How To Grow Peanuts

These are the gems of the South, sold in stores green and ready for boiling. Wonderful for roasting, making homemade peanut butter, this is the garden crop for kids.

oven-baked "roasted" peanuts

And peanuts are easy to grow. Really, while you’re on summer vacation, these guys will be basking in the sunshine. Peanuts like it warm and are light feeders, however they do like their calcium. Be sure to supplement, say, tossing in a few crumbled eggshells at time of planting. You’re peanuts will be happy. And because they grow underground, be sure your soil is light and fluff–soft beds are always best!

add compost to peanut plants

After the last frost, plant your peanuts in the ground, about 3-4″ deep. Amend the soil with a bit of compost or composted manure, just to give them a good start. Note of caution here, if you live where the crows and critters are prevalent, consider covering your bed of peanuts with a screen material, securing it over them.

peanut debris

This will prevent the marauders from stealing your buried peanuts and sprouts.  They will. I’ve seen them. The evidence is shown above. Once your plants grow to be about 4-6″ you can remove the screen. They’re safe now.

peanut flower blossom

Water heavily until your peanuts set their pegs.  Pegs are the spindly “legs” you’ll see dropping from your peanut plant after the appearance of beautiful yellow flowers. The peg is actually the flower’s stem and peanut embryo. It will bend toward the soil and bury itself. When it does, help out by mulching around the plants with hay/straw.

row of peanuts

To harvest, check for peanuts about two months after the appearance of blooms. Similar to potatoes, you must poke around the soil GENTLY as you search for ripe peanuts. They are delicate at this stage, their outer skin papery and thin. Think about the skin of a newborn baby. VERY soft and delicate until it becomes accustomed to the air and sun. Same thing. If you find your peanuts are of nice size, ease the entire plant from the soil and shake excess dirt.

peanut roots

Lay out in the sun for several days, preferably on a screen or something similar to keep it off the ground. This will toughen the skin. Next up, separate the peanuts from the plants and place in a warm, dry spot for a few weeks. This will cure them and prepare them for storage. If kept in an air-tight container, your peanuts will last for months. These are the same peanuts you can plant next season. Or, better yet, use them right away for boiling. Using fresh green peanuts cuts boiling time, considerably.

boil stove top

If you’ve never had a boiled peanut, try one. They really are worth the exercise, then start a batch of your own using the recipe found here on my blog. Southern Boiled Peanuts are divine!

Problems: Other than the previously mentioned crows and critters, peanuts don’t have a lot of trouble growing. Crickets and grasshoppers seem to prefer other vegetables in my garden over peanuts. Occasionally, your peanuts will get spots on their leaves, maybe a fungus of some kind, but in my experience, the damage is minimal. However, if they suffer extremely moist conditions, they can develop a fungus known as aspergillus which in turn produces a toxin known as aflatoxin. Boiling can eliminate this danger, but it might be best to discard of the fungus-peanuts. Your call.

Good Companions: Beets, carrots, corn, cucumber, squash.

Bad Companions: Kohlrabi, onions.

Health Benefits: Except for those plagued by peanut allergies, peanuts are quite healthy. Not only an excellent source of vitamin E, niacin, biotin and folate, peanuts contain resveratrol, the same ingredient found in red grapes that infamously make red wine healthy for the heart! Studies have also found high concentrations of antioxidant polyphenols, and that roasting actually increases the benefit of this antioxidant. Wunderbar! Just remember, they are high in fat, so consume in moderation.

How To Solarize Soil

Now that its summertime and the family and I are consumed with thoughts of frolicking through rolling waves and sparkling pool water, my garden is at rest. July in Central Florida is simply too hot to grow most fruits and vegetables so we gardeners go dormant. Not completely, mind you. Peanuts and peppers thrive in the heat, but most beds have been closed.

But closed doesn’t mean “off-duty.” Quite the opposite. As any savvy gardener knows, work WITH Mother Nature and you will reap plentiful rewards! What are we doing this July?

heavy duty black paper

We’re solarizing our garden. Using heavy black paper, we cover our empty beds and allow the sun to do the work. What work?

Ridding our soil of microscopic varmints. Nematodes, to be precise. The kind that devour plants from beneath the surface. They’re a horrible nuisance in the garden. Absolutely horrible.

However, not one to despair, I vow to rid my garden of every last beast if it’s the last thing I do. I’ve got a fall garden to think about and I WON’T be put off.

