Another Lesson from Mother Nature: Peanut Style

Do you have any idea how peanuts grow? If you’re anything like me, the answer is probably: nope. Because they require hilling (and therefore don’t deal with too many weeds), our peanut plants don’t get a whole lot of close-up love and care like most of their garden-mates. But thanks to Barbara Kingsolver’s peanut commentary in her book, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, I knew just where to look to learn about a phenomenon that I may have otherwise missed.

A quick guide to what it’s like to grow peanuts and what I learned along the way.

Peanuts were really fun for me from the start. When I started researching varieties to grow, I stumbled across the Southern Exposure Seed Exchange because of their wide selection. I chose Carwile’s Virginia Peanuts because they charmed me with their history: Frank Carwile grew this variety for over 75 years after receiving them from a traveler at eight-years-old. When they arrived in the mail a few days later, they were still in their shells.

As instructed, I opened up each one, gathered the peanuts inside, and then placed them into little holes that the kids and I dug together. I was convinced the entire time that a squirrel was going to come eat them like a thief in my night, so I planted a few per hole. To my dismay, a squirrel (or some other creature) did, in fact, dig up the peanuts in one hole a few days later, but the vast majority of them germinated successfully over the next couple of weeks.

After weeding vigorously (they need this in the beginning because they grow slowly) and thinning the plants out when they were about one inch tall, they grew bigger and bigger, until eventually they were one foot tall. At this point we hilled each one up with a mountain of dirt to just below the top set of leaves. From there it was smooth-sailing. The no-fuss peanut plants continued to reach for the sky and eventually set beautiful and tiny yellow flowers. I hoped that something was happening under those mounds of dirt, but didn’t dare check.

It turns out that I didn’t need to look under the soil at all. As Barbara Kingsolver said in her book: “Peanuts are the dogged overachievers of the plant kingdom, determined to plant their own seeds without help.” She called them a “botany freak show snack food” and I agree — in the best way. After pollination occurs, the flowers fall off and the plant’s budding ovary, called a peg, grows away from the plant and directly into the soil beneath where a peanut will later form and be ready to harvest come autumn.

To my surprise, almost all of the plants have pegs already extended into the ground. The peanuts are the first plant I walk by when entering the garden and I’ve never noticed this happening. Another beautiful lesson from Mother Nature: pay attention, not just to those that stand the tallest or bloom the prettiest, but to the little things — because that’s often where the true miracles happen.

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