These small protein suppliers can be easily grown in the garden. We reveal what to consider when planting lentils.
Lentils (Lens culinaris) are every gardener’s dream. They taste good, are easy to grow and improve the soil to boot. So there are plenty of reason for cultivation. What more could you want?
Their reputation as a poor man’s food preceded lentils for a long time. It is probably not justified, considering all the positive qualities that lentils bring along with them. But it stems from the fact that lentils grow even in places where other crops have difficulty thriving. Since large parts of the population still lived from agriculture until not so long ago, the lentil-growing regions were therefore the areas with poor soil and great poverty. Lentils were often a welcome rescue.
When to plant lentils
Plant your lentils in the spring. Since the seeds can germinate from around 4 °C, sowing in late April or early May is optimal. In warmer Mediterranean regions, lentils can even be sown in autumn, because they survive temperatures as low as -9 °C. In more northern countries, however the cultivation period is limited exclusively to spring and summer.
Where to plant lentils
Lentils thrive particularly well in calcareous soils. Nutrient-rich soil can even be rather detrimental. This is precisely the strength of the lentil: it grows where other crops can no longer be grown. Climatically, lentils like it sunny, warm and dry.
Planting lentils: step-by-step
Before cultivation, you should first be clear about your choice of lentil variety, because there are quite differences between different lentils. Once you have found a suitable variety, start with cultivation. Since lentils are not particularly stable but like to lean on other plants, it may be a good idea to plant some grain such as oats or barley between the lentils for larger acreages. This way, the lentils will not bend over so easily. When you sow the lentils or the mixture of lentils and grain in the spring, you should plant the lentils about four to five centimetres deep in the soil.
Once the plantlets have begun to germinate, you can watch and wait until late summer. The plants cope with little water and fertilisation is also very uncomplicated. It only becomes exciting again during harvest, because lentils mature from the bottom up. You can start harvesting as soon as the Lentil grains are hard and the pods on the lower part of the plant turn brown in colour. However, since the lentils do not all ripen at the same time, the harvest is quite laborious – you always have to re-harvest. To then remove them from the pods, you can wrap them in a cloth, for example, and rub/press them. A sieve is probably best for cleaning the lentils.
If you do not want to do without lentils next year either, you’ll need to choose a different place in the garden for cultivation, because lentils are not self-compatible. You should then wait four to six years before planting lentils in the same place again.
Summary of planting lentils:
- Calcareous soil
- Do not use same location for 4 to 6 years
- Sowing in mixture with grains between April and beginning of May
- Sowing depth: roughly 5cm
- Harvest in late summer, when the lowest pods are brown and the lentils are hard
If you have not yet been able to decide on the right lentil variety for your garden, you are sure to find what you are looking for in our dedicated article.