I often try something new each year, just as an experiment, to see how it grows. Our changing climate is an opportunity to see what might grow well in conditions not normally associated with the British climate, and this summer has so far proved to be as un-British as you can get. We’ve had soaring temperatures and very little rain for 2 months, and this might be a slightly exceptional year, but there’s no denying that our climate isn’t what it used to be. My grandfather had 2 allotment plots back in the 50’s and 60’s, but I don’t imagine he grew much in the way of garlic, chilli peppers or even butternut squashes. Due to changes in our diets (through holidays to more exotic locations, and supermarkets being able to transport more exotic food more easily) us gardeners have become more adventurous in the food we wish to grow. Flick through any seed catalogue, and it will urge you to grow sweet potatoes and cucamelons rather than cabbages and runner beans.
A build up of pests and diseases mean there are some conventionally British crops that I now struggle to grow. Broad beans being the main one. Every year I persist in attempting to grow them, and every year they get attacked first by weevils, and then by blackfly. ‘Oh just spray with soapy water’ I hear you declare. I do this, after nipping out the tips as also recommended, but my attempts to rid the blackly are met head on by an army of ants who are determined to farm them for their sweet sticky honeydew. Neither me or the ladybirds seem able to stop them. I read somewhere that ants hate cinnamon, but a liberal dusting (my plot neighbours must have wondered what on earth the smell was) made no difference, still they soldiered on through the sweet amber haze, undeterred. I almost admired them.
My brassicas get besieged by whitefly, my peas and beans struggle unless they get deluged with water on a regular (daily) basis, and lots of root crops get attacked below ground by soil dwelling creatures grateful for a free meal.
So, to have discovered something that I can grow easily, without any pest or disease damage, that is happy to grow through a drought, and just happens to be one of my favourite things to eat, is an absolute joy. It has made my gardening year in fact.
You need a minimum of 10 plants for a decent harvest, preferably double that, and if you love them as much as me and don’t mind the podding, triple it. They need to be started fairly early, my seed packet recommended Feb / March, I didn’t even wait that long, but they’re not hardy so need to be protected from frost. You can sow them direct in May if you prefer. I might try a bit of both next year for an extended supply. I gave them minimal support – a cane at each end of the row with some twine strung between them to hold the leaves up. They have small delicate white flowers, and then with a little help from the bees, the pods start to develop. Once the leaves start to turn yellow you can check one or two pods to see how they’re doing. There’s usually only one pea per pod, but sometimes you find twins, which is very satisfying.
You can eat the chickpeas while they’re green, or leave them a bit longer on the plants for them to turn yellow. I have to say though, that green chickpeas are amazing. They taste so fresh and with a hint of regular garden pea, definitely tastier in my opinion and they make the most amazing hummus. They’re worth growing for the green stage alone.
I bought my seeds from Chiltern Seeds, purely because they were the only seed company I could find who were selling them. I’m pretty sure this will change, the seed companies are definitely missing a trick, but from here on I’ll be saving my own seeds.
I’m still envious of gardeners in other countries that are able to grow lemons, oranges, avocados, and olives, but for now, I’ll settle for chickpeas, and I’d whole heartedly encourage anyone to give them a go.
I should add a small note here that rabbits apparently have a taste for them, so if these are a problem for you beware, otherwise I don’t know of any issues with them. And there aren’t many crops you can say that of. I’d love to hear from you if you’ve grown them and what you like to make with them.