Lentils (Lens culinaris) prefer to be grown under cool weather conditions although they are originally Mediterranean in source. They are not a crop for exceptionally hot conditions. They are annuals and being legumes are members of the pea family. Like peas the lentils are produced on sparsely branched vines from 18 to 24 inches tall. The flowers are small, white to a mauve or lilac pea like flower. The pods are small, broad, flat and contain one or two flat, lens-shaped seed that come in a variety of colours depending on variety. Green, yellow to orange, red or brown is possible.
Generally sow in the Spring about 2 weeks before the last frosts. I add a general multi-purpose compost to the soil before planting just to keep water retention. They can be sown indoors under glass and then transplanted into the garden.
Lentils germinate in 10 days at 68°F. Lentils need 80 to 110 days to reach harvesting.
Space the seeds 1 inch apart and plant 1 inch deep. This seedlings to 4 or 5 inches. Keep rows about 2 feet apart although closer is possible as they like to twine around each other like peas. Add support in the form of a trellis, pea netting or mesh to ensure good growth. People use compost infusions for good results but it is not altogether a requirement for good growth. The trellis allows for good air ventilation. protect crops with a cloche if growing before frosts have finished.
Keep lentil plants moist although they are more tolerant of drought than other legumes such as peas and beans. There is no need to water the plants once the pods are drying as it is the dried lentils that are required.
Treat lentils like peas and beans for drying. To obtain dried seeds, harvest the pods when they have dried brown. Leave the lentils unshelled until ready for use. we usually harvest about 3 1/2 months after sowing. It is possible to treat the lentils like snap peas and eat the pods which takes 70 or 80 days after sowing.
There are a number of commercial varieties which can be divided into small and large types. The colour is also variable ranging from small flat brown through to pea-shaped types.
Black beluga lentils. Small, shiny and black, which resemble caviar when cooked. they maintain their shape and firm texture when cooked. Ideal for salads or appetizers, such as blinis. Cooking time: 20 to 25 minutes.
French du Puy lentils. These small, blue-green-spotted lentils retain their shape when cooked and have a particularly creamy texture. Best for cold or warm salads. Cooking time: 25 to 30 minutes.
Brown or green lentils. Larger varieties, these can get mushy when overcooked but otherwise keep their shape. Good for sauces or for playing the part of meat in taco fillings, sloppy Joes and more. Cooking time: 30 to 40 minutes.
Storing And Preserving
The green pods keep in the refrigerator for just over a week. The dried, shelled lentils are stored in a cool, dry place for up to 12 months. lentils can also be germinated or sprouted.