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FANTASTIC PEANUTS

written by

Marianne C. Ophardt

WSU Extension Faculty

for the Tri-City Herald, Kennewick, WA

Some Tri-City gardeners may have been surprised that a local farmer was successful growing peanuts this past year. However, our WSU Master Gardeners weren’t surprised. For over 10 years they taught local second graders in Benton and Franklin counties about the “Fantastic Peanut.” as part of the Plants Grow Children program. In the Fantastic Peanut class, Master Gardener volunteers taught the students how peanuts grow, helped them plant a peanut seed in a cup, and made a snack for them from roasted peanuts. The children took the planted peanuts home to grow in their own gardens. Some even harvested peanuts from their fantastic peanut plant in the fall.

Master Gardeners picked the subject of peanuts to teach because of the peanut’s importance as a crop throughout the world and its interesting history in the U.S. The peanut is a South American native, originating in the region of Brazil and Peru. It’s believed that Spanish or Portugese explorers or missionaries took peanuts home with them to Europe. Peanuts then traveled to Africa and Asia with traders. In Africa, peanuts became a common food and fodder crop. One of their African names was “nguba,” possibly the origin of “goober,” a once common name for peanuts in America. When slave traders took Africans to America, peanuts came with them. The peanuts were both cheap and high in food value.

Peanuts were not initially grown as a food crop in America. At first they were grown as fodder for pigs, for their oil, and as a substitute for cocoa. However, this changed with coming of the Civil War when northern and southern soldiers used peanuts as a handy food source. They then gained general acceptance as a tasty treat and roasted peanuts became popular at circuses, baseball games, and from street vendors. Once peanut harvesting became less labor intensive through mechanization, many more peanuts were grown for both food and oil production.

Perhaps the reason many people are surprised that we can grow peanuts in Washington (central Washington at least) is because they’ve predominantly been a crop grown in the Southeast where they were first introduced. The majority of commercial peanut production in the U.S. takes place in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia.

Peanuts are an interesting plant. They are a legume and related to beans, peas, and alfalfa. Their leaves resemble clover leaves and their pea-like flower is yellow. The flowers are produced on the lower part of the plant. Once pollination occurs, the flowers wither and the stalk below the flower grows downward toward and into the soil. Once the elongated flower stalk (peg) penetrates the soil, the pod grows bigger and the seeds (peanuts) within develop and mature.

Because the peg must penetrate the soil for the peanuts to develop, a loose, well-drained sandy soil is best. They don’t do well in heavy or rocky soils. If you want to try growing some peanuts, you must plant raw seed peanuts. Plant the seeds only after the soil warms up in late spring after the danger of frost is past. The seeds should be placed one to two inches deep and about eight inches apart. Keep the soil moderately moist.

In the fall when the leaves of the peanut plant start to turn yellow, cut back on watering and then dig the plants up carefully with a spading fork. Shake off the loose soil and hang the plants to cure in warm dry place. Once dry, remove the fully mature peanuts from the plant. Because new peanuts form over the span of summer and fall, some peanuts will have matured and others will not. Remember to roast the peanuts before eating them.

Although, the class was a fun learning experience for the children and the volunteers, the Master Gardeners stopped teaching the Fantastic Peanut several years ago because of concern over peanut allergies. In it’s place they teach the Powerful Potato… now that’s a crop that everyone knows grows well in our part of Washington. The Master Gardeners also teach other garden related classes including ones on how plants grow, the value of insects, trees, and composting with worms to students from kindergarten to fifth grade. Last year they reached over 11,000 children in Benton and Franklin counties.

