Lens culinaris, the lentils plant, has many different names. The term “lentil” is a direct reference to the word “lens”, which not only references its botanical name but its shape. The legumes resemble small lenses.
Lentil crops are annually grown and belong to the Fabaceae plant family. The pods contain edible seeds, each pod producing at least two seeds that can be split if desired. The vine itself is quite slender with hairy, erect, branching stems.
In Kenya it is popularly known as kamande, best grown in hot areas with sandy loamy soils that drain water fast. Due to its tolerance to drought conditions, areas of Ukambani, Garissa, Wajir, Siaya, Kisumu, Narok South, Kajiado and the entire coastal region would be ideal. Linah Judy a farmer from Kitui county shares insights on planting kamande.
Planting and soil management
Overall, lentils adapt to all soil types but the key is good drainage. Plants prefer sandy loamy soils that are well-drained and fertile.
“A pH of 6.0 and 6.5 is best, though the plants will grow in a soil pH up to 8.0,” says Judy.
Avoid saline, boron, or sodic soils, which may limit root growth and the plant's ability to receive moisture.
“Upon planting, water well without flooding. Give plants about 1 inch of water per week. At least 10 inches of annual rainfall is needed,” says Judy.
“If weather conditions become especially dry, know that lentil plants are drought tolerant. The can die if the soil becomes waterlogged. Stop watering when pods begin to dry.”
Temperature and humidity
Lentil plants thrive in areas where the weather is cool with limited rainfall such as Siaya, Kisumu, Narok South, Kajiado. Ideal temperatures are around 25 to 35 degrees celcius.
“If your soil is naturally clumpy, add compost to loosen it. Direct contact with fertiliser may shock the seeds,” says Judy.
Instead, inoculate seeds with Rhizobium leguminosarum, according to Judy this will give the plants the nitrogen they need for ideal growth and health.
Dig a long trench on the side of each row of young plants when they are about five inches tall. Pour in compost tea and repeat when the plants start to flower.
According to bbcgoodfood.com, lentils are rich in fibre, folate and potassium making them a great choice for the heart and for managing blood pressure and cholesterol. They are also a source of energising iron and vitamin B1 which helps maintain a steady heartbeat.
Lentils have a low glycaemic index (GI) which slows the rate at which the energy they supply is released into the bloodstream. This helps improve blood sugar management. The high fibre content also makes them very filling which helps in appetite control.
Although they include all these beneficial nutrients like fibre, protein, minerals and vitamins, they are still low in calories and contain virtually no fat. One cup of cooked lentils only contains about 230 calories, but still leaves you feeling full and satisfied.
Several studies have shown that eating high fibre foods like lentils reduces your risk of heart disease. They are also a great source of folate and magnesium, which are big contributors to heart health. Low levels of magnesium have been directly associated with heart disease, so eating lentils will keep your heart happy!
According to healthline.com, lentils are a rich source of protein making them a great alternative to meat or fish. As much as a third of the calories from lentils comes from protein, which makes lentils the third highest in protein, by weight, of any legume or nut.
Like other legumes, lentils are low in a couple of the essential amino acids, namely methionine and cysteine. This is easily addressed by combining lentils with cereal grains such as rice or wheat.
Collect green pods within 70 to 80 days of planting to eat them like snap beans. When lentils are used as a dry grain, the seed is called a pulse. Harvest lentils when the lower pods are brown.
“Hit a seed with a hammer and if it cracks, then it's ready to be harvested. If it mashes, let it dry on the plant longer,” says Judy.
Common pests and diseases
Because lentil plants thrive in low humidity, they usually do not attract many diseases. Occasionally blight, white mould, or root rot may occur as a symptom of rotating lentils with the wrong crops.
In addition to wheat, corn is another good option for crop rotation. Rotate every three or four years. Avoid fava bean, field bean, field pea, mustard, canola, rapeseed, soybean, sunflower, sugar beet, and potato because they are susceptible to the same diseases.
Pests are minimal too. It is very rare for lentils to attract Lygus bugs, aphids, maggots, wireworms and thrips. If found, just hose or pinch them.
In the market, one kilo of kamande costs between Sh200 -Sh350 depending on where you are buying it from.