Although the peanut (Arachis hypogaea) is native to South America, it can be grown in several different climates. In fact, versatile peanut plants can withstand light autumn frosts and shorter springs. With the right conditions, you’ll be growing peanuts and harvesting armfuls of them no matter where you live. Read on to learn how!
The Peanut Plant
Protein-rich peanuts are extremely healthy, as long as you’re not allergic to them. If you’re a fan, you already know how many tasty treats you can create with them. Use them as quick, healthy snacks or make your own tasty homemade peanut butter for a great source of fiber, protein, and vitamins.
Growing these nuts and making your own homemade peanut butter is easy for beginners. The process also doesn’t take long, making this a great project for kids. In this article, I’ll show you how to grow and care for peanuts and how you can harvest them to make homemade peanut butter in as little as 5 minutes.
First and foremost, understanding how the peanut plant functions is a vital part of planting and caring for it.
Most people are surprised to learn that peanuts aren’t nuts at all. Rather, they’re a type of legume and closely related to plants like beans and peas. This unique plant offers yellow pea-like flowers above ground, with the pods under the soil.
The blooms are self-pollinating, so expect the petals to fall apart after the plant is fertilized. Once this happens, the stalks (known as pegs) located under the plant’s ovaries will elongate and bend down to grow into the soil. The ovary can then transform under the soil into a peanut pod.
Keep this in mind when caring for peanut plants, as the soil must remain loose enough to allow the ovaries to plant themselves.
Where to Plant Peanuts
Peanuts are well-suited to warm climates in South America, North America, Asia, Africa, and Australia. They’ll even grow in warmer areas in Europe. You can grow peanuts in your garden or plant them indoors, depending on the length of the growing season your location offers the plants.
If your location (typically zone 8 or higher) offers a growing season of around 130-140 days, plant the peanuts outdoors after the final threat of frost has passed. On the other hand, an area with a shorter growing season will require you to sow the seeds indoors around 2-4 weeks before the final frost.
The plants are a tender annual, meaning they don’t handle frost or the cold well. If you live in a colder region, a 140-day growing season variety can be started indoors 6 weeks before the final frost. You may also need to protect the plants against the cold more. Make sure to cover both seedlings and mature plants as long as the danger of frost persists using plastic row covers.
The trick to growing peanuts in the north is to select an early-season variety like “Early Spanish” and plant them in a full-sun, south-facing slope. Colder areas may also require you to sow the seeds indoors before transplanting them outside after the frost passes.
Where to Find Peanut Seeds Based on Variety
Before you can plant peanuts, you need to collect seeds. Rather than purchasing seeds from your local garden nursery, you want to collect raw, fresh peanuts still in the shell. The shells offer protection and optimal preservation until you’re ready to use the seeds. As a result, look for an option you must shell before planting for the best results. Be careful you don’t damage the seeds while cracking the shell open.
You can find your favorite varieties at your local supermarket. There are four main types of peanuts:
- Virginia: These peanuts offer the largest seeds. They taste great when roasted in the shell, and the taste is more like gourmet quality.
- Runner: Commonly available in a single, uniform size, these peanuts are the preferred option for making homemade peanut butter.
- Spanish: With tiny seeds and the highest oil content, Spanish peanuts are best used for mixed nut snacks.
- Valencia: Known as the sweetest, most attractive peanut, Valencia peanuts come in a bright red skin.
How to Grow Peanuts
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Growing peanuts at home is surprisingly easy, as the plants require minimal care and provide a yield large enough to last you the entire year.
When it comes to planting, you have two options: either plant a hulled peanut, or shell them first. If you choose to unhull the peanuts, make sure to leave the thin, pink/brown layer covering the seed. This is vital. Otherwise, your seeds won’t germinate.
How to Plant Peanut Seeds
Sow peanut seeds outdoors 1-2 inches deep, with around 6-8 inches between seeds. The rows should remain at least 8 inches to 3 feet apart to allow each plant room to grow. Loose, well-draining soil is best, so you may need to add sand and compost to loosen the soil condition.
