Plant Common Name
Bengal Gram, Chickpea , Garbanzo Bean, Indian Pea
Grown for thousands of years, chickpeas are among the first plants cultivated by humans. They are members of the fabulous Fabaceae, or bean family, and one of the top three pulse crops (a term for plants in the bean family that produce edible seeds). The origin of this valuable plant has been lost in time, but remains have been found in ancient archeological sites around southwestern Asia and the Mediterranean. There are many cultivars available that vary in production, size and fruit quality.
The chickpea is a drought tolerant annual. It branches near the ground and its stems are sometimes fuzzy and sticky from glandular secretions. Its compound leaves are feather-like, relatively small and are also covered with silvery glands. Mature plants produce pretty pea flowers of white, pink or lavender. These have large, rounded petals subtended by smaller petals, which form a lip or keeled beak. They are produced singly or in groups of two or three on short stems among the foliage. The flowers are visited by bees, and the fruit is a pod that usually bears two fat round seeds.
Though botanically the same, chickpeas have been divided into two groups. Those typically grown on the Indian subcontinent, Ethiopia, Mexico and Iran produce small, dark seeds with a rough coat and are also known as Desi. In contrast, those grow in southern Europe, northern Africa, Afghanistan and Chile have lighter, larger seeds with smooth seed coats and grow on taller plants. These are called Kabuli types.
Chickpeas are cool season annuals in southern zones and summer crops in more northerly areas. It usually takes 120 days from seed to harvest and more time (around 210 days) for the seeds to dry. In temperate zones, they can be planted just as soon as the soil is workable. The seedlings are frost tolerant. In warmer zones they are planted in the winter. Sow the seeds directly into the soil because plants do not transplant well. Chickpeas grow best in full sun and fertile sandy loam with good drainage. The plants are drought tolerant, but production is better with regular water. Like many members of the bean family, chickpeas have a mutually beneficial relationship with a bacterium called Rhizobium, which allows plants to add nitrogen to the soil. The plants grow better if the seeds are tossed in a commercially available Rhizobium inoculum before planting. The ability to add nitrogen to the soil makes chickpea an excellent companion or rotation crop.
Chickpeas are often overlooked in home gardens. Their edible and nutritious peas are tasty and fun to cook with. Incorporate them in to soups, stews and salads or puree them with garlic, tahini and lemon for a homemade batch of hummus.