Wednesday, July 8, 2015

New Adventure for 2015 - Chickpeas, Updated July 8

Original Post - Scroll Down for Updates
It's pretty unusual for me to not be experimenting with a new vegetable. Last year it was flint corn. This year it's chickpeas, aka garbanzos. It seems like such a common bean at first glance, it doesn't seem like an exotic thing to grow. Why devote garden space to something that you can easily find in any grocery store, either as dried beans or canned beans, it's a pretty uniform product. But as with many a commodity crop if you start looking beyond the mass produced mass marketed stuff there's a whole new world to explore. I never thought that there was much variety in the world of Cicer arietinum beyond the ordinary tan variety, or "Black Kabouli", or the brown chickpeas to be found in Indian grocery stores. But then I started to do some research to figure out how to grow these beans and found that the advice is all over the place. And that's when I figured out that chickpeas have been selected and adapted to grow in a wide range of climates. And the growing advice is different depending on the climate. Not only that, they come in various sizes and colors, the skins can be tough to tender, the flavor can be bland or full.

To grow them successfully it helps to choose a variety that suits the climate where you garden. I'm not claiming to be a newly minted expert about growing chickpeas, but I think I've whittled it down to few basics that apply to growing most types of chickpeas that are adapted to temperate or cold climates. Growing them in subtropical or tropical climates is a different story that I'm not going to explore.
  • The seeds are more tolerant of cold soils than common beans, I read one recommendation to sow the seeds when the soil has warmed to 45ºF (7.2ºC), although Suzanne Ashworth says in her book Seed to Seed that they germinate best at temperatures from 70-85ºF (21.1-29.4ºC). The general recommendation is to direct sow the seeds, but I sowed my seeds into paper pots and then set them out once the seeds germinated and started to emerge from the soil.
  • The seedlings can survive some frost but it may stunt their growth. In fact, growers in some parts of California sow their seeds in the fall for spring harvests, much like I treat my favas. I'm thinking of sowing an experimental patch with my favas this fall. I do get occasional frost or freezing weather so it would be interesting to see how the plants do. I'm also thinking of planting them in late winter or early spring next year. We rarely have frost as late as February, so I might be able to sow them any time after mid February.
  • They don't like excessive heat. Seed Savers Exchange states in their book The Seed Garden that seed set is diminished when temperatures exceed 90ºF (32.2ºC). That shouldn't be a problem for me, we rarely have days that hot.
  • They are tap rooted and quite drought tolerant once the plants are established, but they need moisture when they are young.
  • I've seen conflicting statements that chickpeas are cool season plants and heat loving plants. I think it's all in the timing. They should be planted to grow and bloom in the cool season, or at least before the hottest weather sets in. The seeds should be maturing when the weather is warm and dry. The recommendation for climates that have rain when the seeds should be drying is to pull the plants when the seeds have matured and hang them in a protected place to allow the seeds to dry on the plants.
  • One rule of thumb I read was that they will tolerate cool wet weather or hot dry weather, but they don't like hot wet weather. 
I sowed my seeds indoors on May 13 and set them out in the garden on the 20th when the shoots were just emerging. 

May 23
By May 23 the first leaves were unfurling. I covered the patch with some tulle to keep the birds from uprooting the seedlings. I read in a few places that squirrels find chickpea seeds and seedlings to be particularly tasty, but fortunately I don't have a problem with squirrels, for now...

May 23
A few of the seedlings got munched by something, either sowbugs or a cutworm. Chickpeas are like runner beans, their cotyledons remain in the soil when the shoots appear. One benefit to that growth habit is that if the initial shoot gets destroyed another shoot will likely grow from the buried cotyledon to replace it, which is what happened with my munched seedlings.

June 6
The plants grew rather slowly to begin with, but that may have been because we had unusually cool weather for most of the month of May.

June 6
Now that the sun has come out and the weather has warmed up the plants seem to be taking off.

June 19
One interesting feature of chickpea foliage is that it exudes malic, oxalic, and citric acids. It is possible to see minuscule beads of it glistening on the foliage (although not in these photos). That doesn't make the foliage poisonous, but it can be a skin irritant if you handle it a lot so it's recommended to wear gloves and long sleeves when harvesting the beans. But it also adds a delicious tang to the flavor of the leaves. Yes, the young leaves are edible, they can be cooked or eaten raw. I even found a couple blog posts that mentioned chickpea plants grown in tight spacing or containers just for the greens. When I read about the edibility of the leaves I promptly went out to the garden and plucked a few leaves to try and I can affirm that they are indeed tasty. I may be happy that I learned this because I think I spaced my plants too closely. I have 3 rows of plants. The plants are 6 inches apart in the rows and the rows are 9 inches apart. Now I'm thinking that a more optimal row spacing may be 18 inches so I may remove the plants in the middle row. But I won't have to compost them because I can eat them! Anyway, I'm reserving judgement on the middle row as I watch the plants grow, if they start looking too crowded I'll remove them.

