A recent addition to Montana crop rotations, lentil plants are much smaller than pea plants (usually only 16 in.) and bushy, with feather- or fern-like leaves. The plants tend toward a yellowish-green. Very small white, lilac, or pale blue flowers cover the plant. Seed pods usually contain only 2 lentil seeds, the lowest pods mature and turn brown first, so that the topmost pods may still be slightly green when harvested. Lentils are frost- and drought resistant, they do not require deep soil, prefer to be planted in cold weather, and mature quickly once the weather warms up, making them ideally suited for much of Montana. They generally do not require irrigation.

Uses

Lentils are prepared in a wide variety of ways for human consumption, including soups, stews, salads, and curries. Most lentils in the United States are exported, however, a few processing plants exist in Montana, and some grocery stores across the state sell Montana-grown lentils. Because of their drought-tolerance and contribution to soil health, lentil production in Montana is increasing.

Central Montana Lentils

Scientific Name

Lens culinaris

Growing Season

Planted as early as March. Harvested by July, 80-100 days after planting.

Production

1.935 million hundredweight (cwt) in Montana

Did You Know?

  • Montana is the largest producer of lentils in the United States, and accounts for more than 38% of lentils grown in the nation.
  • Because lentils are a legume, like peas, beans, and alfalfa, they add nitrogen to the soil, improving soil health and reducing the need for nitrogen-based fertilizers.
  • Because lentil are so short, they do not compete well with weeds and can be difficult to harvest.
  • The optical lens gets its name from the Latin word for lentil, lens.
  • Lentils have a high nutritional value, and are one of the oldest known domesticated crops.