Plant of the week: Lentils

Lentils are a good source of fiber, iron, and complex carbohydrates, and they have the second highest level of protein per calorie for a vegetable, next to soybeans.  Like their legume cousins, peas and beans, they grow in pods, each of which contains only one or two lentil seeds!

Ideal growing conditions

As lentils are commonly grown in dry areas, they don’t tolerate soggy ground.  They prefer well-drained soil that has a pH of around 7.0, and cooler temperatures.  They will produce less in humid and/or hot conditions.  Add aged compost to the soil before planting.

Lentils tolerate light frost, and can recover from damage caused by early spring frosts.  Direct sow them two weeks before the average last frost date.  Plant the seeds 1/2 to 1 inch deep, about five inches apart (or plant them an inch apart, and then thin them later on).  Rows should be around 2 feet apart.

Keep the plants evenly moist, until the pods have begun to dry, at which point they should not be watered.  As lentils may grow a couple of feet tall, they benefit from the support that a low trellis will provide

Types

Lentils are generally classified by their size–large or small–and their colour–which includes yellow, red, green, brown, and black.  There are many varieties of each.

Harvesting, using, and preserving

Although lentils are usually dried, they can be used when green and young, like snap beans.

To harvest them dry, leave the pods on the plants until they’ve turned yellow, then remove the entire plant, and set it on a rack to dry for a couple of weeks.  Once it is completely dry, remove the pods, and lay them out between two tea towels.  Carefully roll a rolling pin over the top towel to break the pods but not damage the seeds, then remove the seeds from the pods.  Place them in an airtight jar and store them in a dry place for up to a year.

Lentils are used for dishes such as dhal and koshari, and included in casseroles, veggie burgers, soups, and salads.  They can be used to make flour, and sprouts can be grown from the seeds.

Friends

  • Cucumbers
  • Potatoes
  • Summer savoury

Foes

  • Garlic
  • Onions

Fun facts

  • Lentils have been found in Egyptian tombs dating from 2400 BC.
  • Although around a quarter of the lentils produced worldwide are grown in India, Canada is the largest export producer.  99% of Canadian lentils are grown in Saskatchewan.

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