Growing chickpeas isn’t a hard process, but it does take slightly longer than other vegetables you’d grow in containers like lettuce. Better known as the garbanzo bean, this is a cold-season annual that needs just over three months (100 days) to reach their harvest point. In turn, you’ll have to care for this plant slightly longer than most in your garden to ensure you get a good crop. You’ll get a tender legume that is neither a pea or a bean, but they’re very versatile. They grow in a bushy plant that is up to 18-inches tall, and it has dark green, compound leaflets.
When you’re growing chickpeas, you’ll notice that they have oblong, swollen pods that are almost an inch long and one inch one. Each pod has single or double large, pea-like seeds with cream coloring. They flower either violet or white, depending on the variety. I’m going to outline everything you need to know about growing chickpeas to help you get a full harvest, and I’ll give you a few tips to help keep them healthy. Since this plant needs a longer growing season, let’s dive in.
Growing chickpeas is slightly different than growing other types of legumes or vegetables. They take longer, but you can get large harvests under the correct conditions. They can last for up to a year frozen, so it’s a great addition to any household diet. Credit: Chickpeas by Jennifer / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
The History of Chickpeas
Did you know that growing chickpeas dates back thousands of years? They are the earliest cultivated legume. In the Middle East, chickpea remains have been discovered that are around 7,500 years old. The remains were found in the aceramic levels of Çayönü, Turkey and Jerico. This means that people have been growing chickpeas since before the formulation of pottery. They’ve found other samples of ancient chickpeas in Neolithic pottery in Turkey and Hacilar, and they’ve been in France, Greece, and across Europe.
Chickpeas were featured in Charlemagne’s Capitulare de villis around 800 AD, and Charlemangne describes how each imperial demesne went about growing chickpeas. Albert Magnus mentioned chickpeas as having three different colors, and Nicholas Culpeper called them more nourishing than peas. In 1793, a German writer mentioned chickpeas as a coffee substitute. Germany retained this knowledge and started growing chickpeas for a coffee substitute during World War I, and some people continue to use them to this day.
Chickpea comes from that French word chiche and the Latin word cicere. You can find the first mention of the chickpea in English print was in 1338, and mid 18th-century dictionaries cited it. This legume most likely got its name from the French word pois chiche. As the word went across the English Channel, it became known as chicke pease, and the plural sound was mistaken for a pluralization. This changed chicke pease to chickpea. The word Garbanzo is the Spanish term for the chickpea, and it means dry seed.
Today, chickpeas are a huge source of protein for a large portion of the world’s population, so knowing how to grow this versatile legume is essential.
Cooked chickpeas add a huge amount of protein into your diet, and they can make a meal very filling. They also mix well in a large range of dishes, and this makes chickpeas a very versatile ingredient. Credit: Chickpeas by Julio Martinez / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Growing Chickpeas – Step-by-Step Guide
Growing chickpeas involves planting them in full sun. However, you can get away with putting them in a partially shaded spot if you’re not worried about the impact it has on your overall yield. To get them to grow the best, you’ll need a loose but well-drained soil that has a rich organic matter content. Adding compost to the soil will increase the nutrient value before you plant. Make a point to add some potassium and phosphorus to the soil as well.
You want to avoid growing chickpeas in areas where the soil has a high nitrogen content or green manures have just grown. If you plant your chickpeas in areas with high nitrogen levels, you’ll get leafy and green growth instead of seed production.
General Growing Information
When you’re growing chickpeas, they need around 100 days to reach harvest. They are a frost-tolerant plant, but they grow best when the daytime temperatures range between 70 and 80°F. The night temperature shouldn’t dip below 65°F. To get the correct planting time, you have to sow your chickpeas in your garden early. This means getting out and starting the process between two and three weeks before the last frost date of the spring.
You’ll give them an even bigger head start when you’re growing chickpeas by sowing your chickpeas indoors using paper pots or peat before transplanting the plant and pot together into the garden once your plants reach between three and four inches tall.
