It's often a surprise for people to learn that peanuts can grow successfully in most of the Maritimes! Although usually associated with climates much further South, Ontario has a small commercial peanut growing industry, and we in the Maritimes aren’t far behind in terms of a long warm growing season (inland areas anyway). Over the past few years I’ve heard from a lot of people around the Maritimes who have had success growing them.
I first tried growing peanuts as an experiment in 2009, planting Valencia peanuts sourced from Ontario. I didn’t expect much, but they did surprisingly well, and I had a decent little harvest. I’ve grown them every year since, setting aside seed from the most productive plants each year for replanting. 9 growing seasons later the yields have increased noticeably, and more of the pods are fully-maturing before the frost.
The past few years I've begun offering my own strain, which I'm calling the Annapolis Select peanut.
- Growing Peanuts in the Maritimes -
Peanuts are heat loving plants, and they like as much sun as they can get. Also important is well draining soil; a fertile well-draining loam is their dream. In heavy clay they struggle to reach their pegs into the ground. At the farm our soil is on the sandy side, and they thrive in it as long as they get enough water during dry spells.
I like to direct sow mine, usually in early June after the soil has warmed. I’ve tried both transplanting and direct sowing, and found that the transplanted peanuts quickly outgrow their pots and really don’t like getting root bound. The advantage to transplanting is you can give them a head start, which might be important in short season areas. But here in the Annapolis Valley I’ve had better luck direct sowing.
The plants need similar spacing to bush beans, about 3-4” apart, and at least 12-18” between rows. I plant mine two rows to a 3‘ bed.
Peanuts form small leafy plants, growing up to knee high in fertile soil. In mid-summer small yellow flowers emerge near the stems, which quickly develop into pegs that reach down into the soil. It’s on these pegs that the pods form, kind of like subterranean bean pods. So it’s not truly a root crop, the pods grow off the stems just like other legumes.
The pods keep on maturing and filling out throughout the fall, so the longer they can stay in the ground the better. Covering the plants from light frosts in early Fall would help extend their season, and result in more full pods. I harvest mine as soon as the tops are killed after good frost, usually in early-mid October.
Loosen the soil around the plants with a fork, and pull them out on a dry day. After I shake off the extra soil, I tie the plants into bunches (maybe 10 plants to a bunch) and hang them to cure in the barn. Make sure to cure them somewhere squirrels and blue jays can’t reach them, peanuts are a hot commodity among wildlife. We lost nearly our whole crop that way once.
The curing process is slow. I usually leave them hanging for 2-3 weeks before picking the solid and plump pods off, leaving the empty ones. I then cure them spread thin on trays in the house. Make sure the pods have good air circulation, even if they seem mostly dry they can quickly mold at this stage. Over 2 months of curing they change from juicy and tasting like a pea at harvest time, to sweet and nutty like a mature peanut!
At this point they could be roasted, or sprouted, or just eaten raw. Fresh peanuts in the vegetable stage in early Fall are a delicacy too. I like to pull a few plants in September, and briefly boil the pods like edamame soybeans. They’re sweet and juicy and great topped on salads. Definitely a vegetable more than a nut at this stage.