Lentils: tips on cultivation, care & harvesting of this healthy vegetable


For me plants are some of the most exciting living beings, even though they live in slow motion. They have fascinating abilities and just so much potential! That's why I studied organic farming. However, since plants are rather thin on the ground in my city, I often spend time hiking in the nearby mountains at the weekend. In the future I would love to run a farm myself.

Favourite fruit: strawberries and gooseberries
Favourite vegetable: courgettes

Lentils are once again landing on our plates more often. Here, you can learn how to plant healthy lentils in your own garden.

Sacks of lentils
Find out how you can grow lentil yourself as a regional superfood in this article [Photo: Saurav Bahuguna/ Shutterstock]

The lentil (Lens culinaris) is probably one of the oldest cultivated plants in the world. It was already cultivated about 10,000 years ago in the Fertile Crescent of the Middle East. From there, these nutritious legumes (Fabaceae) spread all over the world. The people of ancient Egypt were not the only ones who played an important role in its spread, lentils even appeared in the food of Stone Age people. An outdated fruit, you might say. But that could not be further from the truth, as lentils are refreshingly versatile and extremely healthy.

The lentil has always been at part of mankind’s history, but that does not make it boring. Although their popularity in Europe has been pushed back in recent decades since meat became one of the main sources of human protein, lentils are now trending once again. The lentil is once again proudly marching its way across Europe, and rightly so.

Lentils: origin and characteristics

The lentil was bred by our ancestors from the two wild lentils Lens nigrans and Lens orientalis a long time ago. Both species are native to the Mediterranean region and can still be crossed with the kitchen lentil. The annual lentil plant grows up to 50 centimetres tall and likes to climb up other plants. Its leaves are finely pinnate and delicate tendrils adorn the plant. It has long been an important staple food and even still is in parts of the world. It used to be planted in regions with unfavourable soils, as it does not require many nutrients to grow.

Lentil types and varieties

There is a bit of chaos when it comes to classifying lentils. Although only one of six species is actually used, this species hosts a myriad of different varieties. Rough categorisation can be done according to the size of the lentil grains: Small lentils have a maximum diameter of five millimetres, while large lentils can be over seven millimetres in size. Well-known types are, for example, the Teller lens or the Beluga lens. You can learn everything about lentil varieties here.

Lentil plants
The lentil is an undemanding plant, but unfortunately it also produces only a moderate yield [Photo: Mathia Coco/ Shutterstock]

Planting lentils

Lentils are extremely undemanding and thrive without much intervention. If you have a chalky soil, not particularly rich in nutrients, lentils may be just what you need. This low-maintenance plant is sown in spring and is ready for harvest in mid to late summer. Detailed instructions for planting lentils can be found here.

Tip: To ensure a bountiful harvest, the soil can be enriched with some peat-free Plantura Organic All Purpose Compost.

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Organic All Purpose Compost, 40L
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  • Perfect for all your house, garden & balcony plants
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Plant care: fertilising and watering

Lentils are very drought tolerant and cope with very little water. Therefore, watering is not necessary. Fertilising is also not necessarily needed, because lentils are so-called legumes. Through symbiosis with a group of bacteria, they are able to absorb nitrogen from the air. Therefore, you do not need to provide this very important nutrient yourself. Thanks to this quality, they even improve the soil for subsequent plants.

Fertilisation with phosphorus or potassium is however possible, but usually not necessary. The nutrients available to the plant from the soil are usually sufficient. Often, garden soil is too nutrient-rich for the plants, resulting in increased growth and lower yields.

Propagating lentils

Lentils are propagated exclusively by seed. In late summer, when the plants bear fruit, you can simply take part of the harvest to sow again next spring. This works best when there are no other varieties of lentils growing nearby, because this will keep your lentil of pure variety. Otherwise, different varieties may be crossed with each other, resulting in a mixture.

Harvesting, storing and preserving

Lentils have a long shelf life by nature. After harvesting, you should dry them for a while, however, so that any residual moisture is removed. Then you should put the small seeds in an airtight container and store in a dark place, preferably in a screw jar. How to avoid insect infestations. The colour of many lentils changes during storage. Teller lentils become less and less greenish and instead more and more yellowish. This way, you can see the age of the lentils. Although lentils, in principle, do not go bad, you should not store them for more than two years, because the taste suffers over time.

If you have accidentally cooked too many lentils or want to quickly have a few pre-cooked lentils on hand, you can also freeze them. Lentils will keep for a few months in the freezer. You can also preserve prepared lentils, for example in a ready-made lentil soup. Be sure to sterilise the canning jars sufficiently at 150 °C in the oven before filling.

A variety of grains in jars
Like other grains, lentils are great stored in jars [Photo: Morinka/ Shutterstock]

Lentils: ingredients and uses

Superfoods do not always have to come from the other side of the world: with lentils, there’s a real health bomb right on our doorstep. Lentils are not only delicious, but at the same time extremely filling. They also supply the body with vitamins B and E and provide valuable amino acids such as histidine and lysine. Even important minerals such as iron and magnesium are sufficiently present. In addition, lentils are an excellent protein source, because they consist of up to 25% protein. Healthcare organisations worldwide, therefore, advise incorporating more lentils into our diet.

Note: Lentils should be cooked before consumption, because they contain the toxic substance phasin. This causes the blood to clot, but is broken down during boiling and thus rendered harmless.

Lentils can be prepared in delicious ways. Be it classic Swabian lentils, Asian lentil curry, a light lentil salad or lentil spread.

Besides lentils, other vegetables also contain a lot of iron. We have compiled these for you in our article on ferrous vegetables.

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