BELTRAMI COUNTY MASTER GARDENERS: New plant challenge: Grow peanuts
By Wally Peck
BEMIDJI -- Isn't it funny how some gardeners are anxious to experiment with a plant others say cannot be grown here? My challenge this year is to try raising peanuts in the far north.
Domesticated peanuts, sometimes called groundnuts, or "goober peas," probably originated in Paraguay and have since spread all over the world. The word goober is a Congo word brought over by slaves to refer to groundnuts that were considered livestock feed and only eaten by the lowest classes. It was not until after the Civil War that peanuts became a major agricultural crop.
Today there are four main types of peanuts: 1. Virginia are the largest; 2. Runner peanuts are typically ground into peanut butter; 3. Spanish have the smallest seeds but the highest oil content; and 4. Valencia are considered the sweetest and have a bright red skin.
You will probably not find peanut seed in the local stores or garden centers. I found seed at Pinetree, Burpee and the Southern Exposure Seed Exchange catalogs. Upon arrival, care has to be taken not to disturb the papery outer covering (skin) on the seed. For that reason, many are sold in the shell; your first task is to carefully shell the peanuts before planting.
Peanuts typically have a 120-day growing season so you will need to extend the season by starting them in peat pots a month before the last frost. Plant them an inch deep, being careful not to disturb the papery covering of the seed. They will need bottom heat or a sunny warm location to germinate.
The soil for peanuts should be sandy or very loose organic loam with a slightly acid pH (6.5) for best growing. Since they are legumes, they require no fertilizer as they fix nitrogen from the air. They are delicate to transplant so be careful not to disturb any protruding roots. Plant 10 inches apart and add a layer of compost or mulch.
We have a raised bed that can be covered with hooped plastic to increase the air and soil temperature. Peanuts should thrive in those conditions. Sweet potatoes also grow well in those conditions. When the plants are a foot tall, hill around the base of each plant. This is very important since the flowers send down "pegs" (peduncles) to produce the underground peanut. Hand weed only from this point on.
Peanuts are ready to harvest when the leaves of the plant turn yellow and the shell of the peanuts have gold-marked veins. You will need to pull up a few to check. When they are ready, lift the plants out of the soil and flip them over so the peanuts can dry for a couple days before pulling them off the roots. Let the peanuts dry for a month before storing them in a closed container.
Now you have the option of roasting them (none better), grinding them, boiling them or using raw peanuts in cooking. To roast peanuts, spread them on a cookie sheet and bake at 350 degrees for 20-25 minutes or until they are as dark as you like them -- you just can't get them this way anywhere else.
Check with the University of Minnesota Extension website www.extension.umn.edu/garden/yard-garden/ for more information on horticultural topics. In addition, local Master Gardeners will again answer your questions on home horticulture. Call (218) 444-7916, leave your name, number, and question and you will receive a return call.