How To Grow Lentils In Your Home For Healthier Meals

There isn’t a weight loss remedy around that doesn’t make use of lentils. In fact, lens culinaris has been a part of the human diet for more than 8000 years. Mediterranean cuisine knows best! Apart from being a part of the legume family, they are high in fibre and have a low-caloric content. They also contain nutrients like iron, phosphorus, etc., and a single serving of lentils, every now and then, can reduce the chances of getting cholesterol or diabetes

Lentils in bowl and spoon on a table

It’s not surprising then that they are getting renewed attention from the DIY gardening community, alongside coriander and saffron. If you’ve been looking for an all-inclusive feature about growing lentils at home for healthy meals –  you are at the right place. Stick with us as we break down the fine art of lentil gardening at home – from different lentil types to post-planting care – we’ve covered it all.

Best lentil varieties to grow

When out browsing for lentil types, you’re likely going to be spoilt for choice. That’s because you have the option to choose from lentils like black, green, red, white, brown, French, etc. To avoid confusion, it’s always best to check with your local nursery concerning the lentil alternatives available in your area. 

Brown Lentils

Brown ones have a subtle earthy flavour and are the most common lentil variety available. These take about 30 to 45 minutes to cook and hold their shape quite nicely. One-half cup of uncooked brown lentils contains about 26 grams of fibre, 24 grams of protein, and 80 milligrams of calcium. Some of the more popular varieties of brown lentils include German Brown, Spanish Brown, Indian Brown.

Green Lentils

Green ones have a peppery type of flavour and take around 45 to 60 minutes to cook. They tend to stay firm even after cooking and are more popular in dishes and salads. One half-cup of green lentils contains about 24 grams of protein, 10 grams of fibre, 4 milligrams of iron, and 80 milligrams of calcium. Puy lentils (aka the original green lentil) are one of the most expensive varieties of legumes in the world and are cultivated in the Le Puy region of France.  

Various of lentils on a wooden table

Red & Yellow Lentils

Red and yellow ones are used widely throughout Asia in Indian and Middle Eastern cuisines. They have the shortest cooking time and are ready to be eaten in about 30 minutes. Typically, red and yellow lentils are used in curries, soups, or as a thickening agent. You can also use yellow or red lentils to add colour to dishes. A half-cup of red ones contains around 22 grams of protein, 10 grams of fibre, 600 milligrams of potassium, 40 milligrams of calcium, and 6 milligrams of iron. Popular sub-types in this category include Masoor and Red chief.

Where and when to plant lentils

They are a sturdy annual plant, and they belong to the pea family. That’s one of the reasons why you can harvest them like snap beans about 70 to 80 days after sowing. They include branched vines and have white (or purple) flowers that are pea-like in appearance. 

Each flower produces small, flat-like pods that encase approximately one or two lentil seeds. That means home gardeners need to plant at least eight lentil plants per household member to get an adequate yield. Now that you have some idea about what to expect when planting lentils – let’s talk about where and when to plant them. 

They do well in loose and well-drained soil types with organic matter like plant roots, leaves, mulch, etc. Trying to grow them in waterlogged soil can affect growth and yield. No matter the variety, they need a soil pH ranging between 6.0 to 6.5. They also do well in sunlight and should be planted in full sun. It’s also a good idea to mix aged compost into the soil before sowing the plants.  

Lentil plant

Despite loving the sunlight, lentils do best in the cool season. That’s why it’s always best to sow the plants (outdoors) in spring – almost two or three weeks after the last frost date. At 20 degrees Celsius, the seeds will take about a week and a half to germinate. The best part is that young plants, after germination, are rather impervious to frost and will not be affected if temperatures take a dip.  

Once you hear rattling when the plants’ move or the pods turn brownish yellow, your lentils are ready to be harvested. This generally happens around 110 days after sowing. To reap, you need to pull out the entire plant and wait at least two weeks for the pods to dry and be ready to break – to extract the lentil seeds within. 

How to plant lentils

Planting lens culinaris is a straightforward procedure. However, a crucial step of the process involves inoculating seeds with Rhizobium leguminosarum. That’s because the nitrogen-fixing rhizobium bacteria can bind to the new root nodules of the lentil plants while absorbing and transferring nitrogen from the air (and atmosphere) to the roots – boosting plant growth.  

Seeding

You can inoculate the seeds right before the process by dampening and rolling them in rhizobium bacteria – the powdered inoculant. Next, place the seeds directly in the ground or starter pots. However, remember to plant the seeds about 1-2 cm deep only.  

