I have been fascinated with raising peanuts in Northern Indiana for a number of years now. One variety has stood out in my trials: Tennessee Red Valencia. This Virginia-type peanut has produced good yields consistently (approximately 7 lbs. of dry, in the shell peanuts per 50 ft. row). I have been growing out my own seed stock for a few years now. Over time, with selection, I hope to have better yields and increased hardiness for the cooler, shorter seasons we experience here in the North.
This particular peanut variety works well in almost any soil type. I’ve raised them in sandy ground as well as clay loam with good results. Tennessee Red Valencia does not need to be hilled like most types of peanut. They are short season (110 day) and will produce well as long as they are planted early enough. Germination is slow and greatly improved by warm soil temps, so I plant them at the very end of May or early June in slightly-raised beds. The peanuts are stored in the shell until planting time. Once shelled I plant them 1 inch deep and 1 foot apart in rows 36″ apart. You can modify this somewhat depending on your beds dimensions, as long as you keep in mind that peanuts sprawl a bit (2′ or more) and beneath these sprawling branches is where the peanuts will form in the ground.
Keep well-cultivated at first, but when the branches begin sending shoots (fruiting peduncles) from their undersides into the soil, be careful not to disturb or uproot. This occurs after flowering in mid- summer. Each shoot will grow into a single pod about an inch below the soil. A single plant can produce as many as 40 to 100 peanut pods with 2-3 peanuts inside each pod.
Peanuts need ample moisture as well as hot weather to produce well, although I have raised a pretty fair crop during one of those cooler summers we occasionally get here in Northern Indiana. Two considerations for harvesting your peanuts are leaf color and impending frost. In the North you are more likely to encounter the latter first. In the South with its longer growing season, peanuts are harvested when the leaves begin to yellow. Here in the North, my experience has been that you will most likely encounter an early frost before this happens. If frost threatens, you can cover with row-cover to extend your season or harvest that day if you think you have enough mature peanuts per plant. You can easily pull up a few pods out of the ground without disturbing the plant. Open the shells and examine the peanuts. At maturity, Tennessee Red Valencia peanuts will have filled the pod tightly and their skins will be reddish in color. Some heirloom peanuts, like Schronce’s Deep Black, have black skins.
To harvest, I loosen the soil around the plant with a fork and then gently pull up the branches with the nuts attached and then pull the whole plant out. Even in clay soil, I find that if done gently almost every peanut will remain connected to the plant. This will save you time from digging around in the dirt to locate any stray peanuts.
After harvest, I lay the plants out on benches set up outside. Next I spray them with a trigger sprayer attached to a garden hose. A gentle spray won’t get the job done. Once you have removed soil from one side, flip the plants over and spray the other side. Once clean, I leave them in the sun for a few hours to dry. After this, the plants are moved to benches in my drying shed or greenhouse to further dry. This may take a week or so until the plant itself is dried out. Keep in mind that rodents will consume your crop. I always set mouse traps when drying any kind of crop, and yes, the best bait for rodents is peanut butter! Now the peanuts can be easily pulled from the plants and brought in for further drying. I do this in my house by spreading them out on newspapers. Peanuts take a while to dry down to a moisture content suitable for storage ( I advise at least 4-6 weeks). Make sure you store the raw peanuts in their shells and keep them cool and DRY. Be advised, If not stored properly, peanuts will become moldy and carcinogenic.
The last consideration is how you are going to prepare and eat your home-grown peanuts. This can be a difficult task thanks to George Washington Carver who figured out over three hundred uses for the peanut and over half of them are food products. First off, they are perfectly fine to eat raw whether freshly dug or cured. I like salty foods so this will not work for me, but neither is waiting 2 months to eat my peanuts. The solution is Southern boiled peanuts. Boil them whole in their shells for 3 hrs in salt water, then eat them still hot. A salty explosion of yumminess! The next option is roasting them. Spread the cured peanuts out on a cookie sheet and put them in the oven at 300 degrees for 20 minutes or so, turning at least once for an even roast. A higher temperature or a longer time will give you a darker roasted peanut. You will be salivating from the smell long before they are done. I am still working on how to get salty, “in-the-shell”, roasted peanuts. Anyone who has a way to do this should drop me a line, I would love to know!
Of course you can make peanut butter in a blender with raw or roasted peanuts very easily. Check out the numerous recipes out there for vegetarians and meat-eaters alike using peanut butter as an ingredient. From chicken satay to peanut soup, believe me, you cannot go wrong with these dishes. Dare I mention peanut milk, or even better, black soybean-peanut milk! I have also pressed the peanuts to extract the oil for cooking using a Piteba, hand-crank, oil press. This works really well and the “press-cake” left over can be used in many different recipes. These are just a few of the many possibilities.
The bottom line is that peanuts are easy to grow in Northern Indiana as long as you pay heed to their basic cultural requirements. Plant early, harvest late, keep them well-watered, and cure properly. Start with a short season variety like Tennessee Red Valencia that has a proven track record in the North.