Growing and harvesting poppy has been practiced for many centuries largely due to the demand for opium, a substance that has important painkilling effects. But because of the abuse associated with the use of opium, the possession of the plant is illegal in many places. Those caught with the plant are usually suspected of growing poppy in order to extract opium from it to make illegal drugs. In some countries, poppy farming is legal although subject to heavy regulation. If you want to grow poppies other than to extract opium (maybe because of its beautiful flower), make sure that you exercise some discretion.
- When buying seeds, use only its scientific name, which is Papaver somniferum. That Latin sounding name will sound innocent, pass as a material for a science project, and would prevent sparking unnecessary interest or suspicion. For an acre of land, you’d need about 1 kilogram of seeds and produce 20 times that amount. But if you are planting poppies for non-pharmaceutical purposes, you can just try one or two seeds.
- Choose a time to plant the seeds. Poppy seeds can be planted in early spring or late fall. They can survive the winter to sprout in the spring. Seeds can even be preserved in as many years under optimum condition.
- You can plant poppy seeds by scattering them over a piece of ground or dropping them in holes. If you plan to transplant grown poppy plants, be sure not to touch the roots or they will die.
- Poppies grow well in warm climate, and in a variety of soil as long as it is well drained. Preferably, the pH should be neutral. Sunshine must also be present in considerable amount. Lack of it could result to plants that are stunted.
- Poppies germinate after more than a month of planting. They mature in three to four months. It flowers for almost a month. It must be replanted annually once harvested because it does not have the capacity to regenerate. It grows up to 5 feet in height. Collect some seeds during the harvest for planting during the next planting cycle.
- In the early part of its development, poppies will need protection from excessive rain and insects.
- If you are planting several varieties be sure to separate them to avoid cross-pollinations or contamination of better varieties with lesser ones.
India produces about half the opium utilized by the world's pharmaceutical industries to produce codeine, morphine, narcotine, thebaine, papaverine, and other medical products. Situated between the Golden Triangle (Burma, Laos) and the Golden Crescent (Afghanistan, Pakistan), the two centers of greatest production and marketing of illicit opiates, it is curious that India is not known as a world-exporter of illicit opiates. Yes, there is "slippage" or "leakage" from the illicit, but until now (1998), the illicit products circulated within India.
Opium is grown in the three states of Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan. Note that the growing areas in UP are what we would call part of the Gangetic Plain, and the regions in the other two states are fairly dry, fairly flat. Poppy may be grown in remote mountainous areas, but the highest yields come from production in good soils, well-fertilized, weeded, and tended. Yields in India range from 40-60 kg per ha, which is 3-4 times higher than yield in Turkey. The US State Department's International Narcotics Control Strategy Report routinely claims higher opium production in countries where the US has no effective on-ground presence which would permit data-gathering--such as Afghanistan which has been in civil war since 1979. It fails to provide data for illicit producers such as Pakistan where the US does have a presence. The DEA (Justice) estimates illicit yields in Burma to be 15 kg per ha, Pakistan to be 22 per ha, Mexico to be 11 kg per ha.