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.
Green lentils are favored by chefs for their ability to withstand high levels of heat without becoming too soft or losing their shape. These lentils are often described as having an earthy, nutty flavor that goes well in soups, stews, and other hearty dishes. Green lentils are particularly prevalent in South Asian cuisine and are often included in many traditional recipes from this region.
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: 10–21
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 spray 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.
Other Uses: In addition to more traditional lentil soups and stews, there’s also now a burgeoning market for lentil flour. This flour is gluten-free and highly nutritious, which makes it a great option for those who aren’t on friendly terms with wheat. Unfortunately, this flour is also more expensive than wheat flour, but never fear! You can easily make your own lentil flour at home in a blender or food processor. Simply rinse your lentils in a strainer and lay out on a towel or cookie sheet to dry. Lightly toast the dried lentils for about five minutes and then blend in a food processor until smooth. Sift to remove larger pieces and store in an airtight container.
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.
Transport yourself to the exotic East with this savory and spicy Green Lentil Curry.