Placement

Once the seedlings emerge, leave only the most robust saplings in the ground – until you have the remaining saplings placed approximately 3 cm apart from each other. If you’re planning on planting more than one row, the spacing distance between each row should be around 10 cm to ensure the plans aren’t overcrowded. Sprouting will occur in 10 days at a temperature of 20 degrees Celsius

Note, if you planted seeds in containers instead of a garden bed, remember to prepare the soil (via tilling and raking) to get rid of any stones or weeds. Once the ground is ready, plant seedlings 3 cm apart, about one to two cm deep.  

Lentil plant care

Your little seedlings won’t get very far without proper care and maintenance. Here are some of the more vital aspects you need to keep in mind for plant care.  

Water

Watering your plants the right way is always essential for their growth. Watering once every week is more than enough for your plants. Although in hot weather, your plants will definitely need more sustenance; for example, you may need to double the watering sessions in case of no annual rainfall. It’s always best to water your plants sometime in the early morning so that the leaves dry out when the sun comes out. Always water at soil level to avoid wetting the leaves or vines – and to avoid plant diseases. Once harvesting draws closer and the pods began to dry, stop watering the plants to ensure the pods dry out evenly.

Kid's hands holding a young lentil plant

Soil & Fertilizer

They will do well in most soil types as long as they have the right pH value and have good drainage. Most plants, including lentils, thrive in fertile, loamy soils. The soil’s pH range can vary but 6.5 is preferable. Avoid saline or sodic soils because these can wreak havoc on your plant’s root growth and moisture absorption.  

Because lentils are inoculated before seeding, they don’t need nitrogen-heavy fertilizers later on. Instead, it would help if you opted for fertilizers that contain potassium and phosphorus for enhanced root development and flower/pod development.  

Temperature

They grow best where the weather is a combination of cool and dry (with minimum rainfall) with plentiful sunshine. The ideal temperature for growing lentils ranges from 20 to 29 degrees Celsius with low levels of humidity and good air circulation.

Harvesting and storing lentils

Harvesting lentils is super easy and pretty low on effort. Around 3 1/2 months after sowing, the green pods change colour and become brown or yellow. That’s when you know the drying process has begun, and it’s time to stop watering the plants. This helps in drying out the pods evenly and makes the process of pulling the vines out easier. 

Once the plants have been pulled out, you can place them on a drying rack to speed up the process, or you can remove the seeds from their pods and spread them out in a tray. Instead of throwing the wines, try adding them to your compost pile for future gardening projects. 

Store your dried lentils in an airtight container away from direct sunlight, in your pantry or kitchen cabinet. Try adding a food-grade desiccant to ensure your lentils stay safe from moisture. Lentils have a shelf life of about a year and shouldn’t be kept in storage for too long.  

Lentils store on jars

Common pests and diseases

Because lentils don’t need excessive humidity or rainfall during the growing season, they stay safe from many plant diseases. Sometimes you may run into a mild case of white mould or root rot; you can take care of that through crop rotation with corn, sunflowers, soybeans, potatoes, and the like. 

Lentils are susceptible to pests like maggots, Lygus bugs, thrips, aphids, wireworms, etc., and can be dealt with efficiently by hosing the plants or applying neem oil on the foliage.

How to use lentils

While some food experts recommend soaking lentils ahead of time for a quick cook, most people can get by without it if they’re short on time. But no matter what the variety, it’s best to rinse your lentils and pick out any small stones before you start cooking them. If you’re wondering what your choices are when it comes to food prep – here are some of our best-loved methods of cooking lentils.

Sprouts

Lentil sprouts – if you’ve never heard of them, allows us to introduce you to one of the most nutritious methods of chowing down lentils. All you need to do is grab a mason jar (you can also invest in a sprouting kit), rinse your favourite variety of lentils, place it in the container of choice about three-quarters of the way, set the mesh lid on top and wait 24-48 hours to see the magic happen.  

Once the baby sproutings have appeared, you can place them in salads, sandwiches, or any other dish you please for a healthy and calorie-free diet.  

Boiled

Boiling lentils allows you to cook and flavour them simultaneously, be it with stock, spices, broth, and herbs. However, it’s recommended to only add salt when boiling lentils once they’re more than halfway cooked. This will ensure they turn out flavorful without toughening up. Cooking time depends on the type of lentil you’ve selected, along with any instructions (for the grocery store variety).

With the sheer number of benefits attached to growing lentils at home for a healthy diet – it’s not something home gardeners should overlook. Plus, growing lentils is budget-friendly and isn’t too labour-extensive, which means you can get your very own supply of organic lentils right at home for half the price. What’s not to love about that?

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