Growing peanuts in containers

Peanuts do not grow on trees.

Despite their name and appearance, peanuts are not tree nuts like walnuts and pecans — they’re part of the legume family of plants, which includes beans, lentils, peas and other familiar foods.

When planted, peanut seeds (kernels) grow into small, 18-inch plants with oval-shaped leaves. The peanut plant appears unremarkable at first glance, but unlike most other plants, its flowers bloom above ground, while its fruits (peanuts) develop below ground.

To start, the small yellow flowers grow around the lower portion of the plant, and only last for about a day. After self-pollination, the flowers lose their petals, as the fertilized ovaries in the center of the flowers begin to enlarge.

The plant’s pedicels — stalks connecting to the ovaries — curve downward, pointing the budding ovaries toward the ground. Cells at the base of the ovaries divide and eventually form shootlike “pegs.” The pegs, with the new peanut embryos at their tips, extend into the ground.

Now embedded in the ground, the pegs turn horizontal (parallel to the soil surface) and mature. The tip of the peg takes in water and nutrients, and swells to form a single, wrinkled shell that contains two to four peanuts.

Over its lifetime, the peanut plant will produce about 40 peanut pods before dying.

Follow Joseph Castro on Twitter. Follow us @livescience, Facebook & Google+.

How Peanuts Grow

Unlike most plants, the peanut plant flowers above the ground, but fruits below ground.

  • From planting to harvesting, the growing cycle of a peanut takes 4 to 5 months, depending on the type and variety.
  • Sustainability of resources, communities and family are top priorities for USA peanut farmers.
  • Learn about how peanuts grow and go from the farm to your pantry in our Journey of a Peanut Butter Jar series.

Many people are surprised to learn that peanuts grow beneath the soil and do not grow on trees like pecans or walnuts. Below you’ll discover how peanuts grow, from preparing the soil for planting to the peanut harvesting process.

First, Farmers Plant the Seeds.

Across the USA Peanut Belt, peanuts are planted after the last frost in April through May, when soil temperatures reach 65°—70°F. Farmers plant specially grown peanut kernels from the previous year’s crop about two inches deep, approximately one to two inches apart in rows. Pre-planting tillage ensures a rich, well-prepared seedbed. For a good crop, 140 to 150 frost-free days are required.

Seedlings Crack the Soil

Peanut seedlings rise out of the soil about 10 days after planting. They grow into a green oval-leafed plant about 18 inches tall. Unlike most plants, the peanut plant flowers above the ground, but fruits below ground.

Flowers Appear

Yellow flowers emerge around the lower portion of the plant about 40 days after planting. When the flowers pollinate themselves, the petals fall off as the peanut ovary begins to form.

“Pegging” is a Unique Feature.

This budding ovary is called a “peg.” The peg enlarges and grows down and away from the plant forming a small stem which extends to the soil. The peanut embryo is in the tip of the peg, which penetrates the soil. The embryo turns horizontal to the soil surface and begins to mature taking the form of a peanut. The plant continues to grow and flower, eventually producing some 40 or more pods. From planting to harvesting, the growing cycle of a peanut takes four to five months, depending on the type and variety.

Farmers Harvest 140 to 150 Days After Planting.

When the plant has matured and the peanuts are ready for harvest, the farmer waits until the soil is not too wet or too dry before digging. When conditions are right, he or she drives a digger up and down the green rows of peanut plants. The digger pulls up the plant, gently shakes off any lingering soil, rotates the plant and lays it back down in a “windrow”—with peanuts up and leaves down.

Combining is the Last Step.

Peanuts contain 25 to 50 percent moisture when first dug and are dried to 10 percent or less so they can be stored. They are usually left in windrows for two or three days to cure, or dry, before the next step. (Read more about the history of peanut harvesting.)

After drying in the field, a combine separates the peanuts from the vines, placing the peanuts into a hopper on the top of the machine and depositing the vines back in the field. Peanut vines can be left in the field to nourish the soil or be used as nutritious livestock feed. Freshly combined peanuts are then placed into peanut wagons for further curing with forced warm air circulating through the wagon.

Peanuts Require Less Water than Other Nuts.

Peanut plants need 1.5 to 2 inches of water per week during kernel development; however, it takes just five gallons of water to produce an ounce of peanuts, compared to 80 gallons for an ounce of almonds. If rain does not meet those needs, farmers will irrigate the fields. The peanut is a nitrogen-fixing plant; its roots form modules which absorb nitrogen from the air and provide enrichment and nutrition to the plant and soil.

