Lentils (Lens culinaris Medik), from the family Leguminosae, are an ancient Mediterranean crop grown more than 8,500 years ago, said to have been found in Egyptian tombs dating from 2400 BC. A highly nutritious food legume primarily cultivated for seed and frequently eaten as dhal, lentils are grown as an annual crop during cool seasons and in areas of limited rainfall.
Where are lentils grown? Lentil cultivation occurs from the Near East to the Mediterranean, Asia, Europe, and in areas of the western hemisphere as well. Most lentil production in North America takes place in the Pacific Northwest, eastern Washington, northern Idaho, and up into western Canada, grown since the 1930’s as a rotation crop with wheat. Suited to the damper, cooler climates of these regions, lentils are primarily exported, although consumption in North America is on the rise.
Lentils are prized for their high protein content, carbohydrates, and calories. There is a downside to this nutritious little legume, however, as lentils contain substances that can contribute to — ahem, flatulence. These factors can be mitigated somewhat when lentils are heated, reducing the amounts of anti-nutrients which cause, well, gas.
How to use lentils? There are a myriad of uses for the lentil. They can be used as a side dish, entrée, put in salad, fried as a snack, made into soups, pureed for baby food, and ground to make a flour for bread and cakes.
The husks, stems, dried leaves, bran, and other residue can be fed to livestock. Green lentil plants make for a terrific green manure and lentil seeds can be used as a commercial starch in textile and paper processing.
Consider your climate when growing lentils. Lentils prefer well drained soil planted on south or east exposures to better utilize the sun’s warmth and get the little seedlings to erupt. Good drainage is of primary concern, as even short periods of flooded or waterlogged soil will kill lentil plants.
A temperate climate is required for summer crops or lentils can be grown as a winter annual in subtropical climes. The garden should be tilled and raked, removing stones, and other debris as lentils propagate via seed dispersal.
A cool season plant, growing lentil plants are tolerant of spring frosts but not of drought or high temperatures, which will reduce yield.
In summary, lentil plant care requires good drainage, cool temperatures (but not cold), a minimum of irrigation, and a soil pH of near 7.0.
As lentil plants thrive primarily in areas of low humidity, they don’t suffer from many diseases. Blight, white mold and root rot are, however, a few possible disease issues, and the most effective method of prevention is crop rotation. Corn is the best option for crop rotation.
Lentil plant care is minimal with regards to predation. Lentils can be attacked by aphids, Lygus bugs, maggots, wireworms, and thrips; however, this predation is rare.
If your only experience with growing members of the bean family is growing the green varieties, it may be time to branch out and try your hand at growing lentils (Lens culinaris Medik.). Not only are they easy to grow, but lentils are also easy to store for later on -- meaning you'll be able to reap the benefits of your green thumb for a nice pot of winter stew. Lentils are an annual crop that likes cooler weather, so growing them in pots is a project you can start early on in the growing season.
Grow lentils in full sun for healthy plants and better yield.
Keep lentils consistently moist. Although, lentils are more drought tolerant than other beans.
Do not water lentils once pods begin to dry.
Lentils can be grown in variety of soil types but avoid heavy and waterlogged soil. Light and well drained soil that remains moderately moist with a pH level of 6 – 6.5 is suitable for growing lentils.
Fertilization of lentils depends on soil fertility. Fertilizer should be applied in early spring at a dose of 30 – 50 kg of phosphorus per hectare and for potassium 50 – 70 kg per hectare. If the soil has a low content of organic substances, apply nitrogen fertilizer in an amount of 20 – 30 kg per hectare. The soil should be well limed too, because lentils do not grow in acidic soils.
It tolerates short-term frosts at the beginning of vegetation, even to -6 deg. C (21.2 F), but has considerable heat requirements at the time of formation of pods and seed maturation, which is around 20 C (70 F).
Lentils like well drained soil and South or East exposures. Good drainage is very important for lentils, as even short periods of flooding can kill the plants. Lentils require full sun, good air circulation, and temperate climates.
Lentils are susceptible to powdery mildew which is yellowing of the leaves. You will see powdery gray/white areas and/or yellow spots on the upper surface of the leaves. If the lentil plant is severely infected, the spots may appear light blue or gray in color.
