When you're planning your vegetable garden this spring, don't overlook the peanut.
While most of us regard the peanut as a nut, it actually is a legume. Children love these fascinating plants; and eating your own freshly ground peanut butter is a rewarding, delicious experience.
The peanut is traditionally a southern crop, but will grow and produce from 30 to 40 pods to a plant wherever there is a four-month growing season. Still, it thrives and produces more pods to the plant in the South than it does in other parts of the country.
Peanuts prefer a light, sandy soil. Thus careful soil preparation is important to success. If your soil is heavy, cultivate deeply for several weeks in advance of sowing and work in lots of organic material.
There are several varieties of peanuts. The Jumbo Virginia is popular, a heavy producer with large seeds, but for the average American vegetable garden, the Spanish variety would probably be a better choice. It has small, sweet kernels, and the dwarf plants take less room. The Spanish peanut also matures faster, a fact that may mean the difference between success and failure if you live in the North.
Your seed peanuts will be shipped to you in the shell to prevent damage during transit. Hull them carefully, taking care to leave the brown skins intact.
Plant peanuts two inches deep and five inches apart, leaving three feet between the rows. Thin later so that the plants are a foot apart.
Each peanut plant will produce long, slender shoots called pegs. These pegs bend over and grow into the ground, developing peanuts at their tips. For this reason, hand weeding is advisable because careless cultivation can damage the baby peanuts which are growing near the surface of the ground.
Peanuts are ready for harvest when the vine starts to turn yellow. Dig up the entire plant, taking care not to dislodge any nuts from the vine. Shake off as much earth as possible and hang the plant to cure in an airy, warm place. Curing takes about three weeks.
Roasting peanuts is easy. The hard part is not to eat them all on the spot. Roasting takes about 20 minutes in a 350-degree oven.
Seed peanuts are not readily available, but may be ordered from the free catalogs of the Burpee Seed Company, Warminster, Penn. 18974, or Park Seed Company, Greenwood, S.C. 29647. If you live in California, order from Burpee because Park does not ship peanuts into California.