Growing Papaver somniferum
Natural Growing Conditions
The Opium Poppy grows to a height of around one metre. It is a hardy annual, sprouting in Autumn or Spring, flowering in Summer and shedding its seeds again in Autumn. Its flowers range in colour from white to purple and any shade of red or pink in between. It is native to South-East Europe and Western Asia, but has spread throughout Europe and Asia, where it grows in cultivation and in a wild state, often as a weed. It has been introduced to most of the rest of the world, including North and South America.
Growing from Seed
Papaver somniferum is quite an easy plant to grow. Ideally it should be planted in a fertalised garden bed with good drainage, but it will also grow in pots if given enough room for its roots. Seeds can be sown any time between September and April. If Winter frosts are the norm in your area, don't sow them until the very end of Winter, or the beginning of Spring, as seedlings from Autumn or Winter plantings may be killed by subsequent frosts. Scatter the seeds and cover with a very fine layer if earth. Water well until germination, keeping the earth moist. The seeds will germinate in about a week. Water very sparingly at first to prevent rot.
When they develop their small, lettuce-like leaves, begin watering freely again, and apply fertaliser every few waterings. Do not worry if they fall over, this is normal.
Poppies need space to grow, ideally about 30cm apart, but they will thrive on less if well fertalised. Thin the plants out so they have at least 15cm between each plant. Either simply remove all of the smallest plants, or if you wish to conserve your seedlings, carefully transplant them.
The Flower Bud
Soon, the flower bud will appear. The tip of the stalk will be bent over with the weight of the bud, which for some reason I always imagine looks like a little green pixie bell. It will straighten and grow. I have heared via a post on the Gnostic Garden message board, that in Laos, they remove the bud, and four, six or eight buds grow to replace it. Keep watering and fertalising well, until flowering begins. As soon as the petals appear, stop watering, and do not water unless the plants are wilting.
Poppies will flower for a fortnight or more. Then, their petals will drop, and slowly, their pods will begin to swell and ripen. They will begin to turn yellow, until eventually they are dry and yellow like straw.
Poppies produce seeds prolifically, over 1000 seeds in each pod. To collect seeds for a further crop, wait until the pods are dry like straw, and simply remove the pods ans shake out the seeds onto paper, or break the pods open and shake the seeds free. Poppy seeds can be sown immediately, or kept almost indefinitely in the fridge.