- Growing Lentils in the Maritimes -
The 2016 growing season was a challenging one, with over a month of severe drought in mid-summer. We didn’t have a way to irrigate most of the farm, and entire sections of our garden were wilted and stressed. But our lentils thrived right through it, despite being planted in an especially sandy part of the farm.
Although they have a reputation as heat-loving plants better suited to places like South Asia, lentils are adaptable and the right varieties are totally at home growing in Nova Scotia and other Northern climates. Little known fact; the Canadian prairies are a major lentil producing region, mostly for export.
We direct sow lentils in early May, around the same time as peas and fava beans. They can tolerate light frosts when young, and actually prefer cool weather. They climb to around knee high, and self support if planted densely. Sow seeds about 1 inch apart in rows, or 2-3 inches apart in dense beds. Plant like peas, but a bit closer together.
The plants will intertwine as they grow, and eventually bloom in mid-summer with lots of subtle blue flowers. Tiny pods will follow, and as soon as the pods turn brown they’re ready to harvest. The pods are so small we don’t mess around picking them off the plant, we just pull the whole plant and hang them to dry in bundles. Pull the plants when 75% or more of the pods are brown and dry. It’s hard to get them 100% dry in the garden, but any green pods will finish developing and mature while drying in the barn.
Once they’re fully dry, we’re on to the fun part; threshing the whole plant! We do it by throwing the whole bundle into our handy threshing box and doing the usual shuffle dance. Afterwards, just winnow and screen them, and there you go! They aren’t as heavy yielding in my experience as beans or peas, but in exchange for the very small amount of work they require to grow they’re quite worth it.
- Saving Lentil Seeds -
Lentils are super easy to save seed... just plant some of your harvest next year! True lentils (Lens culinaris) don’t often cross pollinate even when different varieties are grown close together.