Learn more about the characteristics of peanuts that make them such a sustainable crop:

For resources for teachers, educators and caregivers, Discover the Powerful Peanut activity cards.

To learn more about the farm to table process for peanuts and peanut butter, view the Journey of a Peanut Butter Jar.

In the garden…

Peanuts are a great addition to a home garden since they require minimal care and provide bountiful yields. If you’re looking to try something new in your garden this year, maybe it’s time to take a closer look at the potential of peanuts.

Home-grown peanuts offer lots of possibilities in the kitchen. Talk about peanut gallery! They can be roasted in their shells, ground into peanut butter or boiled for a traditional down-home Southern snack.

Carwile’s Virginia, an heirloom peanut variety introduced by Southern Exposure. The plants have great drought resistance.

When you are selecting peanut seeds for planting, it’s helpful to keep in mind that there are four main types of peanuts. Virginia peanuts have the largest seeds, and are usually roasted in the shell and have a more gourmet quality. Runner peanuts typically have a uniform size and are the preferred choice for grinding into peanut butter. Spanish peanuts have the smallest seeds, and are used for mixed nut snacks. They also have the highest oil content. Valencia peanuts are known for being the sweetest and for having attractive, bright red skin.

If you purchase a peanut seed package from us, you’ll notice that we ship peanuts still in their shells to ensure seed protection and preservation. Before you plant your peanuts, they will need to be shelled. Be careful not to damage the seeds while cracking them open.

Peanuts generally need a long growing season and relatively sandy soil, although Tennessee Red Valencia peanut can grow in clay soil. However, if you add enough organic matter by hilling or planting in raised beds, most peanut plants will be able to grow in clay soil.

Selecting peanut seeds for planting is easy once you figure out what works best with your garden conditions. Growing peanuts requires 130-140 frost-free days from the time they are sown until harvest time. If your growing season falls just short of this time window, it’s possible to start growing your peanuts indoors or in a greenhouse until the danger of frost passes and then transplant them outside.

A peanut plant in flower. From here on the plant needs steady water.

Plant peanuts one to two inches deep and about six inches apart. Next, add a thick layer of compost and a layer of mulch.

Be aware–peanuts need shallow weeding. You could damage them by digging too deeply into the ground where they are are developing. When the plant begins to flower, pegs will drop into the ground under the flower and produce peanuts. Hand-weeding is the only option after the peanut pegs.

Also, after your plants start flowering, it’s important not to let them dry out or they won’t produce as many of the mouth-watering legumes you’ve been waiting for.

Once frost is in the forecast or the plant stems begin to turn yellow, it’s time to harvest. Try not to harvest while the soil is wet, and don’t wait too long to harvest your peanuts–they’ll start sprouting in the ground if left unattended! Dig around the perimeter of where the plant’s leaves have sprawled. Lift the plant out of the ground and flip it, so that the leaves are on the ground. If rain is in the forecast, bring your plants into a shed or garage.

Dried peanuts (left); freshly harvested peanut plants (right).

A couple days later, it will be time to pull the peanuts off the plant. Most of them will be in a clump at the center of the roots, but some will also be attached to the lower branches. A well-grown peanut plant can yield 50 -100 peanuts–more than enough for your next ball game outing! Spread the peanuts out to dry for a month where critters won’t be able to get to them, then store them in a closed container. Peanuts left in their shells can stay fresh for years.

In the kitchen…

Home-grown peanuts are fun and simple to use in your kitchen and offer some great snack options. You can roast them, grind them into a fresh peanut butter or boil the raw, green peanuts.

Roasting peanuts is easy as pie…or, shall I say, peanut brittle! Simply spreading your peanuts on a cookie sheet and bake them at 350 degrees for 20-25 minutes, stirring occasionally to make sure they roast evenly. You can add a sprinkle of salt over them if you wish. Yum!

Roasted peanutsHome-grown peanuts turn into home-made peanut butter!

To make peanut butter, mix two cups of roasted peanuts with two teaspoons of vegetable or peanut oil. “Chop” this mixture in your food processor for three or four minutes.

Feel free to add honey to taste, or toss in some of lightly chopped peanuts for a chunky texture.

To make boiled peanuts the good ole Southern way, you’ll need one pound of freshly-dug (green) peanuts still in their shell, four cups of water, and one quarter cup of salt.

