How To Grow Chickpeas In The UK, As Pea Shoots, As Immature Pods For Eating Raw, Or As Mature Peas For Drying Or Cooking. Here’s How To Do It
How To Grow Chickpeas in the UK is a question more people are asking as the climate gets warmer and our home cooking tastes expand and refine. Chickpeas originate in warmer climates than we’ve previously experienced in the UK. But my experience is that they tolerate far more cold than we might expect, are one of the unusual UK veg crops that can grow in gardens and commercial cropping has started in the UK.
What Are Chickpeas?
Chickpeas are an annual leguminous plant that originated in Turkey but soon spread across the Middle East and is now found in Indian cuisine. Often referred to as gram as in gram flour, or Bengal gram it is an Indian mainstay crop and is used in recipes with channa in its name. Eg channa chaat, and channa masala.
Elsewhere it is known as Egyptian beans, garbanzo and garbanzo beans and is the vegetable used to make falafel. Other dishes include hummus and leblebi. In Tunisia I’ve eaten it as a morning breakfast dish rather like we might eat cereals in the UK. Though in Tunisia it was more soup like!
Growing Chickpeas For Pea Shoots or Micro-Greens
On October 21st 2022 I sowed some chickpea seed indoors and some outdoors. I expected the indoor ones to germinate and grow as pea shoots. I didn’t really expect the outdoor ones to germinate, it was only an experiment. But though sporadic and slower to germinate, by November 12th 2022 I had micro-greens ready for harvest. My plan however was to keep them and allow them to develop into chickpea shoots.
The indoor crop, grown in a recycled ice cream container, grew much faster and were soon being used in Indian dishes such as the Chickpea curry which was served with both home grown coriander leaves and chickpea shoots
Chickpea shoots are quite crunchy and have a flavour somewhere between teas and broad beans.
To discover more about growing micro-greens , sprouted seeds and baby plants for eating follow this link.
My Chickpea Curry Recipe
I don’t measure anything. There is no right or wrong recipe here. Add more or less of what you like and don’t like. Let your preferences and intuition guide you.
Fry some onions until caramelised; add sliced ginger, chopped chilli, freshly ground cumin and coriander seeds. Fry for 30 seconds.
Stir in chopped fresh coriander and garam masala, serve.
Place homegrown coriander and chickpea shoots on top.
How To Grow Chickpeas in the UK For Pods & Peas
As stated earlier chickpeas are reputed as liking, and needing, warmth. After all they are used in many Asian and Eastern dishes. But the plant from which they originated is Cicer reticulatum and it is from Turkey. So they originate from a country that has a mediterranean climate. And with global warming we are seeing the crop grown commercially much further north into Italy, Portugal, Spain and France.
In France they have been grown as far north as Normandie. However in France there are no chickpea breeders and breeding programmes. Chickpea varieties grown tend to come from cultivars created by INIAV (Portugal) through lines coming from the International Centre for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (IRCADA).
There are also no varieties bred for growing in the UK.
However, There are British famers growing commercial crops of chickpeas in England. And these crops are on sale in this country.
The production is now focused in the area around Norwich, in East Anglia, which is known for its low rainfall. Previously they were grown on the brecks. Breckland is a dry, free draining environment. Warmth and low rainfall are a consideration when growing chickpeas. Cooler, wetter days, and wetter soils, might not be so good for them. But time will tell.
So it is possible to grow chickpeas here and we can do it in our gardens. And the best way to do so is to copy their techniques, because they have proved successful.
Types of Chickpeas For UK Growing
The two main types of chickpea for UK growing are kabuli and desi.
Kabuli are used for canning, drying or making chickpea flour, which tastes different to conventional gram flour. Kabuli seed are pale smooth round peas.
Desi are most usually used to produce split peas and to make gram flour or channa dal. Desi chickpea seed are brown and smaller.
So we need to consider end use before deciding on our chickpea seed source.
Chickpea Seed Sources
I use dried chickpeas, bought in 2 kg bags from my local Indian supermarket for growing chickpea shoots.
Varieties such as Principe for pods are for sale from some UK seed companies.
Garden Crops Of Chickpeas For Edible Pods & Peas
Based on the experimental work of other gardeners and commercial growers I suggest the following.
Sow in light, free draining soils in a warm microclimate.
Sow between March and April depending on your conditions. They don’t need a fine seed bed … they germinate well in where the soil is not over cultivated. Over cultivation tends to lead to spoil capping and damp conditions, so don’t be tempted to over do things!
Starting in modules or pots might be OK but root development could be damaged so they would need planting out very soon after starting to grow.
Sowing spacing to aim for is around 3-5 inches apart (7-12cm) in rows at around 10 inch spacing (25cm).
Chickpeas are legumes so don’t need nitrogen feeds. Too much nitrogen leads to lush growth that is prone to mildews. In most cases I wouldn’t add any fertilisers to the soil, I’d let the crop scavenge what they can find!
Other than weeding they should need little care and will flower around two months after germinating. Pod development will quickly follow if conditions are good.
Pods can be eaten green, a bit like mange tout. Or leave them to develop peas. There are normally 1-3 peas per pod. Don’t be surprised by this and think the crop has failed, it hasn’t, this is normal.
Beware the sharp points on chickpea pods. They are like little needles!
Also look out for the reddish dew-like droplets on the leaves. They contain malice acid and can burn the skin.
The thing is the plant has developed defences against grazing animals .. and it thinks we are one.
Do you have a favourite chickpea recipe? Send it to me and I’ll publish it here.
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