeps going and going and going….