peanuts

Wild Ain’t Always Pretty

As an organic gardener, I employ the art of crop rotation in my garden. Basically, after harvesting a bed of glorious bounty, I till the soil and follow the crop with something that is amenable to improving the soil, or at least not depleting it any more than it already has been. For example, after harvesting my corn, I follow with beans in my simple easy-to-follow rotation mantra beans-leaves-roots-and-fruits. (Makes for an easy singalong with kids.) Beans-leaves-roots and fruits! Beans-leaves-roots and fruits!

You get the picture. However, sometimes during my rotation process after my husband mows down my garden with his handy dandy tractor attachment and I amend the soil with my lovely compost, I find some leftovers. Hangers-on. Hold-outs. Call them what you will, but my peanut row–the one that followed my corn–is inundated with clumps of corn and squash.

While they do make decidedly nice companions, this scene ain’t pretty. Definitely not pretty. Now mind you, I prefer productive over pretty, but I’m not sensing these corn are going to be very productive. Too much, too close. Ordinarily I’d pull the unwanted plants from my bed, but this time, I’ve decided to watch and wait, and see what happens. Never know–maybe I’ll get some squash out of the deal! (You probably can’t see them, but there’s squash and that row, too.)

And yes, those are weeds you see all around. But I’ve been out of town for a bit over the last two weeks and weeds are an unwanted consequence. I find it much easier to convince my son to water my plants while I’m gone than to weed them. **sigh** It ain’t pretty, but so long as I can reap the bounty of some fabulous peanuts this summer, it will all be worth it. I’ll keep you posted!

Broccoli Babes

As my peanuts finish out for the season, it’s time to introduce a new crop. To best utilize my garden space, I interplant based on crop rotation rules. Crop rotation is an organic gardening practice where you change the placement of your plants from season to season. Doing so improves the structure and quality of your soil as well as minimizes the risk of disease and pest infestation. I use a rotation of beans-leaves-roots-fruits. Basically, this means that after my “beans” have produced, I plant “leaves.” In this case, beans = peanuts and leaves = broccoli. Peanuts fix nitrogen into the soil and broccoli requires lots of nitrogen to produce big green leaves so this rotation makes good sense.

baby-broccoli-and-mature-peanuts

In between the broccoli sprouts will be spinach. Both love nitrogen and are good companions in the garden. Other crop rotation considerations are how my tomatoes followed peanuts from earlier this season, corn followed my bush beans. These peanuts (shown above) actually followed okra, although I normally try to follow a fruit group, say tomatoes, squash or peppers.

my-fall-garden-2016

Above is my fall garden to date (just prior to the insertion of my tomato stakes and cables). Blueberry bushes are located in the farthest row. Black beans are in the ground next to them. Then there’s my corn, lettuce, tomatoes, peppers, peanuts, broccoli and spinach. Still to come this season are sweet onions and carrots, cabbage and chard. Potatoes will go in around January. Can’t wait!

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.

Football Means Peanuts!

Football season has kicked off and that means boiled peanuts! South of the Mason-Dixon line, anyway. Down here you can’t go to a football game or tailgate party without your Styrofoam cup of steaming peanuts. Just isn’t done.

Now as nature would have it, your peanuts are ready to be pulled from the ground right about now. A few eager beavers might have already done so, but for the bulk of us—now’s the time. Your blooms have gone, your pegs have dropped and your leaves have yellowed.

peanuts pulled from the ground

To harvest, you’ll want to lightly dig down around one of your plants to check their progress. Using a fork, gently lift the pegs from the dirt.  A ripe peanut will feel firm, its outer shell somewhat dry and “papery.”   More

Cure For Critters

Remember those pesky critters that stole my peanuts as soon as I planted them? I’ve figured out how to prevent them from doing so again. Bird netting supported by wire hoops.

Brussels beneath netting

Wire can be purchased at your local hardware or big box store–I used 9 gauge–and cut to shape with a pair of wire clippers. Length will depend on the size of your beds, but basically you’re looking to form hoops over your rows. Be sure to allow enough space for your plants to grow beneath the bird netting and accommodate your sprinkler system. The wire is flexible and bends easily.