Combine the salt, water, and peanuts in a thick-bottomed pot. Bring to a boil and cover. Simmer the peanuts and saltwater for at least three hours. For added flavor, you could throw in a dash of paprika or your favorite spice blend.

Boiled peanuts

The longer the peanuts boil, the tastier they will be. Be sure to eat your boiled peanuts within a few days–they don’t last as long as roasted or raw peanuts. But you probably won’t need me to remind you to eat up. Your taste buds should do the job just fine!

Contrary to popular belief, the peanut is not a nut. It’s actually a vegetable belonging to the legume family, which includes peas and beans. These tropical natives of South America require about 120 days to mature, but fortunately the peanut plant can withstand light spring and fall frosts. Jumbo Virginia is a productive variety for home gardens.

Although the peanut plant is generally considered a Southern crop, Northern gardeners can also grow them successfully if they choose early cultivars such as Early Spanish and start plants indoors.

Planting Peanuts

kyoshino/getty

Peanuts need full sun. If you have heavy soil, ensure good drainage by working in enough organic matter to make it loose and friable.

Peanut seeds come in their shells and can be planted hulled or unhulled. If you do shell them, don’t remove the thin, pinkish-brown seed coverings, or the seed won’t germinate.

Northern growers should start a peanut plant indoors in a large peat pot a month before the last frost. Sow seeds one inch deep, place in the sunniest spot possible, and water weekly. Transplant peanut plant seedlings to the garden when the soil warms to between 60 and 70 degrees. Space transplants 10 inches apart, being careful not to damage or bury the crown.

In the South, plant outdoors around the date of the last expected frost. Space seeds 2 inches deep and 5 inches apart in rows 2 to 3 feet apart. Firm the soil and water well. Thin plants to 10 inches apart.

Growing Peanut Plants

hudiemmGetty Images

When a peanut plant is about a foot tall, hill the earth around the base of the peanut plant. Long, pointed pegs (also called peduncles) grow from faded flowers and then push 1 to 3 inches down into the soil beside the plant. A peanut will form on the end of each peg. Lay down a light mulch, such as straw or grass clippings, to prevent the soil surface from crusting so that the pegs will have no difficulty penetrating the soil.

One inch of water a week is plenty a peanut plant. Being legumes, peanuts supply their own nitrogen, so avoid nitrogen-rich fertilizers, which encourage foliage rather than fruits. Well-prepared soil will provide all the nutrients the plants need.

wilaiwanphoto/getty

The crop is ready to harvest when leaves turn yellow and the peanuts’ inner shells have gold-marked veins, which you can check periodically by pulling out a few nuts from the soil and shelling them. If you wait too long, the pegs will become brittle and the pods will break off in the ground, making harvesting more difficult.

Pull or dig the plants and roots when the soil is moist. Shake off the excess soil, and let plants dry in an airy place until the leaves become crumbly; then remove the pods. Unshelled peanuts, stored in airtight containers, can keep for up to a year.

How to Grow Peanuts in Short Seasons

peanuts Oct 25, 2018

My childhood experience of growing peanuts once — and harvesting seven peanuts — convinced me for two decades that growing peanuts in short seasons was extravagantly futile.

Yet seeds, again and again, show me that our imagination is the limit, that regional adaptation is the language of resilience, that we can grow so much more than we think possible.

When we started Fruition Seeds, Matthew and I were gifted a small bag of ‘Northern Hardy Valencia’ peanuts from a family on the Upper Peninsula of Michigan who had selected them for over two decades.

Skeptical as I was, they thrived against many odds, including cold, close spacing and a family of groundhogs.

If you garden in short seasons, as we do, regional adaptation makes a difference with any seed. This is especially true crops that need more heat, like watermelon, peppers, peanuts. We are delighted to share such seeds, and such joy, with you.

Growing Peanuts

If you can grow bush beans, you can grow peanuts. They’re sown at the same time and similar spacing. Unlike beans, which are harvested in summer, peanuts are harvested after first frost. All summer long they produce darling little orange flowers which send down purple pegs, or peduncles, which form peanuts underground when they reach the soil. They’ll continue to mature more and more peduncles and peanuts until the first frost finally freezes the leaves. Here is another video from a few years back, sharing a few other tips!

Peanuts have purple peduncles that drop to the ground, from the pollinated flower, to form each peanut underground.