You want to pay attention to the spacing and planting of each of your chickpeas when you start to grow them. Each plant has to be between three to six inches apart and between one-half and two inches deep. It’s critical that you thin any successful growth to keep them six inches apart and cut the thinned plants away from the soil level using a pair of garden scissors. Doing this will ensure you don’t disturb the roots, and the chickpea rows should be between 18 and 24 inches apart.
Avoid soaking the chickpea seeds before you sow them, and water them thoroughly after you sow them to keep the seeds intact and not cracking. At the very start, they can crowd together a little to give each other support.
Spacing your plants apart when you’re growing chickpeas is critical to ensuring they have strong growth. They will support one another when they’re young, but they need space to spread out and grow as they mature. This is why you have to trim them routinely. Credit: Chickpea by ICARDA – Science for Resilient Livelihoods in Dry / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Step One – Planting Your Chickpea Seeds
Once you’re ready to start growing chickpea seeds, there are several steps you have to follow to ensure they germinate and take off. To start, get your paper or moss containers ready. You’ll put the seeds into a quarter-inch of soil. You should start your seeds around four weeks before the last expected frost date of the season. Chickpea seeds are slightly more fragile than other types, so you have to start them indoors to give them a chance to germinate rather than outside.
Since chickpea seeds tend to die when you transplant them, you want to use biodegradable pots. You can sink these pots directly into the ground rather than using plastic or ceramic containers, and you can get them at most nurseries, garden centers, or on Amazon in bulk at a relatively low cost.
Fill the seedling pots by putting a slight amount of potting soil in the bottom and plant one seed in each pot. Position the seed so it’s an inch or two deep in the soil. The recommendation is planting one seed in each pot, but you could possibly fit two without an issue.
Once you have everything planted, the next step for growing chickpeas is to water the soil once every day, very lightly. When it starts to get hot out, you want to switch up to watering them twice a day. Place your seedling pots next to a window while making sure they get direct sunlight. The soil’s surface should stay moist until your chickpea seedlings start to sprout. Do not soak your chickpea seeds before you sow them, and be careful not to crack the seeds by pouring too much water in as soon as you get them planted in the seedling pots.
It’s a good idea to put one seed per pot, but you could try two if you have a lot. Your seedlings need a lot of sunlight to germinate, and they like you to keep the soil moist. They should be between three and four-inches tall before you take them outside. Credit: Seedlings by Steven Lilley / CC BY-SA 2.0
Step Two – Transplant Your Seedlings
Once your seedlings sprout and you’re ready to transplant them, you’ll follow these steps to ensure that they’re healthy and that they continue to grow well. The first thing you want to do is select the correct location in your yard that offers full sun. The area in question will get direct sunlight at least six hours a day. We touched on preparing your soil first, so ensure you add your compost before you introduce your pots.
If you don’t have a spot that gets direct sunlight for growing chickpeas, be aware that this may impact how many chickpeas you’re able to grow. They can survive in partial shade, but they really prefer full sun if you have any space in your yard. If you live in a southern state, give your chickpeas shade in the hotter afternoon hours.
Next, ready your soil. Grab a few handfuls of aged compost a week or a day before you transplant your chickpea pots to improve the soil’s overall condition. If you can, mix in a fertilizer that has higher amounts of potassium and phosphorus to encourage more growth. You want to end up with a soil that isn’t extremely heavy or compact, and you can mix in agricultural sand, fine gravel, or a soil perfector to improve the drainage and make it less dense. Don’t mix in any moss because they can trap too much water and lead to root rot when you’re growing chickpeas.
Wait for the last frost of the season to pass and transplant your chickpeas. They are tolerant to frost, but you’ll give them the best chance possible to survive if you wait until the last frost finishes. Your seedlings should be between four and five-inches tall when you transplant them.
Your best bet is to create a small grid and make sure to keep the spacing uniform. Spacing is critical to these plants, and they don’t do well crowded together. Carefully space each pot between five and six inches apart, and you should dig the holes for each one so they’re as deep as the seedling pot. Some people do suggest crowding them together slightly for support, but it’s better to space them out.
The final thing you have to do when growing chickpeas is bury the entire seedling pot into the ground. Since you dug every hole big enough to fit the pot, you can simply drop the pot with the dirt and the plant down into the hole. Cover the edges with a light layer of soil. Don’t remove any seedlings from the pot because it could lead to a shocked root system, and this will kill the plants.
