If you love hummus, you love chickpeas. These versatile legumes are a staple in a variety of dishes, from hummus to curry to minestrone soup. If you’re looking at growing a few long-term pantry staples, chickpeas should definitely be on the list.
They’re easy to grow, nutrient-dense, and full of happy, hippy vibes. Nothing says “true back-to-the-lander” like making hummus from your very own chickpeas.
About 4-8 plants per person can provide a household with easy, protein-rich, vegetarian food for a year. They’re a great way to make your house a bit more sustainable, and reduce your food bill while you’re at it.
Isn’t it “Garbanzo Bean?”
Chickpeas have been a staple in human diets since the dawn of agriculture. They’re mentioned in ancient texts, early monastic rules, and throughout the medieval period.
But by the early and mid-20th century, chickpeas were passe. No one but hippies bothered to eat this fantastic legume. Green beans grew in gardens across America, but no one considered chickpeas worth the garden space.
Fortunately, things are changing. Chickpeas are back on the market. They’re in everything from vegan cooking to crunchy snacks. Those of us with gardens are wondering why we never planted chickpeas before.
We use the terms chickpea and garbanzo bean interchangeably. Both names refer to the same plant – garbanzo beans and chickpeas are exactly the same. I prefer the term chickpea, but that’s just a personal choice.
Chickpea comes from the Latin term cicer, as we see in the botanical name Cicer arietinum. Garbanzo actually comes originally from Basque – and through Spanish. Breaking it down, garbanzo turns into garau – “seed” and antzu – “dry”.
Whether you call them chickpeas or garbanzo beans, the growing process is the same. Like many legumes, they’re a simple crop. Give your chickpeas a lot of time, consistent water, and a little care, and they’ll give you an abundant harvest.
Chickpeas need about 3-5 months of frost-free weather to grow well. If you have at least 3 months of weather averaging over 50°F and under 85°F, you can grow chickpeas.
In warmer areas, you’ll want to plant chickpeas in the fall or early spring. In colder climates, plant in mid to late spring for a fall harvest.
These legumes grow best in full sun. They like neutral soil with plenty of compost and good drainage. Make sure your chickpeas will have plenty of space, give each plant plenty of growing space.
If you’re planting in heavy soil, add a little sand and compost. Good textured soil is important to healthy chickpea growth. But chickpeas don’t need added nitrogen, like all legumes, they actually add nitrogen to the soil as they grow.
Garbanzo beans need healthy amounts of potassium and phosphate though, so pay attention to these vital nutrients when you’re preparing the soil.
Chickpeas aren’t heavy feeders, but they do benefit from consistent nutrients in the soil. Don’t expect your plants to thrive in poor, hard-packed soil. Bone meal is a great source of nutrients for your plants. A well-balanced compost is also a great option.
If you have a bag of chickpeas from the grocery store, you can actually direct seed them. We’re talking about the dried kind, here. Not the canned kind.
Depending on how old your store-bought chickpeas are, they may have a lower germination rate though. Since grocery store chickpeas are cheaper and easier to find, it may be worth it for you to try.
For best results, buy some chickpeas from a seed supply store.
Like many legumes, chickpeas don’t handle transplanting well. Direct sow into warm soil. Seeds won’t germinate well if soil temps are below 50°F. Plant seeds about an inch deep and cover with loose soil.
Some people like to make little mounds for their chickpea seeds, like you would for beans. It doesn’t hurt, but the mounds aren’t necessary.
To Soak or Not to Soak
Don’t soak the seeds before planting or they may crack and fail to germinate. Even though chickpea seeds are hard (they’re just dried chickpeas after all!), they need some time in moist soil to germinate. Soaking won’t help them germinate, and it will likely reduce your germination rate.
Space your chickpea plants about 6-8 inches apart within the rows, but keep the space between rows at least 18 inches. Some people prefer to give their plants. After planting, water well and keep the soil moist, but not drenched.