Ascochyta blight is another fungus that gives lentil leaves a brown to light brown lesion, which usually appears on the border of the leaves. This happens when there are high levels of humidity. Black dots may also appear in the center of the lesions.
Anthracnose is a fungal disease that manifests itself in tan lesions with darker borders on the leaves. They will usually appear before flowering or shortly after blooming. If leaves are affected, they will drop from the lentil plant prematurely. To prevent this from happening, choose lentil varieties which are disease resistant.
So now that you know how to grow lentils, it’s time to start planting!
Many different names in different parts of the world are used for the crop lentil.  The first use of the word lens to designate a specific genus was in the 16th century by the botanist Tournefort.  The word "lens" for the lentil is of classical Roman/Latin origin: McGee points out that a prominent Roman family took the name "Lentulus", just as the family name "Cicero" was derived from the chickpea, Cicer arietinum, or "Fabia" (as in Quintus Fabius Maximus) from the fava bean (Vicia faba). 
The genus Lens is part of the subfamily Faboideae which is contained in the flowering plant family Fabaceae or commonly known as legume or bean family, of the order Fabales in the kingdom Plantae. 
Lens is a small genus which consists of the cultivated L. culinaris and six related wild taxa. Among the different taxa of wild lentils, L. orientalis is considered to be the progenitor of the cultivated lentil and is now generally classified as L. culinaris subsp. orientalis. 
Lentil is hypogeal, which means the cotyledons of the germinating seed stay in the ground and inside the seed coat. Therefore, it is less vulnerable to frost, wind erosion, or insect attack. 
The plant is a diploid, annual, bushy herb of erect, semierect, or spreading and compact growth and normally varies from 30 to 50 centimetres (12 to 20 in) in height. It has many hairy branches and its stem is slender and angular. The rachis bears 10 to 15 leaflets in five to eight pairs. The leaves are alternate, of oblong-linear and obtuse shape and from yellowish green to dark bluish green in colour. In general, the upper leaves are converted into tendrils, whereas the lower leaves are mucronate. If stipules are present, they are small. The flowers, one to four in number, are small, white, pink, purple, pale purple, or pale blue in colour. They arise from the axils of the leaves, on a slender footstalk almost as long as the leaves. The pods are oblong, slightly inflated, and about 1.5 centimetres ( 5 ⁄8 in) long. Normally, each of them contains two seeds, about 0.5 centimetres ( 1 ⁄4 in) in diameter, in the characteristic lens shape. The seeds can also be mottled and speckled. The several cultivated varieties of lentil differ in size, hairiness, and colour of the leaves, flowers, and seeds.
Lentils are self-pollinating. The flowering begins from the lowermost buds and gradually moves upward, so-called acropetal flowering. About two weeks are needed for all the flowers to open on the single branch. At the end of the second day and on the third day after the opening of the flowers, they close completely and the colour begins to fade. After three to four days, the setting of the pods takes place. 
Types can be classified according to their size, whether they are split or whole, or shelled or unshelled. Seed coats can range from light green to deep purple, as well as being tan, grey, brown, black or mottled. Shelled lentils show the colour of the cotyledon which can be yellow, orange, red, or green.
Small green/brown-seed coat types:
Medium green/brown-seed coat types
Large green/brown-seed coat types:
|Source: FAOSTAT |
In 2018, global production of lentils was 6.3 million tonnes, led by Canada with 33% and India with 25% of the world total (table).  Saskatchewan is the most productive growing region in Canada, producing 95% of the national total.   In India, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh are largest producers with both producing more than 70 percent of the total. Other major producers include West Bengal and Bihar. 
The United States was the third-leading country for lentil production in 2018, with the Palouse region of eastern Washington and the Idaho panhandle as the most productive state regions. 
The cultivated lentil Lens culinaris subsp. culinaris was derived from its wild subspecies L. culinaris subsp. orientalis, although other species may also have contributed some genes, according to Jonathan Sauer (Historical Geography of Crop Plants, 2017.)  Unlike their wild ancestors, domesticated lentil crops have indehiscent pods and non-dormant seeds. 