If you’re growing peanuts inside, you can use a large 4-inch-deep plastic bowl. Fill the bowl with moist potting soil. Shell at least four peanuts and place the seeds on the top layer of soil. Cover the seeds with an inch of soil, and the plants should sprout in a few days.
Peat pods are helpful for planting the seeds individually, which can help minimize shock when later transplanting the plants to containers or your garden.
Place the plants in a full-sun location. Planting the seeds indoors in a northern area requires the sunniest location you have to offer the plants.
Peanuts are southern plants that enjoy soil within the range of 60 and 70 degrees F. Make sure the soil reaches these temperatures regularly before transplanting peanut seedlings or planting peanut seeds.
Growing peanuts is easier in sandy soil with plenty of compost and water drainage. A soil that doesn’t drain well, such as clay, won’t work as well. You can, however, elevate the mounds of dirt slightly to add more drainage.
The soil should remain moist and, because sandy soils are known to dry out quickly, you need to pay careful attention to regular, weekly watering. Avoid overwatering the plants though, or you face the threat of disease. After the plant begins flowering, reduce watering. This will help the plant produce more peanuts and give you a higher yield with which to make peanut butter.
Like potatoes, you may want to hill your peanuts and add a couple of inches of mulch along the top. Straw or grass clipping work well.
Peanut plants require shallow weeding, but you must be careful not to disturb the shallow-growing, developing plants. When the plant flowers and pegs drop to the ground, the plant will begin to grow peanuts. After this happens, you’ll need to hand weed the plants.
How to Harvest Peanuts
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Peanuts are ready for harvesting after the first autumn frost. Any time after September first should be ideal. You’ll notice the plant begins to turn yellow when the time is right. Avoid harvesting peanut plants while the soil is wet, however, and don’t wait too long either. If you wait too long to harvest your plants, they’ll sprout.
To harvest, pull the entire plant from the ground. Dig around the soil a bit at first to loosen the tubers, and use a tool to help you gently lift the plant from the ground. Lay it out to completely dry with the leaf side on the ground. After it’s dry, pull the peanut shells free.
The time it takes for the peanut to dry can range from a few days to a few weeks, depending on the variety and your location. You can pull the peanuts from the plants after a couple of days if you prefer but allow the shells to dry out for at least a month before eating.
I prefer to hang the plants inside my home to dry for about a month before opening the shells rather than laying them flat. However, some people have the surface space available for multiple plants to dry out around the home. Other people prefer to leave the plants outdoors to dry, placing them in a shed or garage. The key is to provide a dry place where they’re protected from rain and critters.
You can then roast the peanuts, boil them, eat them raw, or gather a huge crop to make homemade peanut butter. Roast the seeds by baking them either shelled or unshelled on 350 degrees F for around 20 minutes or save the seeds in a Ziplock bag for raw snacks.
Making homemade peanut butter requires a large crop, although the process only takes a few minutes. Whichever you choose, don’t forget to save a few raw seeds for next year’s planting. Peanuts keep fresh in their shells for years on end.
How to Make Homemade Peanut Butter in 5 Minutes
If your main goal to growing peanuts is to make your own homemade peanut butter, you’ll need to plant plenty of plants. You’ll need around 540 peanuts to fill a 12-ounce jar with butter. Don’t worry: this may seem like a high number but it’s totally manageable. The average plant yields a maximum of 100 peanuts, so with only 6 prosperous plants, you can spread their goodness on toast in no time.
Before you can make peanut butter, you’ll need to roast at least two cups of the “green” peanuts and remove the skins. Grind the roasted peanuts in a food processor for several minutes until the mixture becomes a finely ground clump.
Next, add 1/2 a teaspoon of salt and drizzle 2 tablespoons of honey into the processor. Add 2-3 tablespoons of canola or peanut oil into the processor as it runs until the mixtures become creamy in texture. Continue processing until the peanut butter becomes your desired consistency (smooth or crunchy), tasting as needed to adjust the ingredients.
Store your homemade peanut butter in the refrigerator for no longer than 2 months. An airtight container is ideal. The oils may begin to separate from the peanut butter while it rests in the container and rise to the top. If this happens, simply stir the mixture together once more before eating.