So I’m solarizing my garden. I’m covering every last row with heavy black paper and using the power of the Florida sun to cook the beasts out of hiding.  If they want to survive, anyway, they’ll have to “abandon garden” and flee for safer—cooler—soil.  Solarize is the technical term. Basically it means to cover your beds with plastic paper–I’m going with hot black–and leave it in place for six weeks.  The heat gathering beneath the paper will cook the soil and whatever is underground will cease and desist.  Simple, eh?

effective paper weights

I do love simple. Key to remember in this process is to secure the paper. Florida summer means heat but it also means afternoon thunderstorms. Winds pick up and if you haven’t secured your paper in place, Mother Nature will whip it up and away and into shreds. She’ll toss it everywhere but where it was supposed to be. Remember: work WITH Mother Nature, understand her ways, and you can succeed. I used heavy white tile, miscellaneous rebar—whatever is heavy enough to keep the peace (read: the paper in place).

mound of dirt beneath paper

Occasionally one must be wary of other underground pests such as moles. Those babies can move a lot dirt and re-shape your paper. Be vigilant. You will prevail.

Come fall, everyone will be happy. Mother Nature will have cooled off, the varmints will have cleaned out, and my soil will be ready for seeds. Wunderbar!

Perfect Pizza Topping

As a budding Italian (I married into the family), I continually strive to improve my culinary talents with regard to all things Italian. Tomato sauce, gnocchi, homemade pasta, pizza dough… There is an art to creating these dishes and of course, success depends on which Italian is tasting the final results. Never one to shy away from a challenge, I’ll admit that pizza dough is tough one. It’s an endeavor my daughter and I tackled a few years back and the finished product looked good…

pizza!

But it wasn’t my favorite. The red sauce was delicious, the crust only so-so. And if you’ve ever met an Italian, they are VERY particular about the pizza dough they prefer. Everything else is simply sub-par. Hmph.

One recipe we have been working to perfect is our peppers. Mixed with oil and spices, these are wonderful served on a slice of fresh bread or–as I prefer–on pizza.

fill pepper jars to the brim

Normally I grow Hungarian Wax peppers for this purpose, however, lately we’ve expanded our selection to Sunset peppers. They look the same, taste nearly identical and work like a charm when it comes to pizza topping. Now there are some who will turn their nose away at my detour from the classic Hungarian style pepper, but me? I go with what works, what’s available, and what tastes good. I’m easy that way!

And canning peppers is easy. All you do is harvest, rinse, slice and remove seeds, cover with salt overnight to dehydrate the peppers, then rinse and dry the next morning, fill your jars, seal your tops, boil for 15 minutes and allow to cool. Done! For complete instructions, check my recipe page for Hungarian Wax Peppers.

BEWARE Squash Predators

It’s squash season in most gardens and if you ask me, this is one beautiful plant. Planted next to one of their favorite companions–corn–they are quite happy.

school squash and corn

But one must be vigilant, because there are critters out there aiming to devour squash plants and can do so in a matter of days. And the results can be devastating.

IMG_5900

 

For those of you who have never seen a squash bug and wouldn’t know how to spot one if he were crawling along your planter, take a good long gander…

squash bugs

Ugly. Plain and simple.  These bugs are not pretty and they’re ruthless in their attack.  (Apparently summer squash is one of their favorites.)  They also lay eggs.  Check the undersides of your leaves for these telltale signs you might have a problem. More

Hydroponics, Aquaponics, What’s the Difference?

It’s called aquaponics, not to be confused with hydroponics.  Have you ever seen the very cool water white towers dripping with lush green plants? You know, the ones grown without dirt, without fuss?  Well this is one step above hydroponics because not only does it utilize the “fast feed” system of cultivating plants in water, it does so by adding fish poop into the mix.  Huh?

system of pipes

Stay with me.  It was an odd concept for me to grasp, too.  I’m used to digging in dirt, remember?  Aquaponics is actually a combination of aquaculture (raising aquatic animals such as fish) and hydroponics (cultivating plants in water).  It’s the method of growing crops and fish together in a re-circulating system (think: ebb and flow) where the byproducts from the fish are filtered by the plants as vital nutrients, after which the “cleansed” water is returned to the fish.

Basically you set up a simple fish tank (shown above covered with blue blanket due to temps and the fact these fish aren’t fond of bright light), hook it up to plastic plan beds filled with special water retaining gravel and turn the power “on.”  I do love EASY!

According to GrowingPower.org:  “By using gravity as a transport, water is drained from the fish tank into a gravel bed.  Here, beneficial bacteria break down the toxic ammonia in fish waste to Nitrite and then to Nitrogen, a key nutrient for plant development.”  The key here being gravity and/or “raised beds” which equals “no bending!” More

These Dollars I DON’T Need

These are dollar weeds. Also known as hydrocotyle, or pennywort, they’re an incessant nuisance. They grow ferociously in moist, well-watered areas. Like my garden.

dollars everywhere

Basically, they’re lily-pad like leaves attached to vines that grow deep in the soil sprouting leaves every six inches. I spray them with garden safe weed-killer but it only succeeds in killing off the leaves I hit. The vines beneath the surface simply detour, or sprout new leaves. The only way to rid your garden of them is to pull them. UGH. No fun.

tractoring dollar

Or call tractor-man. He’s always helpful when it comes to churning up roots and dirt. More

Saving Garlic

Garden garlic take a long time to grow. You plant in fall, water, feed and weed and reap your bounty in summer. It’s a long haul. Not a particularly tough haul as garlic are pretty easy to grow, but it does require patience. And caution. At least in Florida where the spring/summer temps can reach into the 90’s without blinking.

