Lentils are a highly nutritious legume closely related to peas and all types of beans. They require specific growing conditions, but are otherwise relatively easy to care for. Here’s how to grow lentils of your very own.
Lentils are generally either large or small and there are lots of varieties within each of these types. Consult with local growers to find out if there is a specific variety more suitable for your area. Lentils can take several months to mature, so check maturation dates on the seed packet to be sure you have enough time in your growing season.
Shoot for about 4-8 lentil plants per household member.
WHEN TO GROW
Lentils can be direct sown indoors 2 weeks prior to the last average frost date for your area. They can also be started indoors and transferred outside once the seedlings have been established. Ideal germination temperature is 68° F. Lentils will need 80 – 110 days to mature.
WHERE TO GROW
Lentils like cool temperatures but not frost. They do well in temperate climates with low humidity. They can grow in the north during the summer and the south over the winter.
Choose a spot in the garden that receives full sun. Do not plant lentils where other legumes have recently grown. Lentils grow well with cucumbers, potatoes and summer savory. Do not plant them with onions or garlic.
Lentils do well in loose, well drained soil with a neutral to slightly alkaline pH (6.0 – 8.0). Add mature compost before planting. Lentils need fertile soil in order to thrive.
Lentils can be grown from seed or transplants. They need about 10 days at 68° F for proper germination. Sow seeds about ½ – 1 inch deep, 1 inch apart. Thin to the healthiest seedlings and space them about 5 inches apart. Rows can be spaced 18 – 24 inches apart.
Use row covers to protect seedlings from late frosts.
WATERING & CARE
Lentils can handle drought better than other beans but they prefer consistently moist soil. Once the pods begin to dry, stop watering.
Lentils will need a low trellis to support their vines. If you don’t use a trellis, they will need a little extra space between plants. However, using a trellis helps deter pests, lowers the risk of plant disease and can make for a much stronger yield.
Lentils do not need much fertilizer if planted in rich, fertile soil. Side dress them with a little compost tea when they reach 5 inches tall and again as they begin to flower.
Lentils can be harvested for use as dry beans or when still green, like snap peas. To use them as dry beans, wait the entire maturation period (about 110 days) and harvest the pods once they are hardened. Keep them unshelled until ready for use. If you intend to use them like peas, they should be ready after 70 – 80 days.
TIPS & ADVICE
Watch out for aphids, which can be a problem to lentils. Pinch them off or blast them off with water as you see them.
Proper crop rotation and companion planting is necessary to prevent disease and pests with lentils.
Lentils need good air circulation and can develop mildew if planted too close together.
Lentils can tolerate a light frost but it is not encouraged.
Lentils will grow in containers but require several plants for a worthwhile yield.
Do you have tips on how to grow lentils? Let us know in the comments section below.