Plant Families: Fabaceae (part 2)

Another post about those marvelous nitrogen-fixing legumes found in the Fabaceae family. This month we’ll look at peas, lentils and peanuts!


Peas are one of my absolute favorite vegetables for so many reasons:

  • They are a cool weather crop so I can start them early in the season when I’m just itching to get out in the garden. They will germinate with temps as low as 40F.
  • They are super easy, requiring no fertilizers, no thinning of seedlings … really, no fuss!
  • They can be susceptible to powdery mildew but there are disease resistant varieties and because you can plant seeds so early in the season, powdery mildew may not be around yet. I have a big problem with powdery mildew on squash but I’ve grown peas trouble-free for a decade.

Planting Peas: I grow peas on trellises or along a wire fence because I like to see the pretty pea flowers and it’s easier to see the pods for harvest, but there are varieties that don’t need a trellis. When you plant, cover the seed with an inch of soil in the spring and 2 inches of soil in summer for a second crop. YES, you can get a second crop! You won’t need to do much watering for your first crop because we get so much rain here in the spring, but if you do a second crop you will need to water. August can get pretty dry and hot, which peas don’t appreciate.

For more pea-growing info check out the University of Minnesota extension service website.

Harvesting Peas: Like beans, you can eat peas in multiple ways: pea pods (with immature peas inside), fresh sweet peas without the pod, and dried peas at the end of the season. You can also eat the shoots of the pea vine! (Check out this recipe from Bon Appetit.)

If you grew the pea pod but didn’t get out there to harvest it regularly, you’ll find the pods to be too tough to eat. That’s okay, you can harvest the peas out of the pod and eat them fresh.

When is it time to do a second planting? When you don’t see any more flowers on the vine, your peas are done for the season. That could be the end of June. Take advantage of the nitrogen-fixing properties of peas by pulling down the vines and putting them directly back into the soil. Wait two weeks and then start your second planting.


Lentils are a great food for people with diabetes and are a wonderful source of fiber, protein, folate, thiamin, phosphorus and iron. But that doesn’t mean you should try to grow it in your home garden. The seed pods typically hold only a couple of seeds and you’ll need 15,600 to 100,000 seeds to add up to a pound of lentils.

Maybe you want to grow a few to use for seed art … but this is one plant that’s better grown in very large quantities in vast fields – somewhere else, like North Dakota. It will get mildew if planted too close together. It grows best in cool, semi-arid places. And it doesn’t like high humidity or waterlogged roots.

Food Safety Note for Lentils

Lentils are high in phytate, an anti-oxidant compound that interferes with the absorption of dietary iron, zinc, and manganese. Soaking and cooking reduces phytate levels. It’s not likely to be a problem in a well-rounded diet but why not just prepare lentils properly and avoid any concern. Soak lentils overnight in warm water. (Dr. Andrew Weil suggests soaking in yogurt, buttermilk or water with lemon juice or vinegar). Cook lentils fully.


The peanuts that grow in Minnesota are Valencia-style peanuts, which have 3 to 6 nuts per pod. The plants are said to grow 50 inches tall and spread about 30 inches but we’ve grown these for two years now and they have never gotten above 2 feet (up and out).

They have lovely rounded deep-green leaves and are very attractive plants. You won’t get a lot of peanuts from each one but it’s a nice enough novelty plant. You can grow peanuts as a companion plant with beet and potatoes but they don’t like to be in the shade so if your potatoes get large, don’t plant them together.

Most peanuts require a long growing season but Valencia requires 95 to 100 days. They like full sun and rich soil. Mulch peanuts to keep soil from becoming hard and dried out. Give each plant plenty of room – at least 18” around it. The flower stems will dip down into the soil so you want to leave them room to do so.

Harvesting Peanuts: Harvest when the leaves turn yellow and begin to wither. Pull up the entire plant, carefully so you get the roots where the peanuts are growing. Dig around for any you missed. You can hang the entire plant up to dry in a warm, dry place for about two weeks. Then you can remove the peanuts from the hulls when they are completely dry.

WATCH OUT FOR SQUIRRELS! In 2015, squirrels visited our yard one evening in September and utterly decimated the plants. We got not a single nut. Next year we’ll put fencing around and netting over the plants.

Cooking Peanuts: Roast Valencia peanuts in a 350-degree oven for 30 minutes to an hour or boil them, which is said to bring out even more flavor.

Food Safety Note for Peanuts

Peanut allergies are one of the most common allergies in the U.S. Peanuts contain several proteins not found in other foods and those proteins stimulate an immune response in many people. Some research suggests that roasting makes the problem worse; in China, where peanuts are typically boiled, fewer people have peanut reactions. Other than allergies, I found no other food safety issues.

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