Friday, March 22, 2024

Bambara Nut Planting

Meet another Ground Nut, the Bambara Nut. Bambara are related to peanuts, and are cultivated all over Southern Africa.
These nuts are actually beans with a remarkable pattern of growth, very like peanuts. They grow up as plants and flower in the open air. Once the flower in pollinated, it starts to extend the flower stem (the pedicel) down towards the ground - and then right on into the ground. The seed pod generally contains one seed, and it develops underground connected to the plant above via the pedicel running down from the branching plant above. It takes about four months for the seeds to ripen. There are more than food values to them - they are part of Traditional Medicine in some locations, though the details are a separate topic. We are growing them to eat.

Harest involves pulling the entire plant out of the ground (after it turns yellow at the end of the growing season), doing so very carefully - all those Banyan-tree like structures running down from the plant stems are not roots, each is a pedicel and leads to a subterranean seed pod. Pull the pods off gently and allow them to dry in an airy, shaded location. Seed storage is normally in the pods to protect them from weevils and other bugs. Shelling them just before preparation is normal.

Getting them started is a matter of soaking them overnight, then rinsing them well and planting them in a suitable soil. We are starting our first crop with seeds purchased online as food, and starting them in 3" square and 9" deep tree pots. We fill them with soil and plant the soaked seeds four to a pot and about 1" deep, covering with more soil. A cactus mix might work well instead. It has taken them two weeks to sprout, and they are sprouting at a good rate.

We are growing them in mounds of a pearlite-sand-coir-bark mixture that we use as an all-purpose soil for growing seasonally dormant bulbs, but that is fancier than needed - these are specialists in poor soils that fix their own nitrogen from the air. Sandy and not waterlogged are very useful traits for the growing soil, basically you need to be able to pull the seed pods out of the ground when the plant is ready without breaking the somewhat fragile stem leading to the pod. We will post again when we harvest!

Usually, these are grown for consumption in the same household where they are grown. The nuts are a complete food all by themselves. In the latin naming system, these are Vigna subterranea. There are many common names used for these nuts, each of which tends to be localized to a specific region. A decent list of regional names can be found here.These names are encountered in South Africa:

  • Jugoboon
  • Ditloo-marapo
  • Izindlubu
  • Indlubu
  • Jugo bean
  • Nduhu
  • Phonda
  • Ndlowu
  • Njugo
  • Tindlubu
  • Inhlowa

The South African Department of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries has produced a solid introductory document about Bambara Nuts, which is a good place to start further reading: A much more detailed view is available from the 2022 book Bambara groundnut: Utilization and Future Prospects by Jideani and Jideani.

1 comment:

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