San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Peanuts: Easy to Grow and Highly Nutritious

HERE’S another crop for thetropical home garden that’s easy togrow and provides the family withplenty of valuable nutrition.Peanuts are actually native tothe tropical Americas, as confirmedin Peruvian archeological digs inwhich peanut seeds were uncoveredin pre-Columbian tombs.Early colonists in the Americastook up growing peanuts, and fromthere they were distributed aroundthe world. Today, peanuts are animportant staple in countries suchas China and Africa.Known as maní in Costa Ricaor cacahuate in Mexico, the peanut remains a popular foodin the region. Although peanuts tend to be used as “treats”in our culture, they are a staple for others. That’s becausepeanuts are nearly a complete food. According to RodalePress, peanuts contain more pantothenic acid than anyother food except liver. They are also rich in vitamins E, A,B1 and B2, calcium, phosphorus, iron and protein.PEANUTS have one of the most curious reproductiontraits in the plant kingdom. When the plants grow to 12 or18 inches tall, they produce two sets of flowers: showy,yellow, pea-like flowers, which are sterile, and inconspicuous,fertile flowers that grow under the lower-leaf axils.After the lower flowers are pollinated, they send out longpeduncles or shoots, which contain the embryonic seeds.These grow, bend over and bury themselves in the soil,where they form the seed capsules we know as peanuts.For this reason, it is beneficial to cultivate the soil uparound the base of the plants, just like gardeners do forcorn or potatoes. This makes it easy for the peduncles todevelop in the loose soil around the plant, thereby improvingcrop production.Peanuts are ready to harvest in three to four months,depending on the variety. I prefer the Spanish red variety,which takes only three months. Spanish red peanuts arealso readily available in stores that sell fresh ground coffeeand roasted peanuts. All you have to do is ask for manícrudo (fresh peanuts).Usually half a kilo of fresh peanuts is sufficient for ahome garden. After you remove the peanut husks, you canplant the seeds one to two inches deep and 12 inches apartin the rows. The spacing between rows should be at leasttwo feet to facilitate hoeing later. Peanuts can be grown inaverage soils with acidic conditions between pH 5 to 6.Additions of aged compost help to increase plant growthand production.EVEN though peanuts are hardy plants that resist diseaseand insect attacks, they do have one particular enemy– the June-bug grub, which feeds hungrily on immaturepeanuts. To deal with this problem, plant your peanuts inOctober, or during the dry season with irrigation. Duringthis time of year, the grubs in the ground discontinue feeding,become dormant and enter the pupa stage.Harvesting peanuts is much like digging for buriedtreasure. When the plants become yellow and brown, youcan begin to dig up the peanuts with a pitchfork. Loosenthe soil around the plant and then pull up the entire plant.Most of the peanuts will remain attached to the plant,although you may need to dig around a bit to find anystragglers.It’s important to wash the soil from the new peanuts anddry them well in the sun using a wire screen. They should bedried until they are crisp and crack open easily. Otherwise,they will become moldy in storage, creating a toxic compoundknown as aflatoxin, which renders them inedible.To obtain maximum nutritional value from your peanutharvest, try sprouting the fresh seeds. Soak the seeds inwater overnight in a wide-mouth glass jar with a screen topsecured with a rubber band. For the next three days, rinsethe seeds with fresh water and invert the jar so the waterdrains.As they sprout, the red skins will become easy toremove, and you can serve these delightfully tasty seeds insalads or in your rice and vegetable dishes. They can alsobe blended with water to make the best “milk” you’ve evertasted or, with less water, a puree base for salad dressing.Homegrown toasted peanuts are also much healthierfor you than the rancid, oily, over-salted peanuts you buy atthe store. Simply toast the raw peanuts in the oven at 300degrees F for 20 minutes. They can also be added to homemadegranola, cookies and other baked goods. And, ofcourse, you can utilize your peanuts for those exotic Thaifood recipes.George Washington Carver (1864-1943), the renownedU.S. scientist whose research brought to light the nutritionalbenefits of peanuts, was fond of saying: “Anything willgive up its secrets if you love it enough.”Remember, we have books, seeds and classes to sharewith you at, or write us

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