June 19
One of the biggest challenges I'm having is that different varieties of chickpeas produce different sized plants.  The seed packet for the variety that I'm growing, Pico Pardal,  says "If given plenty of space the bushes can become quite large", but I don't know what "quite large" really is. The plants may become quite large but the beans are quite small. Here's the remaining seeds in my packet laid atop a package of garbanzos from Rancho Gordo. The Pico Pardals are maybe half the size of the Rancho Gordos which are pretty much the size of the average garbanzo.

Here's the description from Adpative Seeds:

This chickpea is from León, an autonomous region in north-western Spain, where chickpeas have been a staple food since Roman times. Pico Pardal is small seeded, with a very pronounced beak. Creamy consistency, thin skin, cooks up fast & bakes well. If given plenty of space the bushes can become quite large & produce many small (2-bean) pods. The Pico Pardal Garbanzo bean is currently the subject of a lawsuit in its home region. A food packer trademarked the name in 1998 & seeks to restrict its usage; the Promotional Association for Pico Pardal Garbanzo de León is requesting the removal of the trademark because it is a traditional type that is widely grown in the region. Looks like we can add trademarks to the list of unfortunate seed control mechanisms. We sourced this variety from Paco Villalonga Lochridge, a Seed Savers Exchange member in Spain. 

The climate in León is similar to mine, perhaps a touch warmer in summer and colder in winter, but not dramatically so. The average precipitation is similar as well, although our summers are more dry. So I think this variety could be well suited for growing in my garden.

And so my chickpea/garbanzo adventure begins. I'll try to post updates as the season progresses. It will be interesting to see what color the flowers turn out to be (purple, white, pink, or blue?), how big the plants actually get to be (2 feet?), how long it actually takes to produce a crop (80-180 days...). And most important, will they be tasty?

Here's a few links that I found to be helpful or interesting (click on the links):

Update July 1

The patch has filled in quite a bit in the last 10 days. We're finally getting warm weather and nights that are generally staying above 50ºF (10ºC) so the garden is growing like crazy.

June 29
And it turns out that Pico Pardal garbanzos have tiny white flowers. No pods yet.

Garbanzo blossom
Update July 8

I've been searching for pods ever since the first blossoms opened and I finally spotted a few yesterday. They are still quite small.

Garbanzo pod
There's lots more flowers now, one from every leaf node.

And the patch has filled in even more in the past week. I never did thin any plants out.

July 8
I'll update again when there's something new to report.


  1. Read through all your links -- pretty feathery leaves, makes hummus and felafel, returns nitrogen to the soil -- what's not to like? I knew so little and learned so much. Anxious to see how it works out for you. For me, I read that I could start them after the first fall rains when the weather got cooler, 70-80 degrees, which gives me still some time to order some!

  2. You never do anything in half-measures. Michelle! You have researched this subject very thoroughly, and by rights you ought to get a good crop, but like all things related to gardening, there is always an element of luck involved. It would be unfair to judge the Garbanzo on one year's results of one variety! The edibility of the leaves is interesting. I think maybe people miss out on some delicacies because they think that only one part of a plant is edible. For instance, have you tried eating the tender young leaves at the growing-tip of a Broad Bean plant?

  3. That looks like an interesting experiment. I hope it works out well for you.

  4. What a different looking plant it is from other beans - with the "feathery" leaves as Jane stated. I look forward to your results, especially how long it takes for the crop. I would love to try some here, but my growing season is so much shorter than yours.

  5. I have never tried growing chickpeas so I will be anxiously watching for your updates. And what does 'quite large' mean anyway? Couldn't they give a measurement, even a range???

  6. Fresh chickpea is my favorite among all other peas, my experiment 3 years ago ended up in pulling all the plants because of wormy issues, I don't know which variety of worm, they are very tiny and difficult to see, hope your plants don't get them.

  7. Interesting experiment. At first the foliage looks strange, but it really looks pea-like. Given our weather extremes, I'm sure I couldn't grow it here, so it will be interesting to see your results. I'm trying field peas this year (zipper cream) to see if I can grow them up here.

  8. Those plants look so interesting! Whenever I grow something new I am always (seemingly without exception), confronted with many different recommendations. Most of the time, you just have to take an educated guess as to what will work best for your own situation.

    I have wondered whether or not we can grow chickpeas here - you should really never assume that you can't grow something simply because you don't see others growing it. I can't wait to see your harvest from these & hear about how they taste compared to the store bought.

  9. Thanks for the update. We had chickpeas in a salad for lunch. I cook them in a pressure cooker and then freeze them for later use. It's hard to go back to canned ones! I've seen fresh chickpeas occasionally in a local ethnic grocery but I've never used them.


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