How to Grow Peanuts

Farmer sowing seed of peanut
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Because it takes a lot of peanuts to make a jar of peanut butter, commercial peanuts are grown on hundreds of acres at a time. There's also tremendous value in growing a few peanut plants of your own.

Originally from South America, where they were a prized food for thousands of years, peanuts are globally popular and commonly grown in southern latitudes. In addition to providing a healthy snack, this low-growing plant can enrich your soil with nitrogen. Its rounded, pinnate leaves and fleshy yellow flowers are similar to those of peas or garbanzos. While peanuts are actually not related to tree nuts, they are still full of plant protein, fiber, and healthy fats.

The peanut is not a tuber or root, even though the part we eat develops underground. The flower self-pollinates before dropping its petals and bending its stem to lower the fertilized ovary down to bury itself in the soil, where the peanut develops. The peanut’s leaves are sensitive to light and, like many legumes, close up at night.

Read on to learn exactly how to grow peanuts in your yard or farm. With the right soil conditions, regular watering, and plenty of warm, sunny days, these plants are bound to thrive.

How to Plant Peanuts

Peanuts benefit from a raised bed, and the gardener may prefer this as well, since the plants grow so low to the ground. When planting directly in the ground, a simple furrow makes seeding a row an easy job.

Growing From Seed

Peanuts can be planted in the shell or hulled. The shelled seeds will germinate faster but will only be successful if the red “skin” is intact. Peanuts should be planted at a depth of 1.5 to 2.5 inches, in loose, moderately sandy soil, 18 inches apart, with 24-36 inches between rows. Make a shallow furrow in well-prepared soil, drop in the seeds, cover with soil and pack it down with a hoe, then water thoroughly.

Growing From a Starter

Peanuts are not generally grown from nursery starts, though you can plant them indoors if your growing season provides less than 130 frost-free days. Get them started about five to eight weeks before transplanting them outside once the soil is between 65 and 75 degrees F.

Inoculation

Like many legumes, peanuts benefit from being treated with nitrogen-fixing rhizobium bacteria, which you can purchase online. This can increase yields and help the plants add more vital nitrogen to your soil. After harvest, turn the spent plant material back into the soil to recover nutrients.

Peanut Plant Care

Peanuts require a little vigilance to help them flourish; this includes well-prepared soil, full sunlight, regular moisture, hilling, and possibly some amendments.

Light

Peanuts need full sun, so be sure not to plant them in the shadow of larger plants or allow weeds to shade them. A study on the effects of drought and shade on peanut plants concluded that shade, especially during the stage when pods are being formed, significantly reduces yield.

Soil and Nutrients

Peanuts grow best in slightly sandy soil so the stems can easily plant the ovary. Though they would struggle to work the ovary into clay soil, peanuts can technically grow in any type of soil if you carefully prepare the seedbed so it is loose. Sandy soil also makes it easier to clean the peanuts after harvest.

Check Your Soil Structure

Take a handful of moist soil and compress it, then make a “ribbon” by squeezing it out between your thumb and index finger. Sandy soil will break apart, but if you can make a ribbon of over an inch, it has a lot of clay. One way to loosen the soil is to add compost.

Once the flower has been pollinated, its petals will dry and fall off, and the ovary will swell. At this time, hill some loose soil around the plant within reach of the “pegs”, as the fruiting stems are called, which will bend toward the soil and “plant” the fruit.

If the peanuts have not been treated with an inoculant, they may benefit from some amendments to adjust for any soil deficiencies or adjust pH levels to be slightly acidic. Fertigation — liquid feed via a drip irrigation system — can work very well.

Water

While large-scale peanut farmers in the south use furrow irrigation, and growers in water-poor regions may use deficit irrigation (watering only at crucial development times), one study found that peanut plants are most productive and disease resistant when watered regularly with drip irrigation, avoiding water stress. How much water the plants need will depend on evaporation rates, but organic mulch can help keep the soil from drying out.

Temperature and Humidity

Throughout its growing cycle, peanut plants need warmth and regular moisture — too dry or too wet will cause low yields and diseases. At harvest time, it is crucial for the soil to be moist but not soaked and heavy. Otherwise, some peanuts may break off and stay in the soil.

Harvesting

At the end of the growing season, when leaves start to turn yellow, the peanuts are ready for harvest. The National Gardening Association suggests slowly prying up the whole peanut plant with a pitchfork or shovel, then gently shaking off the loose soil. Then place the plant in a warm, shaded spot that offers good air circulation. Spread the peanuts out on a tarp to keep contaminants away while they dry.

Once you remove the peanuts from the stem, inspect carefully and discard any with discoloration or mold. Peanuts are susceptible to Aflatoxins, a disease that comes from the toxic fungus Aspergillus and is connected to several types of cancer. Controlling for pests, dressing the soil with calcium, and harvesting on time can reduce the incidence of Aspergillus.

Peanut Varieties

Cropped Image Of Hand Holding Peanut
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Although commercial growers use specialized hybrid varietals, the small-scale grower can choose from four main types of peanut, selecting primarily based on the length of the growing season. For example, northern growers should choose a short-season varietal like Spanish.

  • Virginia (120-130 days to mature): This varietal, which includes Jumbo peanuts, has the largest seeds and a gourmet taste and is usually roasted. 
  • Runner (125-165 days): These provide high yields for commercial growers, the most uniform seed, and is preferred for peanut butter. Runners are also known as “beer nuts.”
  • Spanish (90-130 days): These smaller seeds have a higher oil content and robust flavor, and so they are usually roasted rather than boiled. Spanish peanuts mature early and are easy to pick.
  • Valencia (120-130 days): This peanut has a sweet flavor and bright red skin. Valencia peanuts mature fairly early, offer three or four kernels per pod, and are easy to pick because their pods form near the taproot.

How to Store and Preserve Peanuts

The Utah State University Extension recommends roasting before storage. The nuts can be placed whole on cookie sheets and cooked in the oven at 350 degrees F; roasting time will vary from 13 to 18 minutes. After roasting, peanuts can be stored in an airtight container and will last from six to 12 months in the fridge.

View Article Sources
  1. Wahyuni, Ida. "Growth And Production Of Genotypes Of Peanuts In Double Stress: Drought And Shade." International Research Journal Of Engineering, IT And Scientific Research, vol. 2, no. 11, 2016, pp. 29-40., doi:10.21744/irjeis.v2i11.300

  2. Alam, Tariq et al. "Management Of Aflatoxins In Peanut." 2020, doi:10.34068/report7