For many years, we have used Southern field peas such as crowder peas and black eyed peas for a cover crop during the hottest time of the year when nothing but weed seems to flourish. For a change here at the Back Forty, we are planting peanuts this summer. It is a cover crop with "nitrogen-fixing" properties that is basically adding nitrogen to the soil.
Peanuts are also known as groundnuts and they grow best in full sun in highly loose, well drained fertile soil. The peanuts develop small yellow flowers that grow on long stems called "pegs." After pollination, the pegs drop and push into the ground to produce new peanuts on the buried tips.
Each peanut plant may produce 25 to 50 peanuts after 90 to 120 days from the planting. At the seed store, we bought a pound, approximately 75 peanuts, which should cover a 100 foot row.
When we came home from the seed store, we shelled the peanuts, planted them 2" deep and 3 to 4 inches apart, and then covered them with soil. Mostly, peanuts are planted in the spring but for Northern Florida they should do well as a cover crop. To harvest the peanuts, dig or pull the plants when the kernels fill and the interiors of the pods are still light in color. A spot check now and then is recommended and necessary.
When the plants with the peanuts are pulled, dry the pods still on the plants in full sunshine for 4 to 7 days before separating the pods from the plant. It is suggested that the peanuts be stored with their shells intact.
The peanuts or the groundnuts are high in protein and vitamins E and B. The peanuts can be eaten raw or roasted. To roast, place the peanuts in a single layer on a cookie sheet and roast in a 325 degree F oven for 25 minutes. It is not necessary to shell them before roasting. With a grin on his face, my husband strongly suggested that the peanuts be shelled before eating. (Sigh.)
Source: Encyclopedia of Plant Care by Miracle-Gro