Published: 1/22/2008 2:23 PM

THE FANTASTIC PEANUT

written by Marianne C. Ophardt WSU Extension Faculty for the Tri-City Herald, Kennewick, WA Can you guess what plant I’m talking about? It’s a member of the legume (pea and bean) family. It’s originally from South America. Its seeds are over 26 per cent protein. While native to South America, this seed was introduced to North America by African slaves. This seed has a variety of common names that it has been known by over the years, including guinea seed, pinda, pisatche de terre, groundnut, monkey nut, earthnut, and manilla nut. Do you know yet? The seeds of this plant became a popular snack food in New York City when street vendors sold them roasted in their shells. This snack food craze was then spread by the Barnum Circus as it traveled around the country. In 1890, a St. Louis physician made a sticky paste by grinding up these nutritious seeds. The paste was intended as a protein source for people who couldn’t chew meat. George Washington Carver found over 300 uses for this seed. If you haven’t guessed by now I’m talking about the peanut. The peanut is a very interesting plant with a rich and colorful history. Every spring our local Washington State University Master Gardeners teach elementary schools students about plant growth, the value of trees, composting with worms, and the importance of insects . It’s all part of the ‘Plants Grow Children’ program. The class taught to local second graders is ‘The Fantastic Peanut.’ In this class, students learn about the historical background of peanuts and the interesting way they grow. Each student also gets the chance to plant a peanut seed and make peanut butter. It’s a fun class for both the students and the Master Gardener volunteers who teach it. Did you know that peanuts are not considered true ‘nuts’ such as a walnut or filbert. They’re seeds that are produced underground, even though they flower above ground. A peanut plant grows from a peanut seed into a bushy plant less than two feet tall. In the summer, the plant begins to produce yellow flowers. The flowers are self-pollinated, meaning they don’t depend on insects for pollination. Once pollinated, they drop their petals and the fertilized ovary starts to develop. As it gets bigger, it also grows downward, away from the plant. In the tip of the ovary, called a ‘peg’, is the seed or peanut embryo. Once the peg reaches the ground, it penetrates the soil and continues to grow downwards as much as three inches deep. The embryo in the peg orients itself horizontal to the soil surface and then develops into a peanut. Once mature, the peanuts are dug from the ground and harvested. It takes about 120 to 160 days to grow a crop of peanuts. In the U.S. peanuts are grown commercially in nine states… Georgia, Texas, Alabama, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Virginia, Florida, South Carolina, and New Mexico. While not grown as a commercial crop in Washington, they can be grown in backyard gardens in this area. They must have warm soil so they shouldn’t be planted until after all threat of frost is past and the soil has warmed up. They do best with loose sandy soil or a friable loam, where the pegs can easily penetrate the soil. Did you know that there are four different types of peanuts? Because of its high yields, the runner peanut makes up 75 per cent of U.S. peanut production and produces consistent medium-sized peanuts. Runner peanuts are used for making peanut butter, candy, and snacks. It’s grown mainly in Georgia, Alabama, Florida, Texas and Oklahoma. The Virginia type peanut, making up 21 per cent of U.S. production , has extra large sized kernels and is used for snack peanuts and in-shell roasted peanuts. Not too strangely, Virginia peanuts are grown mostly in Virginia and North Carolina . Spanish-type peanuts have smaller kernels with reddish brown papery skins and are high in oil content. They make up only about four per cent of U.S. production. They’re used as snack peanuts, for peanut butter, and in peanut candies. The Spanish-type peanuts are grown in Oklahoma and Texas. Valencia peanuts are grown mainly in New Mexico and account for only about one per cent of U. S. production. They typically have small, sweet-flavored, kernels with three or more kernels per shell. They’re usually sold roasted, but supposedly are also good boiled. Master Gardeners also introduce other interesting facts about peanuts to the students. Did you know that…. ? – Peanuts have been around for a long time. Jars filled with peanuts have been found in ancient Incan graves. – Lots of peanuts are also grown in warm climates elsewhere in the world… with over half of the world’s production in India and China. U.S. production accounts for only three per cent of the total world production. Other major peanut producing countries include Senegal, Sudan, Brazil, Argentina, South Africa, Malawi, India, Thailand, Indonesia, Nigeria, and Australia. – Peanuts, an ancient crop native to South America, were shared with the world by European explorers and traders who brought this interesting legume back to their home countries of Spain and Portugal. Traders then took peanuts on their travels to Africa and traded them for spices and other goods. Later when African slaves were transported to North America, peanuts were brought along as food for the slaves on their long voyages across the ocean. – First regarded only as a food crop for slaves or poor people, peanut consumption in the U.S. increased during the Civil Wars. They became an important food source for Confederate soldiers who were often without adequate food. Peanuts inspired the Civil War song of ‘Eatin’ Goober Peas.’ – Baseball stadiums first began selling roasted peanuts by the bag in the late 1800

s and later were fondly mentioned in a song we all know… ‘Take Me Out to the Ball Game.’ – Peanuts did not become a big crop for U.S. farmers until after 1900 when equipment was invented for planting, cultivating, harvesting, shelling and cleaning peanuts. Once the peanut production industry became mechanized, peanut production and consumption began to rise. – Dr. John Harvey applied for the first patent on peanut butter in 1895, but it wasn’t until after 1922 that peanut butter would become a household staple. That’s when Joseph Rosefield began making and marketing a creamy, shelf-stable peanut butter. Maybe you’d like to teach kids about the ‘Fantastic Peanut!’ Washington State University Extension is currently recruiting new volunteers to attend training and in return give service back to our local community. If you are interested in becoming a Master Gardener volunteer and possible teaching children about plants, answering gardening questions from area residents, or helping make the Master Gardener Demonstration Garden a beautiful place, contact the Extension office a 735-3551.

Published: 1/8/2005 2:02 PM

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