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If you're looking to take your vegetable garden plot beyond tomatoes, basil, and the like, you may want to give peanuts a shot. They're surprisingly easy and fun to grow. The plants yield a good amount of the nuts, and they are of course delicious roasted and spiced, as a topping for baked goods, or in other recipes. You can even make your own peanut butter (which also makes a great ingredient)!
And the best part is that peanuts don't need a lot of treatments. In fact, because they are nitrogen-fixing plants (meaning that they add nitrogen to the soil as opposed to removing it), they can grow in relatively poor soil. As long as the soil is loose, you can plant peanuts in the ground, in raised beds, or even in containers. Isn't that easy?
Here's how to grow peanuts in your own back yard.
Exposure: full sun, at least 5 to 7 hours daily
When to plant: After nighttime temperatures are above 55°F. Depending on your growing zone, plants may need to be started indoors.
How to Plant Peanuts
You can source peanut seeds from many nurseries and online stores such as Burpee or Etsy. But of course a peanut seed is just a raw peanut! So if your local market or store sells raw peanuts, you can try planting a few—though they're not guaranteed to work. Don't plant boiled or roasted peanuts, of course. Those won't germinate.
Peanuts need a lot of space to spread out (more on that below), so give them between 12 and 18 inches of space. Dig a small hole about two inches down, place two seeds (or a pod with two seeds) in each hole, and cover. Water well. The seedlings should start to rise in about 10 days.
How Do Peanuts Grow?
Peanuts grow in a very unusual way, so watching them form is almost as much of a treat as getting to eat the peanuts themselves. About six to eight weeks after planting small yellow flowers will begin to form. When this happens, you'll want to hill a little loose dirt around the plant. Once a flower has pollinated, the petals fall off, and it sends a shoot back down into the dirt, where the peanuts will grow! A single plant can grow 30-50 peanuts, so the plant needs some room to spread out to send as many of its shoots as possible into the dirt.
Many peanut varieties are annuals, so don't be surprised if new plants appear the following year. Peanuts spread via "rhizomes"—underground shoots. So you won't necessarily need to plant new seeds.
Where Can I Plant Peanuts?
Because they need so little (other than loose soil, heat, and water) you can plant peanuts in the ground, in raised beds, or even in containers. In fact, for those in northern climates, containers are a great option as they can easily be brought inside during the occasional cold snap. Just make sure to place them somewhere that gets a lot of sun.
How to Care for Peanut Plants
Peanuts do best in high humidity, high heat situations. In fact, they are native to tropical rainforests! So be sure to plant them (or place the containers) in a place with lots of sun, and keep the soil moist—though you want to avoid standing water, which will encourage root rot. They also need slightly acidic soil. And because they are nitrogen-fixing, you don't want to treat the soil with heavy fertilizers or add nitrogen. That will result in lots of leaves, but few peanuts. If you live in the South, growing peanuts should be easy. If you live in the Northeast, you may want to start them indoors, wait until the nights are warm, and even consider plastic row covers to trap moisture and heat.
Do I Need to Worry About Pests with Peanuts?
While typical pests and diseases such as rot, aphids, or slugs can cause problems, perhaps the biggest pest when it comes to growing peanuts are your neighborhood squirrels, mice, and chipmunks! These rodents loves nuts of all kinds and will gladly harvest your peanuts for you. If you're in an area with lots of squirrels then you can protect your peanuts with mesh row covers. Be sure to secure the covers an inch or two beneath the soil to prevent them from digging under.
How Long Do Peanuts Take to Grow?
Peanuts take between four and five months to grow. So if you put plants into the ground in the early summer, they should be ready by mid-fall. You'll know that the plant is ready to harvest when the leaves turn yellow and the plant appears to be dying. This is when it puts most of its energy into growing the seeds, so don't harvest the plant while it still looks green and healthy.
Harvest before the first frost, by digging the entire plant out of the ground. Shake off the soil and let the entire plant dry for a couple days, until the leaves start to crumble, before removing the pods.
Find more great info on growing all kinds of plants in our Gardening Encyclopedia.
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