Garbanzo beans appreciate consistent watering. They’re not drought tolerant at all, so regular moisture is a must. Water your seedbed in the mornings to give your chickpeas a moist growing environment all day long.
Caring for Chickpeas
Once they’ve sprouted, young chickpeas are relatively low maintenance. They have a long growing season – about 100 days to harvest time, so give them regular water and let them be.
About an inch of water a week is the ideal amount for healthy chickpeas, but try to avoid watering from above. Chickpeas hate drought, and too little water will give your stunted, poorly-producing plants.
Unfortunately, spray hoses and heavy, overhead watering can cause your young chickpea pods to fall to the ground and rot. Instead, water at the base of the plants each morning.
Gently water the base of the plant until the soil is wet, but not sodden, then move on the to next plant.
If you do need to thin your chickpeas, don’t pull up the extra plants. Instead, snip the excess plants right at the soil line. Pulling the plants can disturb the roots of neighboring plants, and chickpeas hate having their roots disturbed.
Some chickpea growers intentionally crowd their plants though, because, in close quarters, chickpea plants will support each other.
Close-growing plants often intertwine and create a natural trellis for themselves. While they’re not technically a vining crop, chickpeas do benefit from that extra support.
With such a long growing season, chickpeas do benefit from a mid-season application of a 5-10-10 fertilizer. If the growing season is getting hot, or too dry, mulch your plants to keep them cool and hydrated.
Weeding can be a little tricky. Try to keep your chickpea bed as weed free as possible, but avoid disturbing the roots of your plants as well. It can be a difficult thing to balance.
Try using gardening cloth or tarps to minimize weeds. Weeding regularly will also help. Pull new weeds before they have a chance to get established.
Pests and Diseases
Chickpeas are susceptible to a few common garden pests and diseases.
Aphids are often the biggest threat to chickpeas. Not only do these pests attack the plants themselves, but they can also spread mosaic virus.
If you see aphids on your plants, insecticidal soap is the best course of action. Spray all visible aphids with insecticidal soap. Then repeat the treatment weekly until your chickpea plants are aphid-free.
Leafhoppers and Mites
Fortunately, a few insecticidal soap treatments spread about 10 days apart will kill off these pests.
This chickpea-specific pest (Liriomyza cicerina) devours the flesh of the leaves, leaving behind an ugly trail. You can plant your crop a little early, counting on the cool weather to deter leafminers, but if that doesn’t work, neem oil will.
Dilute the neem oil and spray the leaves every week or two to reduce the number of leafminers and allow your plants to regain their health.
Along with the aphid-spread mosaic virus, chickpeas are susceptible to anthracnose, blight, and fusarium wilt. Blight can be treated with a copper-based fungicide, while fusarium wilt cannot.
But for all these diseases, the best cure is prevention. Keep your garden clean and tidy. Rake away dead leaves in the fall and avoid overhead watering.
Rotate your chickpeas at least every 3 years to avoid developing soil-born illnesses that will attack your plants.
There are a few disease-resistant varieties available on the market. ‘Dwelley,’ ‘Sierra,’ and ‘Sanford’ are all varieties that have shown consistent resistance to disease. Resistant varieties are especially helpful if you’ve struggled with diseases in the past.
Mature chickpea plants grow to about 30-35 inches tall. The pods form near the top of the plants. They’ll continue blooming until frost, but the pods can take time to mature as well. You can harvest young pods and eat them whole, like snap peas.
But most people allow the pods to dry on the vine and harvest when the pods have started to split.
After harvesting the dried pods, lay them out to continue drying for a while. Well-dried chickpeas will barely dent when bitten. After they’re dry, you can store your garbanzo beans for about a year or more.
Use them like you would any other dried bean. Soak them overnight in warm water, then boil them until tender. Chickpeas often need to boil longer than beans. Avoid adding salt until the chickpeas are tender though because salt will often stall their ability to soften.