Lentils are already grown commercially in the UK on a small scale, amongst a group of farmers spearheaded by the company Hodmedods. We wanted to investigate the feasibility of growing them in the garden.
Lentils grew quite easily in most people’s gardens with few problems. They are a low growing, sprawling plant with small pea like flowers. These give rise to large numbers of pods.
Although it was possible to grow the plants and produce a crop, the process of harvesting was extremely time consuming.
It was encouraging that the yields achieved were in a similar ball park to commercial yields in the UK, but on a small scale, it was a great deal of work to achieve a small amount of produce, when the land could be more productively used to grow something else.
Many people observed nodules on the roots of the lentils, and it has been suggested that perhaps the plants could more usefully be used as a green manure to fix nitrogen and add organic matter to the soil. This is an idea that deserves to be explored further.
Most of us have eaten lentils, but have not thought much about the plant itself. The lentil is a low growing bushy plant, producing pods, which most commonly contain two lentils. Lentils are legumes so will form nodules that harbour the nitrogen-fixing Rhizobium bacteria. They will grow on a range of soil types. They are reasonably cold tolerant but their ability to tolerate frost varies with variety and the stage of growth.
The humble lentil was once a common staple peasant food and there is evidence that it was cultivated in the UK, before it became less popular as a food. Unfortunately it is difficult to find records of it being grown, because it was rarely traded, and more likely to be only grown for home consumption. More recently, Hodmedods, a company specialising in producing UK grown legumes and grains have tried a number of varieties, obtained from Sweden and France, and managed to produce several commercial crops in the UK. We wanted to test the feasibility of growing them on a garden scale.
Varieties in this trial
Flora produces pale brown round lentils. They have protected Designation of Origin status, and are the only varieties that are allowed to be grown for the Red Label Blond lentils de Saint Flour. The volcanic soils of La Planèze, give them their characteristic taste.
Aims of this experiment
- Assess the feasibility of growing lentils as a food crop on a garden scale.
- Compare the performance of two varieties at a range of locations
- Compare the performance of the varieties sown at 2 planting dates – we are interested in how early you can sow them to give them a better head start and a longer growing season.
Lentils were sown at a rate of 10g in 1 square metre plots in 3 rows 30 cm apart.
2 varieties, Anicia and Flora were sown in different plots, at 2 different planting dates in early April, and one in early May.
The following measurements were taken:
- Date of first emergence
- Number of plants emerged
- Date of first flowering
- Date of first pod set
- Number of pods
- Weight of dried beans
- The presence of root nodules
Growth of the plant
|April sow date||April sow date||May sow date||May sow date|
|Days after sowing||Flora||Anicia||Flora||Anicia|
|First pod set||87||86||70||72|
|% of participants||No nodules||Few nodules||Many nodules|
People reported a few pests and diseases but no more than would be normally encountered growing any other crop of legumes. Pigeons ate the young seedlings in some cases, and also the pods when they appeared. Some people had slug problems as they emerged. A few people growing in damper climates reported that the plants rotted, so a crop grown at this high a density is not suited to these conditions.
The plant populations were in the range 140 – 180 plants / m2. Many people said that the plots looked crowded with plants. However, the range of populations reported on plots is only slightly higher than recommendations for growing commercial crops (120 – 150 plants / m2) (Agriculture Victoria, 2018; Fleury 2016) and it has been suggested that higher seed rates are good for increasing yield and weed competition, as long as the return justifies the extra cost of seed. Additionally, the soil must also be fertile enough to sustain the higher population of plants, and under damp conditions, the extra thick canopy might be more susceptible to fungal disease.
|April sowing date||April sowing date||May sowing date||May sowing date|
|no. plants m2||179||141||189||158|
|no. pods m2||2617||2267||1410||1333|
Those that persisted with their harvest, achieved yields of 149 g/m2 and 157 g/m2 for Flora and Anicia respectively for the earlier sowing date and 81 g/m2 and 93 g/m2 for the second sowing date. The earlier sowing date consistently resulted in larger yields. Although there should be some caution in scaling up the yields taken from very small plots, the yields achieved by our members are in a similar ball park to commercial yields of lentils grown in the UK from a range of organic and low input farms where they achieved an average of 170 g/m2 (Hodmedods, 2020) and compares favourably to the FAO average yield of 90 g/m2
|Very unpleasant||Quite unpleasant||Neutral||Quite pleasant||Very pleasant|
A large majority of people would not grow lentils again or recommend them to others to grow at home.
|No||Possibly||Quite likely||Yes definitely|
|Would grow again||64||25||6||6|