Next up, you’ll need bird netting. It’s sold in rolls and can be found at hardware/big box stores, too. Originally I used my bird netting for my blueberry plants, but now that they’ve bloomed and been harvested, I can use it for the vegetable garden. Wunderbar!! More

Time to Plant Peanuts

Peanuts are easy and fun.  Not only do they mature through the summer season, they take their time doing so–while YOU go on vacation!  Simply plant these gems Yep, plant in May and check back in August/September to reap your bounty!

Okay, just kidding.  You don’t want to leave anything alone that long–except maybe your laundry chores–because who knows what could pay your garden a visit in the meantime? And I’m not kidding. I planted my peanuts last weekend only to stroll along the beds during the week to discover this.

peanut debris

I did not remove those sprouts from the dirt. Some friendly “visitor” did. Not sure if it’s a squirrel or raccoon, but whoever it was likes peanuts but not the sprouts. I’m leaning toward the “bad boy” squirrel and his pals. Not happy with those varmints.

critter peanut thief

Other than theft, peanuts are easy and trouble-free. Not prone to insects or disease, they are pretty tolerant and gardening with me–plants need to be tough.  I vacation!  I write!  I have other things to do!  (Don’t we all?) More

Summertime in the Garden

Summer is not the time to be gardening. Not in Florida, anyway. It’s the time for vacations with the kids, days at the beach, the lake, a friend’s house. Summer is too hot for gardening in Florida. Pretty much too hot for anything but water fun! However, I’m a year-round gardener which means there’s ALWAYS something growing in my backyard. And I’m not talking grass, I’m talking edible. :=)

Sweet potatoes love the warm weather and grow all summer long to deliver a bounty of golden goodness come fall. These babies are sprawling into the beds on either side where I have dutifully made room for them.

sweet potatoes in bloom Okra is another plant that loves it sunny and hot and as you know, this year I’m playing around with a new variety! Red Okra, of the “Billy Bob” variety (the name still makes me smile.

 red okra

My Valencia peanuts are thriving, burrowing away so that we may have peanuts to boil come football season. You have tried my Southern Boiled Peanuts recipe, haven’t you? More

Peantus Dropping Pegs

As your peanut plants grow, it’s a good practice to till the soil around them. Once they blossom, the petals will fall off and the plant will drop “pegs” down into the loose soil around the plant–key word: LOOSE. The peg is a narrow root like branch that makes up the flower stem and peanut embryo. Once it buries itself in the soil, the new peanuts will form.

add compost to peanut plants

But if the soil is too compacted–as is the case with ours due to recent heavy rains–you’ll want to lightly till around your plants. Peanuts grow underground and the softer the soil, the more easily they’ll grow. And you want to make it easy for them to grow, don’t you?

peanuts like soft soil

Of  course you do! I also amended my peanut bed with compost to ensure they receive adequate nourishment throughout their growing season. We’ll talk more about that when the time comes. (The plants above are showing the first signs of yellow blooms which means the pegs won’t be far behind!) About two months after your peanut plants have bloomed, check for peanuts.

Happy Gardening!

Summer Peanuts and Sweet Potatoes

With the school year winding down, the kids have harvested and cleared their black eye peas and black beans, then tilled the area to soft perfection. 

Harvested the green peppers and remaining cucumbers.

Yanked out the scallions and carrots, too.  (Something they’ve been aching to do.) 

Can you blame them?  Those carrot cupcakes were delicious and will make the perfect accompaniment to their year-end picnic party!  Found this exciting fellow in the bunch, though we’re not exactly sure what happened. Freak of nature? 

Hit an underlying root and split growing direction? As promised, the kids planted their sweet potato slips and gave them a good start in hopes of a fall harvest.  These sweets take a while, 100-120 days at least.  I say at least, because I’ve learned if I allow them to grow longer (forget they were in the ground), they can reach impressive sizes.

And because we are avid gardeners and will only be away from our garden for a few months, we decided to add peanuts to the mix!  They’ll make great snacks at school…

And with 4-5 nuts per shell, we did the math and realized whoa–we’re going to reap a lot of peanuts upon our return!  You will, so long as your tilling was deep and thorough. 

As a reward, we celebrated with cucumber soup made from their very own cucumbers, onions a few leaves from my homegrown stevia plant. 

Man, life is good!  Check the recipe section for full details.