Strictly speaking, peanuts (Arachis hypogaea) aren’t a nut at all. Although they grow below ground and are technically a legume, not only are peanuts generally regarded as a nut, they are the most popular nut in the United States, accounting for nearly 70 percent of yearly nut consumption. Because it is a warm weather crop with a long growing season, peanuts are considered a Southern crop. Indeed, over 40 percent of commercial peanut production comes from Georgia, but this “ground nut” can be grown even in Northern climates with a little planning.
If you live in hardiness zone 8 or higher, the growing season is long enough that peanuts may be sown directly in the yard after the last frost for a September harvest. For those in the North, peanuts—with a growing season of up to 140 days—may not seem like a viable crop, but starting plants indoors 6 weeks or more before the last frost will give the plants plenty of time to mature. Once temperatures remain consistently over 60 degrees, transplant seedlings to a full-sun location in relatively sandy soil, spaced 10 inches apart. Add a layer of mulch or compost and watch them grow.
Once plants are about 8 inches tall, carefully loosen and till the soil around the plant to encourage runners to develop from the blossoms. These runners are called “pegs” and the peanuts will grow from them beneath the soil.
As the season winds down, the plants will begin to yellow and the peanuts will be ready to harvest. A single plant can yield up to 100 peanuts.
Homegrown peanuts can be enjoyed boiled, fried or roasted, but if you’re like 90 percent of American households, peanut butter is on your shelf (more than half of the peanuts grown in the U.S. are used to make peanut butter). Making peanut butter from garden-fresh peanuts isn’t just fun—it tastes so good you may wonder what you’ve been buying all those years.
Freshly picked peanuts are called “green” peanuts and these raw legumes must be roasted before they are ready to make into butter. Check out these instructions for how to roast peanuts and then break out the food processor.
Pair your peanut butter with homemade preserves for a PB&J that isn’t just for sack lunches anymore.
Homemade Peanut Butter
- 2 cups roasted peanuts, skins removed
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 2 tablespoons honey
- 2-3 tablespoons canola or peanut oil
Place peanuts in food processor and process until finely ground and they begin to clump (this may take several minutes).
Add salt and honey.
Slowly drizzle canola oil into running processor until it becomes creamy and smooth. Continue until desired consistency is reached.
Taste and adjust as needed.
Homemade peanut butter may be stored refrigerated in an airtight container for up to two months. As it rests, oil may separate from the peanut butter and rise to the top of the jar. Stir the oil back in before eating to maintain consistency.