Allow your chickpeas to grow for their full cycle of 100 days. Keep the soil moist around your plants, but don’t overwater them. You’ll start to see the seeds, and they’ll be roughly one-inch wide by one-inch long when they’re ready to harvest.
When you plant your seedlings, you want to ensure that you put the whole pot into the ground to avoid shocking the plant’s root system. Adding a thin layer of mulch will add more protection. Credit: 12 seedlings transplanted today by jalexartis Photography / CC BY 2.0
Step Three – Harvesting Your Chickpeas
When it’s time to harvest the chickpeas, you have two options. Just like any other crop you grow like cucumbers or squash, knowing when the correct time to harvest is critical for the growing chickpeas process. Too soon, and the chickpeas won’t be at their full potential. Not soon enough, and you run the risk of them dropping off.
- Fresh Harvest – If you’re someone who wants to harvest your chickpeas fresh, you want to pluck them off the pods when they’re still green and immature. You can eat fresh chickpeas in the same way that you would eat fresh snap beans. Each pod has one or three beans, and each pod is around an inch or two inches long.
- Dried Harvest – The second option you have to to harvest your chickpeas dry. This is a more popular method than having fresh chickpeas. You have to harvest your entire chickpea plant once the leaves start to wither and turn brown. Put your harvested plant on a flat and warm surface and allow your pods to naturally air-dry in a warm and well-ventilated location. A patio or sunroom is a great choice. When the pods split open, you can harvest the seeds.
Having the correct conditions to dry your chickpeas ensures that they last longer than they would if you left them fresh. You can semi-cook them and freeze them to preserve them longer. Credit: Chickpeas! By melted_snowball / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Growing Chickpeas – General Care Guidelines
Germinating and planting chickpeas is only half of the battle when it comes to growing chickpeas. There are several general care instructions that you should be aware of. Following them will help you get a healthy crop of plants and a full chickpea harvest.
Create a Regular Watering Schedule
Make a point to regularly water your chickpeas, using rainwater you harvested or water out of the hose. In many cases, regular rainfall is enough water for these plants, but you’ll want to water them twice a week when it starts to get hot and dry out. Your chickpeas should be forming pods and flowering when you water them twice a week. Avoid overwatering your plants because they’re prone to mildew growth, and this can kill the plant. Also, make a point to water your plants directly at the soil level instead of using an overhead shower.
Once the pods mature for growing chickpeas and the plants start to naturally die back by themselves, you can cut back on the watering schedule. Instead of twice a week, water your plants once a week. You could even go every other week to help encourage the drying process.
Mulch as Needed
If your weather starts to warm up after you plant your chickpeas, you’ll need to add a light layer of much all around the plant’s stems. When you’re growing chickpeas, they like moist soil and mulch helps retain water. The mulch will trap the water in close to the soil to prevent the plants from drying out when they get their six to eight hours of sunlight.
Carefully Fertilize the Plants
Around the halfway point for growing chickpeas, you may want to add an organic material like aged compost to the soil right around your plants. Avoid using fertilizers that are rich in nitrogen. If there is too much nitrogen in the soil, it can lead to leaves that are far bushier than they need to be, and this can reduce your yield. Using a fertilizer spreader is one great way to ensure you get even coverage over all of your plants.
Picking out a solid fertilizer will help to boost the nutrients in the soil to feed your chickpeas so they grow and thrive all season long. Credit: Bags of Fertilizer by UGA CAES/Extension / CC BY-NC 2.0
Handle with Care
When you’re adding your fertilizer or organic matter to the soil or pulling weeds, you have to be very careful so you don’t damage the plant. You could easily disturb their root system and cause shock. The root system for this plant is very shallow, so it’s easy to hit. When your chickpeas are wet, avoid handling them because this encourages fungal growth and fungus spores to spread.
Manage Pests Quickly
Part of growing chickpeas is managing the pests because they’re very vulnerable to several different types. You should wait until you see the pests to treat them rather than try to pre-treat the plants. If you have any loose debris in your garden, get rid of it because this can cause pests to come around and go at your plants.
