Did you know that peanuts aren’t actually a nut? Instead, they’re a part of the legume family, just like peas and beans. This means that, just like other legumes, they’re also easy to grow in most climates. Plant them towards the end of spring and you could be snacking on some homegrown peanuts in just four months time!
Growing Peanuts: A Quick Snapshot
When to Sow – Mar-Jun
When to Plant – May-Jul
When to Harvest – Aug-Oct
Average Yield per Plant – 25-50g
Spacing – 20-30cm
Depth – 5cm
How to Grow Peanuts at Home
Although many may eat them in large quantities, few gardeners consider growing their own peanuts. While it’s true that peanuts, which are native to Brazil, may be a warm-weather crop, choose a fast-growing variety and your plants will only need 120 frost-free days to produce a full crop. 25-50 nuts per plant is the average that a new peanut grower can expect to harvest, but high-yielding varieties that are given the right growing conditions have the potential to produce up to 200 peanuts each.
Growing Requirements for Peanuts
Peanuts need full sun to produce a substantial crop. Position your plants in a site that receives at least eight hours of full sun a day. The only exception to this is if you live in a very hot climate – temperatures above 35°C could damage your peanut flowers, therefore inhibiting the formation of pods.
Aim for a loose and well-drained soil mix. A sandy loam is ideal – once peanut flowers have finished blooming, the flowers produce long pegs. The stems then bend over and the pegs bury themselves in the ground, where they then produce pods containing peanuts. This means that your soil needs to be light enough for the pegs to make their way through.
How to Grow Peanuts from Seed
Peanut seeds are basically raw peanuts. You can either sow them in their shell, or break this open while leaving its papery skin intact. While peanuts can be direct sown outdoors in warmer climates (or if you’re growing them in a greenhouse), those who live in cooler regions would be best off starting their seeds indoors, before transplanting their seedlings outside once temperatures rise in early summer.
Water the compost well, ensuring that excess water is able to drain out from the bottom
Sow one peanut into each pot, about 5cm deep
Water lightly again, and then place your pots somewhere warm. Peanut seeds won’t germinate in temperatures lower than 18°C, making a heated propagator useful for giving your seeds consistent heat
It will take between five to ten days for your peanut seeds to germinate. Once they do, move them to somewhere that receives plenty of light, and keep them well watered. Aim to plant them out in about one month, since this is when they’ll start to produce flowers.
How to Direct Sow Peanut Seeds:
Prepare your growing area by thoroughly weeding it. You may also need to add some sand to your soil to loosen it up
Create furrows in the ground that are about 5cm deep. Space each row at least 30cm apart. Many gardeners often plant peanuts in double rows to save space. While this works well, you’ll need to stagger your seeds when sowing, so that you don’t have two seeds directly next to each other
Sow your peanut seeds about 20cm apart (double this if you’ve gone for double rows)
Cover your seeds back over with soil and then water well
How to Plant Peanuts Outside
Once you’ve had your last spring frost, your indoor-sown peanuts can be planted outside. Ideally, choose a warm day, so that their roots can establish faster.
Planting them out is easy – just dig holes that are slightly wider than their current root ball. Don’t go too deep, as you don’t want to end up accidentally burying the crown of the plant. Once you’ve placed your seedlings into their new homes, cover the roots over with soil and gently firm down.
Water your seedlings well after planting them out.
How to Plant Peanuts in a Greenhouse
Peanuts thrive in the warmth, so this is a crop that does very well in a greenhouse. You can expect to see faster growth and higher yields, thanks to the extra protection and heat that a greenhouse provides.
Follow the same planting methods as when planting peanuts outside.
Alternatively, consider growing your peanuts in pots instead. This way, you can start them off earlier in the warmth of your greenhouse, before moving them outside when the weather heats up, without disturbing any roots. You’ll need quite a large container – 45cm in width and depth should suffice. If possible, choose black containers, as these will give the roots some extra warmth.
