As I drive down Veterans Parkway, I see planted on the hillsides little yellow flowers winking away. I know that this is where that great groundcover, perennial peanut, prevails. Arachis glabrata, Benth, was introduced from Brazil in 1936. It is a suggestion for replacing a water thirsty lawn. Enjoying full sun, our hot humid weather and our long humid days, it is perfect for our killer summers.
As a nitrogen fixing legume, nitrogen fertilizing isn't necessary in our hazardous alkaline soil that can turn leaves yellow. Since there is plenty of phosphorous in our soil, none of that needs to be added either. It is very salt tolerant and loves sunshine, mowing it once a year helps.
This easy growing plant spreads by underground rhizomes. Used as a forage legume for grazing and a cover crop for citrus, perennial peanut is nematode and drought resistant and non-invasive. Since it doesn't produce seeds for birds and animal to spread, perennial peanut can be easily controlled, leaving no environmental impact. It makes a wonderful buffer along the water's edge to catch the fertilizer runoff. Weed control is reduced if you prepare the soil properly before planting. You can walk on it and eat the tasty flowers that have a peanut flavor. Don't pull it up looking for eatable goobers underground, though, this is an ornamental legume.
I am presently, very involved in planning a vegetable garden with the Builders Club of middle school students at Trafalgar Middle School. We thought they might be amazed at how we get the real peanuts, so, I'm planning to put some in the garden. Pulling the plant out and finding all the attached peanuts is an education in itself.
Peanuts are Arachis hypogaea and came from South America. They are not members of the nut family; they are a legume - a nitrogen soil fixing legume.
Peanuts are really a basic summer crop, and we are doing the fall/winter garden ... the students want to give the foods to the food/soup kitchen, after trying things themselves. The peanuts need 130-150 warm days of at least 65 degrees to mature, which means we needed to get the peanuts into the ground as soon as school starts Aug. 8. Over 4 months will leave us in the cool weather of December and January, so we're pushing it here. Peanut growth slows down without hot weather. Our winters have not been too cold at this time, but not hot, so it's chancy.
There are four types of peanuts - runner, which is the one that grows in Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Oklahoma and Texas. Over half of the runner peanuts grown are used for peanut butter. Then there is the Spanish type grown in Oklahoma, Texas, and South Africa, primarily used for candies and oil; Virginia type grown in Virginia and North Carolina; and the Valencia grown in New Mexico, the sweetest of the four types. You can plant raw peanuts from the grocery store. They need loose, well drained, organic soil with a ph of 5.8-6.2.
The sweet-pea like, self pollinating, yellow flowers form on the elongated ends of the stems near the ground. After pollination, they dip down and push into the soil one to three inches, developing underground seed ends. This is why you need loose soil. These underground seed ends are called peduncles, the seedpods we call peanuts.
Sow the seeds 1 1/2 to 3 inches deep, 6 to 8 inches apart. When plants are 12 inches tall, mound soil around the plant base so the faded flowers can set their pegs down into the hill. Keep the soil moist with regular watering until the blooms appear, then less is needed. Let soil dry between watering. Empty pods are caused by too much water and humidity when blooming. Being a nitrogen setting legume, they supply their own fertilizer. Mulch the surface to keep it from crusting or hardening. They need shallow weeding; don't dig deep where the goobers are. Hand weeding is the only option after the peanut pegs.
George Washington Carver is known as the creator of peanut uses, founder of the peanut agriculture, father of the peanut industry. He was one of the 20th Century's greatest scientists. In 1897, he went south to head the University of Tuskegee's Agriculture School. He collaborated with Henry Ford and Thomas Edison, who wanted to pay him $100,000 a year to come to Orange Grove, N.J., and work. He chose to remain at Tuskegee's Agri-culture School where he developed his idea of crop rotation. This method alternated cotton, which depletes the soil of its nutrients, then planting peanuts, a legume producing nitrogen setting soil. Peanuts were only used to feed the livestock. The farmers were ecstatic with their quality of cotton and tobacco, but they grew angry with the peanut surplus that began to rot and overflow the warehouses.
Immediately, Carver started researching and experimenting with the peanut. Within a week, he had devised dozens of uses for the peanut. Suddenly, a new industry started that used the peanuts. Eventually, he developed more than 300 products from the peanuts. Some claim he invented peanut butter. Peanut butter had been around a long time, not as we know it now. He refused to take out patents on most of his discoveries, because, he said, "God gave them to me, how can I sell them to someone else." Food discoveries belonged to the people.
The process for making peanut butter was patented in 1895 by Dr. John H Kellogg for his patients in his Battlecreek, Mich., sanitarium. The one way to get protein into his patients that had no teeth for meat. He and his brother later went on to develop Kellogg cereals. Peanut butter was a gritty product that separated, the ground nuts and the oil needed to be kept mixed. Unfortunately, the barrels of peanut butter didn't keep. In 1922, Joseph Rosenfield received a patent for his manufacturing process that kept it fresh for one year.
In 1935, Carver was appointed collaborator in the Division of Plant Mycology and Disease Survey of the Bureau of Plant Industry of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. By 1938, peanuts had become $200 million industry and the main product of Alabama. He died on the campus of Tuskegee Institute in 1946. In 1990 he was inducted into The National Inventors Hall of Fame.
Remember, thank a tree for our fresh air.
Joyce Comingore is a Master Gardener, hibiscus enthusiast, Federated Garden District IX Arbor Day Chairman and member of the Garden Club of Cape Coral.