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.
Puy lentils hail from the region of Le Puy, France and are considered by many to be the most exquisite lentil available on the market. Puys are classified as French green lentils, which are similar to common green lentils but with a more peppery flavor and firmer texture. Dark green to almost black, these lentils are tasty, beautiful when cooked, and delicious served either warm or cold. Because of their high cost in stores, this is a perfect plant to grow yourself!
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. Take note that Puy lentils get their unique flavor from the soil of the Le Puy region, which possesses a good deal of volcanic soil matter. If you live in a region that doesn’t possess this rare soil type, your lentils will likely develop a slightly different flavor. Or, try adding volcanic rock to your soil and see what happens!
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.
Fun Fact: It’s no secret that the French are serious about their food: take, for instance, the AOC (appellation d’origine contrôlée). If this organization sounds familiar, it’s likely because you’ve seen these letters on French wine, cheese, or lentil products. The AOC ensures that producers labeling their fares from a certain region (Le Puy lentils, for example) meet the standards of that region. Thus, Puys may be grown in other regions of the world, but unless they’re grown in Le Puy, France, they can’t be labelled as a Le Puy lentils.
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.
You may have had lentil soup, but we bet it was nothing like this French Lentil Soup with Smoked Paprika! Make sure you have some lovely, fresh French bread on hand to mop up your bowl: it would be a shame to let a drop go to waste!