Why not grow a poppy patch? Here’s how… pt.2: cultivation & growing

Last time, we got everything together for our poppy growing adventure. Now we plant and cultivate.

They say poppies thrive on neglect (who says? the mysterious wise poppymen?). I’ll meet them half-way on this; I think fertilizer is important, but only once when first being worked into poor soil before planting, and a little (not too much!!) every month or so, after. Don’t follow the directions on the label if they require too much application. In my experience, old manure is better, but I understand that not many have the ambition or inclination for this; consider though that bags of sterilised manure-compost can be purchased easily, and the investment of time and money will pay you back in quantity and satisfaction; a 1:1:1 ratio of soil/compost/sand is ideal and recommended for awesome results, but not necessary. My rich, well-manured opium garden puts the lie to those who claim that poppies grow better in uncared-for soil; the eyes of any jaded Afghani grower would bug out in disbelief if they set upon my beautiful, huge plants and impossible pods.

The best time for planting is springtime, immediately after the snow melts and when one can till the soil without the rototiller getting gunked up with mud. The reason for planting this early is dictated by the seeds’ desire for a cold treatment, but if you plant later (preferably before June) it’s no big deal. The earth should be very loose and well-aired. We want to avoid packed dirt as much as we can; those roots love to travel laterally. Work the fertilizer or old poop (and sand?) into the top four to six inches.

Planting is simple; there’s no need to dig holes or trenches. We just broadcast our seed, diluted with a lot (a lot) of fine sand for an even spread. If you’re sure that you won’t be dealing with wind, you might get away with not covering your seed with dirt; but definitely be sure to use a rake to even out the seeds after broadcasting. Raking is generally fine regarding planting depth if the seeds are adequately watered every day to ensure they are impacted into the ground; but if you wish to plant deeper, don’t cover them more than 3/8″. In any case, water every day in the evening and make sure that the ground is absolutely drenched each time (be careful with pooling and run-off). When the sprouts come up, water a little less each day (don’t drench), but be careful; they are very fragile at this stage.

You will notice that after a time many sprouts have fallen over. This is normal. Just let them go at this time and water only if the rain isn’t doing its job. The ground should be neither soaked nor too dry.

Now it’s time to thin our poppies out. We want a space of eight inches around each plant. This might seem like too much space, but believe me, if you want big beautiful pods and a bounty, do it. Again, the roots need space because they travel laterally. Pull out the smallest and weakest plants.

From here on in, when the plants have caught, we can relax and just weed when necessary. Besides weeding, our only job is to ensure that the soil doesn’t get bone-dry; this doesn’t mean constant watering if you don’t figure it’s raining enough though; over-watering at this stage will just leave your poppies susceptible to mold, fungus and rot and may actually lessen potency. No, no, no!! Disaster and sadness will ensue!    :(

Happy plants=happy growers…    :)

~Next: harvesting and processing

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