Ever since our stint in the Peace Corps, we’ve eaten lentils at least once a week, often several times. Lentils and rice was a staple meal in Panama, and it has since become a comfort food. And since lentils feature in many cuisines, they find their way to our table in many guises.
As a gardener, I found lentils intriguing. They show up in none of the seed catalogues, yet they can be grown in a wide range of conditions and locations. The two biggest lentil producing countries are Canada and India. If they grow in these disparate climates, surely I could grow them here!
With this in mind, a couple of years ago, I took a handful of lentils purchased at the grocery store and tested their germination—100%. Hooray! I was in business! I planted two types of lentils—brown and French green—at the same time I planted my beans. They sprouted well and grew vigorously. Their feathery leaves were a beautiful and intriguing addition to the garden. Patiently I watched them grow, flower, and set seed.
When the plants died back and the seed pods dried, I harvested whole plants, laden with pods.
Then I discovered why home gardeners don’t grow lentils.
Each pod contained only one or two seeds. If the plants were sufficiently dry, many of the seeds could be extracted from the pod by rubbing the plant between my hands. But even dry, a lot of seeds had to be picked individually out of the pod. And rubbing the dry plant left a lot of chaff mixed into the lentils. The chaff and the lentils were about the same weight, so blowing the chaff off also blew off many of the lentils.
After hours of painstaking work, I had enough lentils for, maybe, two meals. From the same garden space, and for a lot less work, I could have produced a year’s worth of dry beans.
I don’t regret growing lentils, and I’m pleased to know I can grow them. I’m also quite content to let someone else grow them (and harvest them mechanically) for me.