The Peanut – A Little History and Some Growing Instructions
Peanuts are native to the Amazon Basin area of South America and have been a staple of the diet of the South Americans for thousands of years. As long as people have been making pottery in South America, pots shaped like peanuts have been created and decorated with peanut images. Graves of ancient Incans found along the dry west coast of South America have contained jars filled with peanuts for the dead. In the 15 th century, Portuguese explorers brought the peanut to Europe, India and China. The Spanish introduced the peanut into Africa where is quickly became popular. The Africans brought the peanut to America by way of the slave ships. The slang expression for peanut, goober, actually is derived from the Congoese word for peanut, nguba. The peanut was considered essential food on the slave ships.
In the 1700s peanuts were called groundnuts or groundpeas and were cultivated as an excellent food for pigs. By the 1800s peanuts were grown commercially and used for food, oil and as a substitute for cocoa. Peanuts experienced a surge in popularity during the Civil War when both Northern and Southern soldiers depended upon peanuts as a food source.
Peanuts require a long growing season, 110 to 160 days. Peanut crops must be rotated yearly and should not be grown in the same spot year after year. The plants need a well-drained, sandy loam soil that is at least 18 inches deep. Soil should be fertilized with 0-10-20 fertilizer before planting time, only if the soil has not been fertilized in the past year. They also need consistent moisture throughout their growing season. Peanuts can be grown in their shells or out as long as their redskins are kept in tact. Peanuts grown intheir shells will take longer to germinate. Seeds should be soaked for 24-36 hours before planting. When the soil temperature has reached 65 degrees and there is no danger of frost, seeds should be planted 2 inches deep, 4 inches apart, in rows 24-30 inches apart. Thin seedlings to 8 inches apart.
When blossoms appear, sprinkle a ring of gypsum around each plant. It is essential to treat each plant with gypsum, because this aids in the formation of the peanut kernels. As the peanut plant develops, yellow blossoms appear, and as these blossoms wilt, a peg forms. Gravity pulls the peg down and into the soil where the peanut pod forms.
Peanut plants produce 25-50 peanuts. Pods do not ripen evenly, so the object is to harvest when the greatest number of pods have matured. The peanut is ripe when the veins on the hull are prominent. At harvest time, pull one plant to determine ripeness. When 2/3 of the pods are ripe on a plant it is time to harvest. Dig the plants and shake the dirt from the roots and pods. Allow the plants to cure for 4-7 days in full sun. Once cured, the peanuts are ready.