When to Harvest Peanuts

Peanut plants will continue to mature peanuts underground until the first frost, when the plants finally die. And Friends, it’s important to harvest them right away. In our cold, wet fall soils, peanuts are susceptible to rot, especially as their leaves die back. We harvest as quickly as possible, the next day after frost if we can manage it, though if the ground is too wet we’re careful to stay out of the garden. Anytime within that first week after frost is still optimal.

Harvest peanuts as quick as you can after frost, ideally within one week of the freeze.

How to Harvest Peanuts

“How did your potatoes turn out?”

“They didn’t turn out at all, I had to dig them out…!”

And the same is true for your peanuts. Before you yank their stalks from the soil, reach for your digging fork. Digging forks are better at loosening soil than shovels, but if a shovel is all you’ve got, great. No matter the implement, be sure you’re giving your peanuts a wide berth. With your digging fork going straight down, not angled, loosen the soil in a ten-inch radius around the base of each plant, ensuring you’re loosening soil without puncturing or severing any of your precious peanuts. Once the soil is thoroughly loosened around its base, pull the peanut up, holding each of its stalks (there are often four or more). You’ll likely pull quite a lot of soil up with your peanuts; gently knock as much as you easily can, leaving it right in your garden.

Shake off as much soil as you can, leaving it in your garden to grow more abundance.

How Many Peanuts?

In our coldest year on record here in the Finger Lakes, 2013, our Northern-Hardy Valencias averaged 21 peanuts per plant. In the warmest year on record, 2016, they averaged 42 per plant! Most years we harvest well above 30 peanuts per plant. Our Schronce’s Black peanut, below, matures nearly 30 peanuts per plant, as well.

‘Schronce’s Black’ is another short season peanut, not quite as prolific as Northern Hardy Valencia, nonetheless averaging nearly thirty peanuts per plant.

Eating Peanuts

Here is what you need to know about peanuts: they are essentially dry beans, so they take quite of bit of time to cook. That being said, freshly dug ‘green’ peanuts take less time, about 34-40 minutes boiled or roasted, compared to fully cured, dry peanuts, which often take hours to soften.

My favorite way to savor our peanuts, I confess, is freshly dug and promptly boiled. I spent the first four years of my life in Kentucky and I think boiled peanuts are SO fun, not to mention delicious! My two go-to recipes are cooked for 24 hours in a crockpot. The first is a spicy, salty beer broth, the second is a chicken curry broth. I love to cook them til they melt in my mouth, though some people prefer to cook them al dente.

They are also marvelous roasted. To roast, toss them in abundant oil and plenty of salt, spreading them in a single layer on a baking pan. Tuck them in a 350 F oven for 35-40 minutes, turning them halfway through.

Note! Valencia types have less oil than Spanish peanuts, so they don’t make as satisfying a butter. By all means, make your own peanut butter! I find it’s thicker and less creamy with Valencias. I would love to know how you prepare your peanuts, Friends. Do share!

Peanut skins are pastel when they’re fresh, turning darker red or black as they cure.

Curing Peanuts

If you don’t plan on eating your freshly dug peanuts within ten days, cure them right after harvest. To cure, pluck each peanut off the stalk and dry them on screens in a warm, dry place with abundant airflow. We cure them in our greenhouse with additional fans blowing above and below. The faster they dry down, the better they’ll store. Your peanuts are dry when you crack open their shell and the peanuts inside are rock-solid with dark red or black skins. As they dry, any remaining soil will turn to dust and fall off. Store them in their shell, a rodent-proof, airtight container in a consistently cool, dry and dark place. For the deep dive on seed storage, enjoy our Secrets of Storing Seeds.

Who Else Eats Peanuts?

One final thought! Though it’s never happened to me, I’ve heard of an occasional marauder harvesting peanuts prematurely. Specifically, my friend Roger B. Swain, the host of the Victory Garden on PBS, has grown peanuts several times only to find he’s fed his resident chipmunks.

Our first year growing lots of peanuts, in September 2013, a groundhog moved into the garden bed they were growing in. I was convinced we would be lucky to harvest seven peanuts! Much to my surprise, not a single peanut seemed to be touched. My hypothesis is this: peanuts, like dry beans, are full of protein, yes. But it’s crude protein, very difficult for mammals to digest without cooking. Just as our dry beans are left in the pod, not apparently of interest to our resident fauna, the same seems to be true of our peanuts. May it be true for you!

Sow Seeds & Sing Songs,

Stay connected with news and updates!

Join our mailing list to receive the latest news and updates from Fruition Seeds.
Don’t worry, your information will not be shared.

Subscribe

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *