All posts by Jordan Charbonneau

The Incredible History of the Peanut

Our culture’s obsession with peanut butter is a relatively modern development but peanuts have been an important crop for more than 3000 years! For those who are unfamiliar, peanuts aren’t actually nuts. They’re a member of the legume family like peas and beans. Just like other legumes, they’re a handy crop because they fix nitrogen.

Peanuts are an important food crop because they’re high in protein, fat, B vitamins, and a variety of minerals. They also store well, lasting 10 months when kept in the shell in a cool and dry environment.

It Starts in Peru

Peanuts were probably first domesticated in Peru where archeologists have found peanut traces in pre-Columbian Peruvian mummy bundles. Peanut designs can also be found on a variety of Moche (a pre-Incan civilization) art and ceramics. One of the most impressive examples is a necklace with 20 gold and silver peanut replicas found in the burial of Lord of Sipán in the Reque Valley, a member of the Moche ruling elite.

Evidence suggests that peanuts were not a staple crop in Peru but had important ceremonial and economic value. From Peru peanuts were spread to Brazil where they became an important food source.

If you’re interested in further reading about the historical use of peanuts in Peru I highly recommend this article, Peanuts and Power in the Andes: The Social Archeology of Plant Remains from the Virú Valley, Peru.

Carolina African Runner Peanut: Brought to the US in the 1600s by West African slaves, this is the original American peanut!

West Africa & The Slave Trade

When the Spanish and Portuguese began to explore and colonize South America Peanuts had spread throughout the continent and as far north as Mexico. The Portuguese and Spanish spread peanuts to Europe and to West Africa where they quickly became an important food crop. The Bantu name for peanut is nguba which was later anglicized to goober.

Peanuts were brought to the Southern United States by slaves. They were sometimes the only food rationed to slaves captured in West Africa on the horrific Middle Passage voyage to the new world. In the United States slaves continued to grow peanuts. They were then grown commercially but were thought of as food for the poor, slaves, and livestock by upper and middle-class whites.

The Civil War

The outbreak of the Civil War saw a notable increase in the U.S. consumption of peanuts. Both Northern and Southern soldiers developed a taste for peanuts and after the Civil War they began to be sold as a snack especially in the cheaper seating sections at baseball games and circuses. This earned these sections the name, “the peanut gallery.”

Peanut Butter

The invention of peanut butter in the late 1800s also helped to popularize the peanut. The invention of peanut butter can be credited to at least 3 inventors including Dr. John Harvey Kellogg (creator of Kellogg cereal) who marketed it for people without teeth, Marcellus Gilmore Edson of Canada, and Dr. Ambrose Straub who patented a peanut butter machine.

Mechanization & George Washington Carver

Around 1900 mechanical equipment was invented to help speed up peanut planting, cultivating, harvesting, and processing helping make peanuts a more profitable crop. Just a few years later in 1903 botanist, George Washington Carver began experimenting with peanuts at the Tuskegee Institute. He played a large role in encouraging southern farmers to rotate their cotton fields with peanuts. This helps to preserve soil health, reduce pest and disease issues, and gave farmers another cash crop while they were struggling with the boll weevil.

WWI & WWII

When most people think of peanuts they think of food but peanuts are actually a source of glycerol which is used to make explosives. Peanuts were used during both World Wars for U.S. ammunition.

The U.S. peanut industry was further expanded during WWII after the Japanese captured Southeast Asia which had been a large source of vegetable oil. Farmers increased peanut crops to meet the new demand for U.S. vegetable oil.

Check out this article from Atlanta in 1942: Peanut Growers Meet War Demands.

Peanuts Today

Today the U.S. is the third-largest producer of peanuts just behind China and India. Peanuts have shifted from Peruvian ceremonial food to a major world crop. From PB&J sandwiches, to African peanut soup and spicy Indonesian peanut sauce the world has fallen in love with this awesome plant.

How to Grow Peanuts

There’s nothing like home roasted peanuts and peanut butter. To learn how to grow your own check out our Peanut Growing Guide or post Growing Peanuts at Home.

Garden Tip: Pruning Tomatoes

Pruning tomatoes is one of those subjects gardeners love to disagree on. While pruning isn’t absolutely necessary, especially for home-scale gardeners there may be some benefits.

The general idea with pruning tomatoes is that you’re eliminating less productive branches, encouraging the plant to put more energy into fruit rather than foliage. It allows all the foliage to receive maximum sunlight for photosynthesis. When all the leaves receive adequate sunlight they produce more sugar which is used to produce fruit helping you achieve an earlier, larger harvest.

Pruning can also help increase your yields by helping protect your plant from fungal diseases like Verticillium wilt, Fusarium wilt, or Alternaria. It allows good air circulation through your plants’ leaves and keeps them away from the soil where many fungal and bacterial diseases overwinter.

Determinate Vs. Indeterminate

Tomatoes can be divided into two general categories, determinate and indeterminate. Determinate or bush tomatoes grow to a certain size and fruit all at once. This can be helpful if you’re growing storage tomatoes or want a bunch of tomatoes all at once to can or freeze. These types of tomatoes do not need to be pruned. In fact, pruning determinate tomatoes can reduce your harvest size.

Indeterminate or vining tomatoes continue growing and producing fruit throughout the entire growing season. They provide a steady supply of tomatoes until they’re killed by frost or disease. Indeterminate tomatoes are the type that benefit from pruning.

How to Prune Tomatoes

Always use a clean pair of shears or scissors and wash your hands. Also avoid pruning tomatoes when they’re wet or during the hottest part of the day. Moisture spreads disease and the heat can cause extra stress. Evening is an ideal time.

You also want to prune fairly often, trimming branches while they’re small. Pruning larger branches is more stressful for the plant.

When pruning tomatoes the first thing you to trim is any branches whose leaves are touching the soil. This is especially important if you struggle with one of the fungal diseases mentioned above. Check out our post, Tomato Tips: Preventing Fungal Diseases for more tips.

You also want to prune any “suckers” these are the sprouts that grow out of a “v” between a branch and the main stem. While these suckers will eventually become full size branches they typically don’t produce as much, decrease air circulation, and make it harder to keep your plant properly trellised. It’s best to prune them when they’re small and you can just pinch them off with your finger tips.

Most gardeners are busy and not looking for extra work but pruning just might be worth it. Adding this quick chore to your list can help you achieve better and earlier yields especially if you’ve struggled with disease in the past.

Tips for Designing & Refining Your Planting Schedule

Especially for first-time gardeners, knowing what to plant and when can be a challenge. While there are certainly planting calendars and apps available to help you make this decision, ultimately you have to use a bit of your own best judgment. To help you make the best decisions possible we’ve put together some tips.

Know your zone.

While plant hardiness zones aren’t the end-all of planting, they can definitely help give you an idea of when it’s time to do what and when to expect your first and last frost. Check out our full post on hardiness zones here.

Plan for multiple successions.

To make the most of your time and space you should plan on succession planting. It’s when you stagger plantings or plant multiple crops in the same area throughout the season. Each time a crop is finished you pull it and plant a new one.

Read our posts, Succession Planting 101 and Succession Planting Flowers to get started.

If you can set up some season extenders.

Season extenders are your best friend. Having the option of using things like cold frames, hoop houses, low tunnels, and even just frost/shade cloth gives you a lot more wiggle room on both ends.

While it may be obvious that warm weather plants will benefit from warmer soils and frost protection, the benefits to cool-season plants can be less obvious. Using row cover (we often use tulle) allows us to plant cool-season crops much later. It keeps the soil cooler and keeps out troublesome pests like cabbage worms.

Need some ideas? Check out our post on easy season extension.

Watch the weather.

Even if you’re an experienced gardener, watching the weather can save you a lot of heartbreak. Many warmer season plants can be saved from late frosts or temperature drops if you cover them for the night. This can be accomplished with row cover or even old sheets or blankets. For best results rest your material on stakes or hoops so it’s over the plants but not touching them.

Keep a garden journal.

While it won’t help the first year, keeping a garden journal can help you hone your schedule. Try to record things like planting dates, frost events and storms, and even temperatures. In the following years, your records will help you make better-educated guesses.

Think about whether or not you want to save seed.

If you’re going to save seed you need to make sure your varieties don’t cross in order to get true seed. To accomplish this you’ll need to separate varieties.

This doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll need a lot of space. If you live somewhere with a long growing season some plants can be separated in time. For example, you can grow multiple successions of lettuce or beans ensuring that separate varieties aren’t flowering at the same time.

Check out our post, Garden Planning for Seed Saving for more advice.

Get a soil thermometer.

Being able to check the soil temperature can help you determine planting times and achieve better germination rates.

Trust your instinct.

If you know you’re area is prone to late frosts it may not be time to plant just because it is for the rest of your hardiness zone.

Following these tips can help you get your garden off to a good start. While planting apps and charts are certainly handy, they don’t always tell the full story. Only you can decide what’s exactly right for your garden.