Lentils are a rich source of protein and provide a balanced diet when eaten with a combination of cereal grains. The legumes are an important global crop and were cultivated in 2001 on 1.5 million acres of land worldwide. The majority of lentils grown in the United States are for export but some are used as a mediary crop between cereal seasons. The nutrient values of red lentils can be brought to the home with this easy to grow, frost tolerant legume crop. Lentils can be sowed before the last expected frost date and require 80 to 110 days to harvest.
Prepare a sunny garden bed by tilling in 3 to 4 inches of compost to add nutrients to the soil. Rake the bed smooth and remove any rocks or roots in the soil. Check for good drainage by digging a 6-inch deep trench and filling it with water. Wait for it to drain and then fill it again. If the trench has not drained in half an hour, incorporate 2 to 3 inches of sand to improve the drainage.
Plant the lentil seeds two weeks before the last frost date. Push each seed in 1/2 to 1 inch deep, at least 1 inch apart with rows 18 to 24 inches away from each other. Moisten the bed down at least 2 inches and keep evenly damp for 10 days or until germination. Thin seedlings to 4 to 5 inches apart.
Use the rubber mallet to sink poles or a trellis to support the plants. As the lentil plants grow tie the stems onto the poles or trellis with string to prevent them from flopping into the dirt. The upright stems will be better able to gather light and the staking will prevent the pods from contacting the soil and rotting.
Continue to keep the plants evenly moist and watch for insect pests. Most pests can be sprayed off the plants with short sharp bursts of water. Keep weeds pulled from around the plants. Add a 2- to 3-inch layer of compost as a side dressing to add nitrogen and minimise the weeds.
Harvest the lentils when 77 to 80 days have elapsed for fresh, soft legumes. The pods will be green and the lentils can be eaten just like peas. For dried lentils, allow the pods to dry and turn brown and harvest them in approximately 110 days. Shell the lentils and spread them on a baking tray to dry. Store them in a closed container in a dry, dark area.