Growing Ancient Legumes

Invite rich nutrients and history into your garden with chickpeas, one of the oldest crops in the cultivated world.

In the culinary world, chickpeas are often ground into flour; cooked, mashed, and spiced as hummus; or mashed, spiced, and fried as falafel. They’re also used whole in soups, stews, curries, and as a garnish. Cumin, ginger, garlic, cayenne, turmeric, and coriander traditionally accompany chickpeas in these dishes.
Photo by Getty Images/Savany

Once my daughters grew up and moved out, I had the opportunity to make my garden my own and fill it with vegetables I love. My garden has undergone many transformations since, as I’ve experimented each season with new crops. I’ve grown foods I’d never heard of before, and I’ve tried to tackle some favorites that seemed too challenging to grow years before.

For the last two gardening seasons, I’ve undertaken growing chickpeas in my garden. I’d never looked into chickpeas as a crop because I thought they needed a long, hot growing season. Living at a 7,000-foot elevation in the Rocky Mountains, I feel blessed if I get 90 frost-free growing days. I’ve been making hummus and falafel for years with canned chickpeas, but growing my own chickpeas always seemed unthinkable.

At a spring seed swap, I received a small envelope of chickpeas that’d grown outside of Mexico City at an elevation of 7,500 feet, in a climate very similar to the mountains of New Mexico. Finally, here was my opportunity to experiment in the garden! I took the seeds home and researched chickpeas, eager to start planting. My trials with chickpeas took me through various highs and lows, and taught me a great deal about the ancient legumes.

The Traveling Chickpea

Chickpeas (Cicer arietinum) are one of the earliest cultivated vegetables. Ancient agriculturalists domesticated the chickpea with other West Asian Neolithic crops — wheat, barley, peas, and lentils — about 10,000 years ago in the Fertile Crescent. In parts of Syria and Turkey, there’s evidence of cultivation dating back to 7,500 B.C. The species appeared in Greece and Italy by 3,000 B.C., and in India by 2,000 B.C.

Photo by Getty Images/yogesh_more

Patty burzo
6/27/2019 7:20:27 AM

I loved your article! I'm growing chickpeas for the first time, I live on a beach in New York. I decided to grow them after tasting the most delicious green chickpea hummus while in Vancouver Canada. The chickpeas are harvested while they still young and made into hummus. it had the most fresh delicious flavor that I looked all over to see where I can purchase them and for some reason they're not sold outside of Canada. So please try some young chickpea hummus!!

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