Days to germination: 10 to 14 days
Days to harvest: 90 to 100 days
Light requirements: Full sun
Water requirements: Regular watering
Soil: Well-drained and fertile soils
Container: Not ideal for a good crop
Chickpeas are also well-known as garbanzo beans, and are a legume but not really a pea or a bean though their names would suggest otherwise.
Chickpeas are a popular addition to a vegetarian diet because they are very high in protein for a plant crop, and you will also get folic acid, manganese, iron and fiber. They are basically very nutritious and high in several minerals that are not that common in plant form. Middle Eastern cuisine uses a lot of chickpeas, in dishes like hummus and falafel.
They need a long growing season, but also relatively cool weather. In climates with hot summers, make sure to water more and possibly add some shade for your plants.
Starting Your Seeds
Chickpeas need a pretty long growing season so it may be beneficial to start your seeds indoors for an earlier start. Though it can help your harvest, chickpeas don’t really transplant that well. So start your seedlings off in paper or peat pots that can be planted whole without pulling on the delicate roots.
Get your seeds into some potting soil about 4 weeks before you expect the last frost of the spring. Seeds should be about 1 to 2 inches deep in the soil. You can plant 1 or 2 per seedling pot but thin down to just one each once they sprout. Give them plenty of sun and keep the soil moist until they have sprouted through the surface.
Plant out your seedlings after your frost date, keeping them about 5 or 6 inches apart. A little crowding is fine as each plant will provide a bit of support for its neighbors. Other than that, they won’t need any staking. Most chickpea plants will be under 2 feet tall at maturity and quite bushy.
If you are sowing your seeds out into the garden rather than starting seedlings, you should do so about 1 to 2 weeks before that frost date. The seedlings can be frost sensitive, so if they sprout quicker than expected, you may want to cover them during the night.
As a legume, chickpeas fix their own nitrogen from the soil so if you are using any fertilizer on your garden you need to stay away from any high-nitrogen formulas. One with no nitrogen at all is best. The plants usually thrive without fertilizer, or just a top dressing of aged manure each spring.
Their roots are shallow and will be very near to the surface of the soil. Pull any weeds by hand, or use a cover of mulch instead.
Water your plants regularly, only around the soil. Don’t pour water over the entire plant or you will make it a target for mildew infestation. Water around twice a week in dry weather, particularly when the flowers are in bloom and the pods are developing. Once the pods are mature, and the plant begins to die back, you can limit the water to encourage the drying process.
The plants will grow fine in a container at least 10 inches across and deep, but since each plant produces a relatively small number of beans, it may not be practical to grow an entire chickpea crop in pots. To get a usable-sized crop, you will need several plants which may make container growing unsuitable even though the plants will grow just fine in pots. You’d need around 7 or 8 plants per person.
Pests and Diseases
Many insects can be a threat to your chickpea plants, such as leafhoppers, bean beetles, mites and aphids. Large bugs like bean beetles can be picked off when you see them, and you should remove any leaves that have egg cases on them. Natural insect sprays with pyrethrins can help deter them, but you will still need to check your plants regularly.
Aphids are smaller and can be harder to deal with. A hard spray of water can wash them off but you would have to do that almost daily (or more) to keep them away. Insecticide soap spray is another idea. The aphids themselves are fairly harmless unless in large numbers, but you do have to worry about them spreading diseases like bean mosaic virus.
Bean mosaic virus will kill your plants, but there are a number of resistant varieties of chickpeas that you can plant as a precaution. The leaves will start to roll and have a crinkled appearance, and the entire plant will be stunted. There is no treatment, so any effected plants should be dug up and destroyed. Burn them or put them in the garbage, but don’t add them to your compost heap or brush pile.
Fungus spores that favor chickpeas can be dormant in the soil for several years, so you must rotate your crops. Ideally, planting no other beans or legumes in the same area for at least 3 years to prevent the buildup of spores.
Harvest and Storage
The plants will grow small 1-inch long pods, each with only one or two beans inside. If you are used to growing peas or other podded beans, this may seem disappointing or a sign of trouble. That’s just the way the plant grows.
Though they can be picked while still green and eaten like fresh snap beans, it’s more common to harvest chickpeas as a dried bean crop. You can leave the pods on the plant until they have dried completely, but damp weather can put them at risk of mold. Instead, pick the pods once the leaves of the plant have turned brown and bring them indoors to finish drying.
Lay them out where it is warm and also well-ventilated until the chickpeas don’t dent when bitten. Once they are completely dry, you can store them in an air-tight container where it is cool for up to a year.