Lentils are a member of the legume family and grow pods filled with small disc-shaped seeds. Each pod usually contains 2 seeds that come in a wide range of colors and size, most commonly orange, black, green or brown. This small and bushy plant rarely grows over 2 feet tall and, as an ancient crop, was one of the first plants domesticated in western Asia. It grows as a cool season annual and does great with limited moisture but will not survive deep frosts. The seed is rich in minerals and protein and makes a great addition to rices and soups. Additionally, it will fix nitrogen into depleted soils if the correct soil bacteria are present, making growing lentils a win-win situation for all.
Brown lentils are the most commonly consumed type of lentil in the US. If not specified otherwise on the packaging, this is likely the type of lentils found in your local supermarket. These lentils are frequently cooked as a “stand alone” dish or are cooked and served with rice as they tend to retain their shape and flavor better when cooked than other varieties (e.g., green).
Seed Depth: 1″
Space Between Plants: 1″
Space Between Rows: 18–24″
Germination Soil Temperature: 50–68°F. Seeds will germinate faster in warmer temperatures.
Days for Germination: 10
Sow Indoors: Start plants indoors approximately 6–8 weeks before average last frost.
Sow Outdoors: Sow seeds outdoors as early as 2–3 weeks before the average last frost however, keep in mind that lentils will germinate faster in warmer soil.
Prefers somewhat cooler climates but does not do well in more than a light frost. Seeds will germinate at 50°F, but plants will grow best at the higher end of the germination range, around 68°F. Legumes will grow well in semi-arid climates as well, which tend to be found in the warmer regions of the country. In these regions, legumes should be grown as a winter crop.
Natural: Full sun. Will tolerate partial shade.
Artificial: Fluorescent lamps should provide sufficient light to your plants as lentils don’t require a lot of heat to get growing. Place bulbs approximately 6″ from the tops of your seedlings to prevent burning for at least 10 hours a day.
Soil: Prefers loamy, well-drained, loose soil but will grow in most soil types if they are prepared with a compost prior to planting. A pH of 6.0 to 6.5 will keep plants healthy and nourished.
Soilless: As lentils prefer soil that is well drained, we recommend soilless mixes that contain perlite and/or vermiculite.
Hydroponics: An ebb and flow system with clay or gravel pellets will help support your plants as they grow.
Aeroponics: Not much is known about growing lentils aeroponically, so if you try it out, let us know how it goes!
Water: Requires moderate levels of water but does not like to have soggy roots. Lentils are much more drought resistant than other legumes, so be wary of overwatering your plants.
Nutrients: Adding fertilizer to the soil prior to growing can help plants grow, particularly if soil is rich in sand or clay. However, this isn’t necessary. If using a fertilizer, make sure it is higher in potassium and phosphorous than nitrogen (e.g., 8-16-16).
Foliar: Applying a compost tea foliar will help keep plants healthy and nourished.
Rotation: A 3- or 4-year rotation with other plants such as corn and most grains will help keep the soil disease-free and nourished.
Companions: Grows well with cucumbers, savory, and potatoes. Avoid planting with mustard, soybeans, sunflowers, and sugar beets.
Harvest: Should be harvested when the plants begin to turn yellow and dry out. To harvest, pull the entire plant from the ground and remove the dirt and roots. Place plant in a warm, dry location. Once the pods have dried, remove them from the plant and place them underneath a cloth or towel. Gently crush the pods and remove the seeds from inside.
Storage: Once dry and if kept away from moisture, lentils can be stored in a container with a lid or a jar for an indefinite amount of time.
History: An ancient crop, it has been theorized that lentils became extremely popular in human diets due to their ability to keep for extended periods of time as well as their high nutrient content.
Preserve: Lentils are most commonly dried but may also be frozen by first boiling them and then placing in freezer bags after cooling.
Prepare: To cook lentils, combine in a sauce pan or dutch oven with water or broth. Allow to simmer until tender or at a consistency that is to your liking. Lentils do not need to absorb all the liquid they are being cooked in so we recommend taste tasting as you go.
Nutritional: Contains significant amounts of fiber, folates, and many essential minerals such as iron, magnesium, phosphorous, and manganese.
Medicinal: Sources have claimed that lentils can aid in cleansing the digestive system and improve overall stomach health.
In the mood for something rich and filling? Try this delicious Curried Lentils dish.