Lentil was domesticated in the Fertile Crescent of the Near East and then spread to Europe, the Middle East, North Africa and the Indo-Gangetic plain. The primary center of diversity for the domestic Lens culinaris as well as its wild progenitor L. culinaris ssp. orientalis is considered to be the Middle East. The oldest known carbonized remains of lentil from Greece's Franchthi Cave are dated to 11,000 BC. In archaeobotanical excavations carbonized remains of lentil seeds have been recovered from widely dispersed places such as Tell Ramad in Syria (6250-5950 BC), Aceramic Beidha in Jordan, Hacilar in Turkey (5800-5000 BC), Tepe Sabz (Ita. Tepe Sabz) in Iran (5500-5000 BC) and Argissa-Magula Tessaly in Greece (6000-5000 BC), along other places. 
Lentils can grow on various soil types, from sand to clay loam, growing best in deep sandy loam soils with moderate fertility. A soil pH around 7 would be the best. Lentils do not tolerate flooding or water-logged conditions. 
Lentils improve the physical properties of soils and increase the yield of succeeding cereal crops. Biological nitrogen fixation or other rotational effects could be the reason for higher yields after lentils. 
The conditions under which lentils are grown differ across different growing regions. In the temperate climates lentils are planted in the winter and spring under low temperatures and vegetative growth occurs in later spring and the summer. Rainfall during this time is not limited. In the subtropics, lentils are planted under relatively high temperatures at the end of the rainy season, and vegetative growth occurs on the residual soil moisture in the summer season. Rainfall during this time is limited. In West Asia and North Africa, some lentils are planted as a winter crop before snowfall. Plant growth occurs during the time of snow melting. Under such cultivation, seed yields are often much higher. 
The lentil requires a firm, smooth seedbed with most of the previous crop residues incorporated. For the seed placement and for later harvesting it is important that the surface is not uneven with large clods, stones, or protruding crop residue. It is also important that the soil is made friable and weed-free so that seeding could be done at a uniform depth. 
The plant densities for lentils vary between genotypes, seed size, planting time and growing conditions and also from region to region. In South Asia a seed rate of 30 to 40 kilograms per hectare (27 to 36 pounds per acre) is recommended. In West Asian countries a higher seed rate is recommended and also leads to a higher yield. The seeds should be sown 3 to 4 centimetres ( 1 1 ⁄4 to 1 1 ⁄2 in) deep. In agriculturally mechanized countries, lentils are planted using grain drills, but many other areas still hand broadcast. 
In intercropping systems – a practice commonly used in lentil cultivation – herbicides may be needed to assure crop health.  Like many other legume crops, lentils can fix atmospheric nitrogen in the soil with specific rhizobia. [ citation needed ] Lentils grow well under low fertilizer input conditions, although phosphorus, nitrogen, potassium, and sulfur may be used for nutrient-poor soils. 
Below is a list of the most common lentil diseases.
|Bean (pea) leaf roll virus||Beet western yellows virus|
|Bean yellow mosaic||Bean yellow mosaic virus|
|Broad bean mottle||Broad bean mottle virus|
|Broad bean stain||Broad bean stain virus|
|Cucumber mosaic||Cucumber mosaic virus|
|Pea seedborne mosaic||Pea seed-borne mosaic virus|
A combination of gravity, screens and air flow is used to clean and sort lentils by shape and density. After destoning, they may be sorted by a color sorter and then packaged.
A major part of the world's red lentil production undergoes a secondary processing step. These lentils are dehulled, split and polished. In the Indian subcontinent, this process is called dhal milling.  The moisture content of the lentils prior dehulling is crucial to guarantee a good dehulling efficiency.  The hull of lentils usually accounts for 6 to 7 percent of the total seed weight, which is lower than most legumes.  Lentil flour can be produced by milling the seeds, like cereals.
Lentils can be eaten soaked, germinated, fried, baked or boiled – the most common preparation method.  The seeds require a cooking time of 10 to 40 minutes, depending on the variety small varieties with the husk removed, such as the common red lentil, require shorter cooking times. Most varieties have a distinctive, earthy flavor. Lentils with husks remain whole with moderate cooking, while those without husks tend to disintegrate into a thick purée, which may enable various dishes. The composition of lentils leads to a high emulsifying capacity which can be even increased by dough fermentation in bread making. 
Lentils are used worldwide in many different dishes. Lentil dishes are most widespread throughout South Asia, the Mediterranean regions and West Asia.