One year I harvested my garlic only to discover I was harvesting “roasted garlic.” Yep. The sun was so hot, it practically cooked my garden underground! I don’t have any photos to share because I was too distraught to take any.

Blame it on lack of mulch, maybe, but toward the end of the garlic growing season you’re supposed to back off the water allowing the tops to die back allowing the bulbs to finalize development. And it wasn’t like I didn’t have any mulch, I did. Perhaps not enough. For the heat of Florida, that is.

This year? I’m shading the gals with screen.

covered garlic

I back off the water and the screen “backs off” the sun allowing them to finish out the season without baking underground. Perfect!

I’ll keep you posted on my results, but I have a good feeling about this one.

“Three Sisters” in Garden Squabble

Three Sisters refers to the companion planting method early Native Americans utilized when planting corn, squash and beans. Theory holds that the corn provides support for the bean vines to climb, beans fix nitrogen in the soil to feed the corn and squash leaves shade the ground to prevent weeds from spoiling the fun. Great idea, right? I even planted a head of lettuce in the mix!

Three Sisters living together

Ingenious. Plants working in harmony as nature intended. Unfortunately, in my garden the results have not turned out to be so harmonious for all the girls. Beans are climbing…

beans climbing corn

However, they tend to strangle their host sister when her petite corn stalk can no longer support them. Talk about selfish and greedy! More

All Berries But No Leaves?

My blueberry bushes have been producing a bonanza of berries this spring, but I noticed that some plants are missing leaves. The blueberries are on the stems, but no leaves. Weird.

blueberry babes without leaves

Then I saw a question asked in the Southern Living magazine about the same problem and the Grumpy Gardener replied. The response? He said that young blueberry bushes tend to overbear, setting so many berries that the fruit is inferior.

Huh, I thought. Sounds about right. Youngsters can be over-eager at times, that’s for sure. So he advised using pruners to shorten the flowering stems in spring allowing for fewer flowers and bigger, tastier berries in the future.

big beautiful mature blueberries

Now I’ll be admit, I’m conflicted over this piece of advice, because some of those berries from these young bushes tasted perfectly fine to me. And as a HUGE fan of blueberries, I can’t fathom the idea of wanting less berries. Bigger, I like. Fewer, not so much. Hmph. What’s a poor gardener to do?

big bowl of blueberries

Plant more blueberry bushes! That has to increase my odds on getting the best berries from the best bushes, right? Plus, one day they’ll ALL be mature and I’ll be collecting bowl after bowl after bowl of berries. Ah… Life doesn’t get any better!

Low in Iron?

If you’re a vegetarian, the answer might be yes, putting you at risk for anemia, a condition where the body lacks enough healthy red blood cells to carry adequate oxygen to the body’s tissues. Symptoms include feeling tired and weak, rapid heartbeat, difficulty concentrating, dizziness, pale skin, leg cramps. Generally speaking, women are more at risk for anemia than men, but take heart. If you’re lacking a proper amount of iron in your diet, the “absorption factor” might be to blame.

Did you know that eating plant sources for iron are more difficult for the body to absorb than meat? They’re considered nonheme iron and not well-absorbed during the digestion process. One way to increase absorption is by consuming excellent sources of iron — like spinach — with foods rich in vitamin C — like strawberries. Eat these two together and you help your body to increase its absorption of iron up to sixfold. Peppers, cooked tomatoes, papaya, kiwi and citrus fruits are also high in vitamin C.

spinach and strawberries

However, while vitamin C helps the body absorb nonheme iron, eating beans, grains and rice will inhibit the absorption. Which makes me sad, because I normally love the addition of chickpeas to my salad (also high in iron), but not if chickpeas work against my nutrition goals. These sources contain a substance called phytic acid which binds to the iron and prevents absorption. Caffeine and calcium-rich foods can also inhibit the absorption of iron. And to think they want us to eat our fortified cereal (great source of nonheme iron) with milk. Hmph.

Chickpea Salad

Another thing to consider when organizing your meal plan is that heme iron increases the absorption of nonheme iron. Add chicken, beef or salmon to that spinach salad and you’re golden.

roasted corn

Other great sources of iron include oysters, clams, chicken liver, beets (and their greens), soybeans, potatoes, black-eyed peas, artichokes and pumpkin seeds. The list continues, but start here and you’ll be on your way to a healthy level of hemoglobin. And don’t forget to power-boost your absorption with the above tips!