About peanuts and growing them

   This tropical from South America was taken by the Portuguese from Brazil to West Africa. Spanish galleons carried peanuts from South Africa to the Philippines, from where they spread to China, Japan and India. They found a favorable climate in North America early in its history. In 1781 Thomas Jefferson wrote of their culture in Virginia.

   There are two types of peanut: Virginia, with two seeds per pod; and Spanish, with two to six seeds per pod. Most plants of the Virginia type are spreading, the Spanish are bunching. However, bunching varieties of Virginia are available and better adapted to short season areas than the spreading types. A long, hot growing season of 110 to 120 days is needed for most peanuts. If summers are cool in your area, better forget them as a crop regardless of the season length.

   The strange growth habit of peanuts inspires gardeners to experiment in growing them even when they must be in containers and given special protection. The plant resembles a yellow flowering sweet pea bush. After the female flowers wither, a stalk like structure known as a peg grows from the base of the flowers and turns downward to penetrate the soil. When the peg pushes to a depth of 1 to 2-1/2 inches, it turns to the horizontal position and the peanut begins to form.

   The soil should be light, sandy and neutral to slightly alkaline. Peanuts require a generous supply of calcium in the top 3 to 4 inches of soil where the pods develop. To supply calcium, the foliage is often dusted with calcium sulfate at the time of flowering, at the rate of 2-1/2 pounds per 100 feet of row. Plant seeds 1 inch deep and 12 inches apart in rows 2 to 2-1/2 feet apart after all danger of frost is passed. Shelling the seeds isn't necessary but it will hasten germination. Thin the plants to stand 2 to 3 feet apart.

   When the plants are about 12 inches high, mound the soil around the bases and cover with mulch. Make sure the plants get a regular supply of water up to 2 weeks before harvest. Excess water at harvest time may break dormancy and cause the mature peanuts to sprout. When the plants turn yellow at the end of the season, lift each bush carefully with a ardenfork, shake free of soil, and hang the plants, with the plants hanging by the pegs, in a warm, airy place for a few days. let the plants cure for 2 to 3 weeks before stripping the peanuts from them.