In the Indian subcontinent, lentil curry is part of the everyday diet, eaten with both rice and roti. Boiled lentils and lentil stock are used to thicken most vegetarian curries. They are also used as stuffing in dal parathas and puri for breakfast or snacks. Lentils are also used in many regional varieties of sweets. Lentil flour is used to prepare several different bread varieties, such as papadum.
They are frequently combined with rice, which has a similar cooking time. A lentil and rice dish is referred to in Levantine countries as mujaddara or mejadra. In Iran, rice and lentil is served with fried raisin this dish is called adas polo. Rice and lentils are also cooked together in khichdi, a popular dish in the Indian subcontinent (India and Pakistan) a similar dish, kushari, made in Egypt, is considered one of two national dishes.
Lentils are used to prepare an inexpensive and nutritious soup throughout Europe and North and South America, sometimes combined with chicken or pork. In Western countries, cooked lentils are often used in salads.  In Italy, the traditional dish for New Year's Eve is Cotechino served with lentils.
Lentils are commonly eaten in Ethiopia in a stew-like dish called kik, or kik wot, one of the dishes people eat with Ethiopia's national food, injera flatbread. Yellow lentils are used to make a non-spicy stew, which is one of the first solid foods Ethiopian women feed their babies.
Lentils were a chief part of the diet of ancient Iranians, who consumed lentils daily in the form of a stew poured over rice.
According to the USDA National Nutrient Database, 100 grams ( 3 1 ⁄2 ounces) of raw lentils (variety unspecified) provide 1,480 kilojoules (353 kilocalories) of food energy the same weight of cooked lentils provides 490 kJ (116 kcal). Raw lentils are 8% water, 63% carbohydrates including 11% dietary fiber, 25% protein, and 1% fat (table). Cooked lentils (when boiled) are a rich source (20% or more of the Daily Value, DV) of numerous essential nutrients, including folate (45% DV), iron (25% DV), manganese (24% DV), and phosphorus (26% DV). They are a good source (10% or more of the Daily Value) of several nutrients including thiamine (15% DV), pantothenic acid (13% DV), vitamin B6 (14% DV), magnesium (10% DV), copper (13% DV), and zinc (13%) (see table).   When lentils are cooked by boiling, protein content declines to 9% of total composition, and B vitamins and minerals decrease due to the overall water content increasing (protein itself is not lost).  Lentils have the second-highest ratio of protein to food energy of any legume, after soybeans. Lentils contain the carotenoids, lutein and zeaxanthin, and polyunsaturated fatty acids. 
The low levels of readily digestible starch (5 percent) and high levels of slowly digested starch make lentils of potential value to people with diabetes.   The remaining 65% of the starch is a resistant starch classified as RS1.  A minimum of 10% in starch from lentils escapes digestion and absorption in the small intestine (therefore called "resistant starch").  Additional resistant starch is synthesized from gelatinized starch, during cooling, after lentils are cooked. 
Lentils also have antinutrient factors, such as trypsin inhibitors and a relatively high phytate content. Trypsin is an enzyme involved in digestion, and phytates reduce the bioavailability of dietary minerals.  The phytates can be reduced by prolonged soaking and fermentation or sprouting.  Cooking nearly completely removes the trypsin inhibitor activity sprouting is also effective. 
Although lentils have been an important crop for centuries, lentil breeding and genetic research have a relatively short history compared to that of many other crops. Since the inception of The International Center for Agriculture Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA) breeding programme in 1977 significant gains have been made. It supplies landraces and breeding lines for countries around the world, supplemented by other programmes in both developing (e.g. India) and developed (e.g. Australia and Canada) countries. In recent years, such collaborations among breeders and agronomists are becoming increasingly important. 
The focus lies on high yielding and stable cultivars for diverse environments to match the demand of a growing population.  In particular, progress in quantity and quality as well as in the resistance to disease and abiotic stresses are the major breeding aims.  Several varieties have been developed applying conventional breeding methodologies. Serious genetic improvement for yield has been made, however, the full potential of production and productivity could not yet be tapped due to several biotic and abiotic stresses. 