Keep an Eye Out for Disease Signs
These plants are also very prone to developing disease that tend to spread quickly from one plant to the next. You can avoid having a disease outbreak when you’re growing chickpeas by keeping the plant bed free of any loose debris. Don’t handle your chickpeas when they’re wet, and you want to make a point to get rid of any diseased plants quickly so it doesn’t spread. You can throw diseased plants in the trash or burn them, but keep them out of your compost bin. Common diseases include:
- Anthracnose – Anthracnose is a fungal disease that can impact several plants, including trees, fruits, and vegetables. It will cause your chickpeas to develop sunken, dark lesions on the stems, leaves, and pods. It can survive on any infected plant debris, and this makes it very fast to spread.
- Blight – Blight can refer to an injury or disease of the plant, but it’s a fungal infection. It’ll cause browning, yellowing, withering, spotting, or dying of your plant’s stems, flowers, or leaves.
- Mosaic – This is a virus that can impact over 150 types of plants, and this includes flowers, vegetables, and fruits. The leaves will turn a mottled coloring with white, yellow, and dark or light green spots and streaks. It’s very fast to spread.
Uses for Chickpeas
Now that you know all about growing chickpeas, you’ll want to know about some of their uses. Chickpeas work as filler in animal food and people use them as a staple in their diets. Eating raw chickpeas can be slightly healthier than eating raw peas or other similar legumes. One big bonus of growing chickpeas for animal consumption is that it has no adverse effects of them. They can allow the animals to grow and start to produce milk just as well as they would if they were on a cereal or soy diet.
When it comes to human consumption, growing chickpeas ensures that you get a very nutrient-dense food that gives you a good amount of your recommended daily value of folate, dietary fiber, and minerals like phosphorus and iron. Chickpeas also come with thiamin, zinc, magnesium, and vitamin B6. If you choose to cook your chickpeas with other Mediterranian spices, you’ll get a high amino acid content.
Cooking chickpeas to eat them is a very straightforward and easy process. It usually involves boiling them for 10 minutes before setting them to simmer. If you have dried chickpeas that you want to cook, you should cook them from one to two hours. However, you can cut your cooking time by as much as half if you soak your dried chickpeas for 12 to 24 hours before you cook them. Routinely switch out the water.
Chickpeas are a very nutritional additive to a broad range of dishes, and they’re especially popular in soups and thick stews. Credit: chorizo with chick peas, ready by eltpics / CC BY-NC 2.0
You can also eat your chickpeas raw, and they’re a very popular ingredient in salad. You’ll find chickpeas a lot in hummus, and this makes them a quick and easy additive to a cheap meal. You can prepare hummus by cooking chickpeas and grinding them into a thick paste. Chickpeas will pop and allow you to eat them like popcorn as well. You can grind them into a fine flour, or you can add them in chili, stews, and soups.
If you end up with a huge chickpea harvest and there’s no way you’ll be able to use them all before they go bad, you can store them. Part of growing chickpeas is storing them. If you want to store a small amount of cooked chickpeas in your refrigerator, you can put them in a plastic zipper bag or in a covered airtight container. Drain out all of the liquid. They’ll keep for up to four days like this.
A second option you have is to freeze your harvest when you finish growing chickpeas. Once you cook the beans until they’re still semi-firm, you want to remove as much moisture as you possibly can. Pat them dry with a few paper towels. Put the chickpeas in a Ziplock bag that you spread out into a single layer. They’ll stick to each other if you pile them on top of each other. Put the chickpeas in the freezer in single layers, and you can stack them on top of one another to help save space.
Growing chickpeas is a time-consuming process, but you can get a huge harvest if you get the growing conditions correct. I’ve outlined everything you need to know about growing chickpeas, and you can take this information and apply it to your own crop.
Jen is a master gardener, interior designer and home improvement expert. She has completed many home improvement, decor and remodeling projects with her family over the past 10 years on their 4,500 sf Victorian house. She is also a passionate farmer who keeps goats, chickens, turkeys cows and pigs on her farm, and an instructor for her community’s Organic and Sustainable Farming project.