How to Care for Peanuts
If you’ve given your peanuts good conditions to grow in, then they’ll be surprisingly low-maintenance crops. That said, there are still a few tasks that you’ll need to do to ensure a healthy harvest:
Your peanut plants will need about 2.5cm of water a week. Unlike most of the other vegetable crops in your garden, peanuts don’t do well with deep waterings. Instead, water them little and often.
Just like other members of the legume family, peanuts are nitrogen fixers. This means that they’re able to pull up nitrogen from deep within the soil.
For this reason, use a 5-10-10 fertiliser for your peanuts, as this ratio contains less nitrogen. Give them a feed every few weeks throughout the growing season. However, dilute your fertiliser down to less than the recommended strength, as peanuts are quite sensitive to fertiliser burn. Alternatively, use a slow-release organic fertiliser, such as liquid seaweed, which doesn’t burn plants.
Earthing Up Peanuts
Several sources advise that peanut plants are earthed up once they’re about 30cm tall. However, research suggests that this can actually lead to lower yields. Instead, keep the soil around your plants mulched with something light, such as grass cuttings. This will prevent the surface of the soil from crusting over, allowing the plant’s pegs to easily make their way into the ground.
How to Harvest Peanuts
Although peanut plants can tolerate a light frost, try to harvest them before the first autumn frost arrives.
Once the leaves on your plants have turned yellow, pull a few pods out from the soil and shell them. Take a look at the inside of the shell – if you can see gold-coloured veins criss-crossing their way around, then your peanuts are ready for picking.
To harvest your peanuts, dig or pull the entire plants out. Shake off any excess soil from the roots, and then place them somewhere dry and well-ventilated. Leave them there until the foliage starts to turn crumbly. At this stage, you can then remove all of the pods from the plant.
How to Store Peanuts
Peanuts are an easy crop to store long-term. Since you’ve left the pods to dry, you can simply place the peanuts, still in their shells, into an air-tight container. Keep them somewhere cool and they’ll store for up to one year – just in time for your next peanut harvest!
How to Prepare & Cook Peanuts
There are numerous ways out there to shell peanuts. However, if you’re attempting to do a large quantity, one of the easiest methods is to spread them out on a baking sheet and place them into a preheated oven for just five minutes. After this, rub the peanuts in your hands, or against each other, and the pods and skins should easily come away.
While peanuts can be eaten raw, make sure that they’ve been properly dried before you do so. If not, they could be hosting a carcinogenic mould that cannot be seen with the naked eye.
If you don’t want to take the risk, then cook your peanuts before eating them. A few tasty preparation methods include:
Caramelised peanuts with sea salt
African-inspired peanut soup
Common Peanut Problems
There aren’t too many serious problems that peanut growers encounter. In terms of pests, rodents are the main issue, but everything else tends to leave the plants alone. When it comes to diseases, there are a couple to keep an eye out for:
Leaf spot – this fungal disease spreads in warm and humid conditions, which is what you need for your peanut plants to thrive. You’ll notice dark spots appearing on the foliage, and these will quickly expand in size. An organic sulfur or copper spray should help to clear the disease away
Powdery mildew – another fungal disease that favours damp and humid areas, powdery mildew shows up as a powdery white substance on leaf surfaces. A baking soda spray is an effective way to remove this, but you should also try to improve air circulation around your plants to prevent the disease from returning
Popular Peanut Varieties to Grow
Some of the easiest and tastiest peanut varieties to grow are:
Justpink – this is one of the highest-yielding varieties, producing an impressive 200 nuts per plant, each one a beautiful shade of pink
Valencia A – a cold-hardy, fast-maturing variety that’s ready to be harvested in just 100 days
NC6 – better suited to warm climates as it needs 150 days to mature. This variety is loved for its jumbo-sized nuts
If you enjoy eating peanuts yet have never tried to grow them before, it’s time for that to change. Even in colder climates, gardeners are able to produce impressive peanut yields, with these plants being so easy to care for. Dry and store your harvest correctly and you should be able to grow enough peanuts to satisfy your cravings until the following year.
Alina Jumabhoy has spent several years learning about, and experimenting with, different organic growing techniques at various gardens and farms around the country. Fuelled by her quest for self-sufficiency, she’s now putting that information to good use on her own rural farm.