Wild Lens species are a significant source of genetic variation for improving the relatively narrow genetic base of this crop. The wild species possess many diverse traits including disease resistances and abiotic stress tolerances. The above-mentioned L. nigricans and L. orientalis possess morphological similarities to the cultivated L. culinaris. But only L. culinaris and L. culinaris subsp. orientalis are crossable and produce fully fertile seed. Between the different related species hybridisation barriers exist. According to their inter-crossability Lens species can be divided into three gene pools:
Crosses generally fail between members of different gene pools. However, plant growth regulators and/or embryo rescue allows the growth of viable hybrids between groups. Even if crosses are successful, many undesired genes may be introduced as well in addition to the desired ones. This can be resolved by using a backcrossing programme. Thus, mutagenesis is crucial to create new and desirable varieties. According to Yadav et al. other biotechnology techniques which may impact on lentil breeding are micro-propagation using meristamatic explants, callus culture and regeneration, protoplast culture and doubled haploid production. 
There is a proposed revision of the gene pools using SNP phylogeny. 
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.
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.
Table 1: Days from Sowing to Emergence, First flowering and First Pod Set
Table 2: Nodulation on roots
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.
Table 3: Plant populations, yields and numbers of pods
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
Table 4: Culinary qualities (Eating quality)
Table 5: Culinary qualities (Flavour) - more than one response allowed
Table 6: Culinary qualities (Texture) - more than one response allowed
Table 7: Participants’ verdict on growing lentils
Our charity brings together thousands of people who share a common belief - that organic growing is essential for a healthy and sustainable world.
Through campaigning, advice, community work and research, our aim is to get everyone growing ‘the organic way’.
Garden Organic, the working name of the
Henry Doubleday Research Association,
is a registered charity in England and Wales (no. 298104) and Scotland (SC046767)
Lentils are a highly nutritious legume closely related to peas and all types of beans. They require specific growing conditions, but are otherwise relatively easy to care for. Here’s how to grow lentils of your very own.
Lentils are generally either large or small and there are lots of varieties within each of these types. Consult with local growers to find out if there is a specific variety more suitable for your area. Lentils can take several months to mature, so check maturation dates on the seed packet to be sure you have enough time in your growing season.
Shoot for about 4-8 lentil plants per household member.
WHEN TO GROW
Lentils can be direct sown indoors 2 weeks prior to the last average frost date for your area. They can also be started indoors and transferred outside once the seedlings have been established. Ideal germination temperature is 68° F. Lentils will need 80 – 110 days to mature.
WHERE TO GROW
Lentils like cool temperatures but not frost. They do well in temperate climates with low humidity. They can grow in the north during the summer and the south over the winter.
Choose a spot in the garden that receives full sun. Do not plant lentils where other legumes have recently grown. Lentils grow well with cucumbers, potatoes and summer savory. Do not plant them with onions or garlic.
Lentils do well in loose, well drained soil with a neutral to slightly alkaline pH (6.0 – 8.0). Add mature compost before planting. Lentils need fertile soil in order to thrive.
Lentils can be grown from seed or transplants. They need about 10 days at 68° F for proper germination. Sow seeds about ½ – 1 inch deep, 1 inch apart. Thin to the healthiest seedlings and space them about 5 inches apart. Rows can be spaced 18 – 24 inches apart.
Use row covers to protect seedlings from late frosts.
WATERING & CARE
Lentils can handle drought better than other beans but they prefer consistently moist soil. Once the pods begin to dry, stop watering.
Lentils will need a low trellis to support their vines. If you don’t use a trellis, they will need a little extra space between plants. However, using a trellis helps deter pests, lowers the risk of plant disease and can make for a much stronger yield.
Lentils do not need much fertilizer if planted in rich, fertile soil. Side dress them with a little compost tea when they reach 5 inches tall and again as they begin to flower.
Lentils can be harvested for use as dry beans or when still green, like snap peas. To use them as dry beans, wait the entire maturation period (about 110 days) and harvest the pods once they are hardened. Keep them unshelled until ready for use. If you intend to use them like peas, they should be ready after 70 – 80 days.
TIPS & ADVICE
Watch out for aphids, which can be a problem to lentils. Pinch them off or blast them off with water as you see them.
Proper crop rotation and companion planting is necessary to prevent disease and pests with lentils.
Lentils need good air circulation and can develop mildew if planted too close together.
Lentils can tolerate a light frost but it is not encouraged.
Lentils will grow in containers but require several plants for a worthwhile yield.
Do you have tips on how to grow lentils? Let us know in the comments section below.