How To Grow and Enjoy Chickpeas

Chickpeas, also called garbanzo beans, are legumes that need 100 days to reach harvest, but what could be better than growing your own for an array of hummus or falafel recipes?

Chickpeas are bushy plants that look similar to vetch, with its dark green compound leaves, and grow to about 50cm tall. They produce drooping pods that contain one or two pea-like seeds. The flowers that predate the pods are either white or violet, depending on the variety

What they need

Full sun: Plant in full sun for the best yields; semi-shade will produce reduced yields.

Well-draining soil: Plant in rich, well-draining beds that have loads of compost added before planting. For good seed production, don’t plant in soil that is high in nitrogen (such as beds improved with green manures).

Time: To reach harvest, chickpeas need 100 days and fairly warm temperatures. Although they are frost tolerant, they prefer warm temperatures and need to be planted after the last frost in spring.

Water: Make sure chickpeas have consistently moist soil, and water more regularly during flower and pod formation.

Mulch: Save as much water as possible by adding a layer of organic mulch.

Food: As with other legumes, chickpeas have a symbiotic relationship with soil bacteria. The bacteria take nitrogen from the air to feed to the legumes, and in exchange the legumes provide carbohydrates to the bacteria. Any food must therefore avoid an excess of nitrogen, but elements like potassium and phosphorus are most welcome.

Care: Fungal spores can be spread by handling wet plants. Also take care around the roots when weeding as they have very shallow roots

Where to get seed

White and brown types of chickpeas seed can be purchased online from www.livingseeds.co.za. These make great sprouts too.


Chickpeas can be harvested when still green, when they can be eaten like you would snap peas. However, they are more versatile if left on the bush to dry out. When the leaves have turned brown, dig up the whole plant and place on a warm dry surface to dry out completely. The pods will split open and the seeds can then be collected and stored. They can be kept this way for up to a year.

To prepare, boil in water for 1 – 2 hours until soft but not falling apart. You can also soak them in water for 24 hours before cooking for about 30 minutes.

Culinary uses

For most of us, hummus (the Arabic word for chickpea) is one of the most delicious uses of the chickpea. Mixed with sesame seed paste (tahini), it makes a tasty dip or spread. Mashed chickpeas make for a wonderful veggie burger patty base. When ground into flour called gram, chickpeas are the basis of falafel and many other spicy dishes from around India and Asia. In the Mediterranean they are extensively used whole in salads and tapas, or as a flour for breads. In other parts of the world they are spiced as a snack or sweetened for a dessert. The chickpea is one of the most useful legumes in the kitchen.

READ MORE: Get kitchen inspiration with these 5 hummus recipes or learn how to make your own chickpea burgers

The Gardener