Peanuts, despite the suggestion from their name, are not actually nuts, but part of the legume family. They flower above ground but fruit under the soil.
Their exceptionally long growing season means pinpointing exactly when and how to harvest peanuts, so as to catch them at the perfect point, which is probably the hardest part of the process. But they are so worth the effort and make a great addition to any garden.
They are often used as a cover crop by farmers and domestic gardeners alike as they return valuable nitrogen to the soil during the growing process and make a delicious snack with multiple health benefits as well as being a key ingredient in many famous dishes.
What Month Are Peanuts Harvested
Peanuts are traditionally harvested in September and October (although this will largely depend on the climatic conditions, and the exact variety you grow).
This gives the plants time to mature while also allowing enough time for any late-summer storms or other adverse weather to pass without damaging your crop.
Peanut Growth Cycle
Peanuts are relatively simple to grow and should be planted any time from late April through to May, once soil temperatures are consistently above 65F.
There are 2 key varieties of peanuts that are usually successful in domestic vegetable patches. The runner type and bunch type.
Runner-type peanuts require a little more space in the garden due to their vining. I find it best to plant 3-5 seeds 2 inches deep and spaced around 8 inches and then keep the rows at least 24 inches apart. The bunch type can be planted about 2 inches deep and 6-8 inches apart.
Once the seedlings are around 6 inches high, I recommend adding some mulch to keep weeds under control.
It takes around 6 – 8 weeks for them to flower. The flowers will be produced near the ground on bunch-type peanuts and along the vines of the runner types. While the plant flowers above ground the pods develop below. As the flowers fade, the stem begins to bend downwards, carrying the pods to the ground.
Just keep in mind that peanuts like to be planted in full sun. They prefer light, sandy soil and can be planted in a large pot (at least 5 litres in size) or directly into your vegetable patch.
How Long Do Peanuts Take To Grow
Some types of peanut plants will produce pods with a single seed, and others produce pods with two seeds.
I tend to prefer the single-seed varieties as I find they produce higher yields, but they do take more time to mature – sometimes over 5 months.
Double-seed varieties only take about three months to reach maturity and start producing pods but you will find there will be less to pick.
But whatever the variety, peanuts will generally reach maturity around 3 – 6 months after planting, meaning late summer may be the earliest you can harvest, through to October for longer growing varieties.
When Are Peanuts Ready To Harvest
Peanuts are ready to harvest when the leaves turn yellow and the plant begins to wilt, and the pods are mature. Just like harvesting potatoes or any other root crop, you will need to lift a few peanuts to check the pods. If you gently squeeze a pod between your fingers, it should feel plump and firm. If you pull back on the pod and it snaps off easily from its stalk it means they are ready for picking!
How To Dig Up Peanuts
Once you are sure they are ready, use a garden fork or a spade to loosen the soil around the plants. Grab each plant by the base of the stem and pull the plant out of the ground. Shake it gently to remove the excess soil from the roots
Harvesting Peanuts For Boiling
Boiled peanuts are a true delicacy in many States and in other countries around the World, but they require a slightly different harvesting process and need to be picked earlier.
‘Green peanuts’ are the best for boiling, which is the term used to refer to immature peanuts harvested early in the season but also refers to raw peanuts that have not been cured.
If you know you want to boil the peanuts to make a tasty snack, then it is advisable to pick them up earlier and leave them raw and uncured so they retain their moisture. You can then move straight to the boiling process.
Curing Peanuts After Digging Them Up
The moisture content of a peanut kernel fresh from the ground is between 35 to 50%. This needs to be bought down to between 8 to 10% through a post-harvest process called curing.
You can dry peanuts by hand, which can be time-consuming or by using a drying agent, a dehydrator or an oven all of which will speed the process up. Whichever method you opt for it is a necessary part of the process as improper curing will lead to rot and mould problems.
The best place to cure a peanut is either a garden shed or a garage, or you can consider doing it within your house if you have the space and humidity levels are low. Simply hang the plant from the edge of a shelf or on a secure nail or hook for one to two weeks.
Damp or humid conditions will cause the nuts to rot, while overly hot or rapid drying will lower the quality, giving the peanuts an odd flavour and splitting the shells so be sure the conditions are just right.
If you have one readily available, a dehydrator will speed up this process.
Many people like to wash their shelled peanuts before storing them – otherwise known as blanching. This will make them slightly softer and more versatile for cooking and home usage in the future.
This process involves the removal of the skin of the peanut and this is done by placing them in hot water for about three minutes, then rapidly cooling them and rubbing off their skins. Once, the skins have been removed, they should be spread on paper to dry and then store in the refrigerator.
Drying And Storing
Once they are completely dry from curing you should store your shelled peanuts in an airtight container in a cool, dry place, such as a pantry, for up to four months after harvesting.
This method of storage keeps peanuts fresh without introducing moisture, which can encourage mould growth.
Alternatively, you can store peanuts in the refrigerator to extend the shelf life of the nuts for up to 12 months or store the nuts in the freezer to keep them for up to two years.