If you’ve discovered all the wonderful ways to cook with lentils, you’ve likely considered growing this pulse or grain legume crop in your home garden. As a frost tolerant plant, you can sow lentil seeds in early spring. This crop is fairly easy to grow, but knowing how and when to harvest lentils can be a bit tricky.
When is Lentil Plant Harvest Time?
Most varieties of lentils take between 80 and 110 days to reach maturity. After flowering, a short pod will develop. Each pod will contain one or two lens-shaped seeds. The color of the lentil seed is dependent upon the variety, but they can be orange, yellow, green, brown or black.
As lentil plants reach maturity, home gardeners will likely find their lentil plants bending toward the ground. Don’t be alarmed. Lentils have notoriously weak stems and this is a common problem even among commercial growers.
Additionally, lentil pods mature and dry at the bottom of the plant first. Waiting until the pods at the top of plant are dry results in loss of lentils due to seedpod shattering. The best time to harvest lentils is when the plants begin to turn yellow and the pods at the bottom third of the plant are turning brown. To be sure, shake the plant. If the seeds rattle, it’s time to harvest.
How to Pick Lentils
As the lentil crop reaches its maturity date, home gardeners are advised to monitor their plants closely. Under ideal growing conditions, there might only be a few days between the pods turning brown and seed shattering.
One harvest method home gardeners can employ is picking lentils by hand as each pod turns brown. The pods can finish drying on a tray or a sheet in a sunny, windless location. The lentil seeds can be removed by breaking open the pods.
An alternative method is to cut or pull the entire plant from the ground when the bottom pods turn yellow. This allows all the pods to dry evenly. The plants can be placed on a drying rack, hung upside down or set on a sheet in a sunny, windless location until fully dry.
Dry is Best
Ideally, lentil harvest time will coincide with dry weather. If wet or humid conditions are present, home gardeners can also dry lentil plants indoors or inside a garage. Removing the pods and placing them in a food dehydrator set at 110 degrees F. (43 C.) offers another method for drying lentils.
Once the plants are dry, the lentil seeds can be released by shaking the plants inside a bag or crushing them in a pillow case. To remove the chaff from the seed, slowly pour the crushed plants from container to container in front of a fan. The heavier seeds will drop to the bottom of the containers as the chaff blows away.
Store lentils in an airtight jar or container as this seed crop is vulnerable to pantry pests, some of which can chew through plastic storage bags. Properly dried, homegrown lentils have a storage life of 10 to 12 months. Excess seed can also be used to grow next year’s lentil crop.