Grow your own lentils

We’re growing lentils in our organic demonstration garden later this spring. Head gardener Emma O’Neill shares her top tips

We like to try and grow as many different types of vegetables as possible - and this year we’re giving lentils a try. There are a few good reasons to grow them: they’re a source of protein, they’re easy to grow - covering the soil with sprawling vegetation that can help suppress weeds - and they’re also good at fixing nitrogen into the soil, aiding its fertility.

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Lentil plants can help supress weeds and fix nitrogen.

How to grow lentils

Lentils are part of the legume family and produce low growth, approximately 40-50cm high, with tiny blue flowers, followed by pods which house one to two lentils. They require a sunny, well-drained spot without other plants overshadowing them. We’ll be growing ours next to our chickpeas in our legumes bed so there won’t be too much shade.

While lentil seeds are often sold for growing as a sprouting micro-veg, it’s almost impossible to get lentils for outdoor growing from vegetable seed suppliers, especially if you need them to be organic. I sourced mine from Hodmedods, who grow them organically on a commercial scale. They recommended their olive-green lentil, which has not been treated in any way and so will still be viable.

If you’d like to try growing them yourself, remember shop-bought varieties might have been harvested from plants grown abroad and might not be suited to our growing conditions. They may also have been treated and therefore will not be viable seed. Only grow whole, dry lentils not the split ones.

I’ll be sowing mine in April in modules of peat-free compost in our glasshouse, with two to three lentils per module. We may also sow some directly outdoors when it’s warmed up in May. We’ll go for about 10g lentils per one square metre, 30cm apart in rows. I’m expecting them to germinate in approximately 10 days…but let’s see! Those that are grown indoors will be hardened off once they are showing true leaves and then planted out.

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Sow in April indoors, with two to three lentils per module

Harvesting lentils

Lentils can be very time consuming to harvest so I’ve decided to adopt two methods. I’ll remove the whole plant when yellow and allow them to dry out before opening the pods, and I’ll wait for the pods to go brown and pick them by hand, either splitting the pods open there and then or allowing them to dry out further and doing it indoors to prevent spillages. Once dried they have a long storage life, up to two years.

I will keep you up to date on our progress! If you’re growing them at home, or would like to grow along with us, we’d love to hear from you via our social media channels @gardenorganicuk.

In 2019, we did a Members’ Experiment looking into the feasibility of growing lentils in gardens. Click here to read about our trials.

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