Kernels, nuts and seeds are among our kitchen tools to create tastes, textures and hopefully some good health. As your pestle demolishes the peanuts in your mortar, spare a thought for the crop they came from.
Ground nuts, as they are often called, are a legume in the bean family. They are an industry on the Tablelands and we produce a huge amount of Australia’s peanuts.
The nut forms underground while the bush it belongs to is above doing some green growing. After the pretty yellow flower forms on the foliage bits of the plant, it dies back, leaving a ‘peg’ that emanates from the ovary of the flower, that cleverly bends the branch towards the earth and finds its way into the soil and forms a pod.
This eventually becomes the nut we are familiar with. If you are lucky you might get a bumper crop of three nuts to a pod, but usually two fat seeds is better. Tingoora is the variety of runner-style crop that has been grown more recently; this nut can be harvested after 105 days.
To start a plant, simply use a raw peanut. Roasted, boiled or other treated nuts won’t work. Plant in full sun and the plant needs water at just about every phase of its life.
Because the plant takes its calcium direct from the soil and not through the roots like most other plants, mix dolomite or a garden lime through the planting soil first.
The edible nut is called Arachis hypoagea; the ornamental peanut you may see as a ground cover with the pretty yellow or orange pea-style flowers is Arachis pintoi. This is a great soil binder, loves lots of water and can make a terrific alternative to turf if you are keen or on a facing or exposed batter that needs cover.
Peanuts do what most legumes do and put nitrogen back into depleted soils (that’s the drop you see in fallow sugar cane fields, returning what the sugar took – clever eh?).
Peanuts will grow in a large tub in a small space or as one or more plants in a garden. Use them as a foliage crop with some interesting side benefits.
When you get to harvest time, eat them (when the leaves start turning brown), pick them raw, pickle them in brine, or roast them on flat trays in an oven at 160 degrees for 20-25 mins (if you like them in the shell), then get the mortar and pestle out again and make peanut butter.
The bush is completely wrecked at harvest, so keep a few kernels for replanting.
Peanuts are an extremely healthy food and release energy over longer periods due to their high levels of unsaturated fats.
They are a great source of Vitamin E, folic acid and antioxidants (according to Catherine Stewart’s Garden Drum blog).
Commercial peanut products are usually laced with sugar for high taste appeal and you will easily tell the difference.