Specially grown and treated peanut seeds from the previous year’s crop are planted about two inches deep, one every three or four inches, in rows about three feet apart after the last frost in April and when the soil reaches 65 to 70 degrees F. In about two weeks, the first “square” of four leaflets will unfold above the peanut field. Thirty to forty days after emergence the plants bloom and “pegs” form and enter the soil. The peanut hulls and kernels develop and mature during the next 60 to 70 day period. Depending on the variety, 120 to 160 frost free days are required for a good crop.
When the plant has matured and the peanuts are ready to be harvested, the farmer waits until the soil is not too wet or too dry before digging. When conditions are right, he drives his digger up and down the green rows of peanuts plants. The digger has long blades that run four to six inches under the ground. It loosens the plant and cuts the tap root. Just behind the blade, a shaker lifts the plant from the soil, gently shakes the dirt from the peanuts, rotates the plant, and lays the plant back down in a “windrow,” -peanuts up and leaves down.
Peanuts contain 25 to 50% moisture when first dug and must be dried to 10% or less so they can be stored. They are generally left in the windrows to partially dry for 2 or more days in the field, before being combined.
The farmer drives his combine over the windrows. The combine lifts up the plants, separates the peanuts from the vine, blows them into a hopper on the top of the machine, and lays the vine back down in the field. The peanuts are then dumped into wagons and further dried to 10% moisture with warm air forced up through the floors of the wagons. They are then taken to nearby peanut buying stations where they are sampled and graded by the Federal-State Inspection Service to determine their value.
After the peanuts are purchased, they are placed in cold storage and eventually shelled or processed in the shell.