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Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Growing Peanuts

I wrote this article for my contribution to the bi-monthly lifestyle ezine Time Aside. There are 5 of us who got together to create this email magazine and we are now on our 15th issue. It is a great mix of subject matters with my gardening/recipe slot, Mrs Paintbrush's home decorating tips, Gareth's fitness advice, Clare's look at  how to achieve what you really want from life, Mark's film reviews and Angela's reiki and crystal healing perspective. We honestly write it for the love of our subjects, it's completely free to receive and there is no advertising associated with it so if 6 times a year you would like to receive a chatty and informative email please sign up here http://timeaside-ezine.blogspot.co.uk/p/subscribe-now.html

There is very little that can be done in the garden in February. Every now and then the sun comes out and I find myself getting prematurely excited by the prospect of spring. Then the next moment I find myself cycling home with stinging rain being lashed into my face by a north wind. And then I remember that it is still winter and I need to hold my horses.

Having said that, there are 3 jobs I usually try to get done sometime around the February half-term. I usually sow a few leek seeds in trays as they are incredibly slow to grow and if I don’t start early they won’t be big enough to plant out by summer. The second is to sow 4 or 5 tomato seeds in pots to get a head start and hopefully provide me with a few early tomatoes in the summer. And the last job is to sow a few peanuts.

The British weather is not really suitable for growing peanuts it has to be said and for the last couple of years the weather has been particularly unhelpful. However, I like a challenge and have been giving it ago for the past 4 years. Originally, I bought my peanut seeds from a seed catalogue, for which I would receive 3 monkey nuts, containing 6 or often only 5 peanuts. At £1.65 per pack they were quite pricey and not the sort of thing you would want to waste. Sadly, however, I often found the germination rate was poor and the seeds were prone to rotting if over watered, or drying out if under watered. So last year I decided to see if it was possible to grow any old monkey nuts and bought myself a bag of unroasted (obviously!) monkey nuts from the supermarket. At £1.50 for about 200 seeds it was at least a good deal cheaper!

From my 400g bag, I shelled 3 monkey nuts and planted 6 peanuts and a week later 5 of them had germinated.  I had to keep the seedlings on my windowsill until the weather was warm enough in June. They do, however, make rather attractive houseplants whose leaves fold in on themselves every night as the light fades. During the summer the plants produce small yellow flowers very similar in shape to pea flowers. This is not surprising as peas and peanuts are related, both belonging to the legume family. If the flowers are pollinated then, unlike any other plant I know, a long stem grows out of the dying flower and heads downwards until it finds the soil. There it buries itself and in due course a new monkey nut forms underground - hence the other name: "ground nut". As an adult I found this whole process fascinating but my kids loved it!

To be honest, I have never yielded more peanuts from my plants than the number of peanuts I started with but I love trying and I’m always optimistic. Surely, this year we are due a proper summer!

As for the rest of the bag of unroasted monkey nuts, these I roast as a single layer on a large baking tray in a preheated oven at 180°C, gas 4 for 25 minutes. My husband declared these the freshest and tastiest roasted monkey nuts he'd ever tasted! Well, hopefully only until we harvest our own bumper crop in the summer!

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