Grow Opium

Describing how to grow poppies in the United States might possibly violate the Tumblr terms of service. This is a guide to growing poppies in Holland.

A Guide to Growing Hydroponic Poppies

The opium poppy, Papaver somniferum, has been cultivated by humans since prehistoric times. Today P. somniferum grows in gardens and wilds across much of the world, including the US and Europe; there is hardly a supermarket in world that does not sell its seeds.

Poppies can be grown outdoors in great quantities for free and with very little effort; in most cases this is the most practical route (a definitive guide for growing outdoors can be found here). Fortunately for those who lack a yard or a suitable climate (although almost any climate is tolerable), poppies are not so hard to raise indoors. Poppies are significantly easier and less expensive to grow hydroponically than other popular choices like marijuana, but the taboo surrounding opium use seems to have stifled the spread of poppy related knowledge on the web. This guide is intended to assist anyone interested in growing poppies who lacks firsthand experience (it may prove useful to experienced growers as well). Hopefully some of those who use this guide will in turn share their own results and discoveries to improve the online body of knowledge.

The poppies used in this grow were Tasmanians, the variety most commonly raised for pharmaceutical use (most store bought seeds – e.g. McCormick’s or Spice Island – are Tasmanian seeds). This variety has a relatively long growing season (~3-4 months) but produces multiple pods, which possess a relatively high morphine content.

Before going further, let it be clear that the authors of this guide neither endorse nor disparage any particular use of the poppy. Nonetheless, it is inevitable that some readers will have interest in the consumption of opium.  So for those who might have judgement toward this demographic, we ask that you bear in mind that there is a global epidemic of untreated pain (as per the International Narcotic Control Board) that has come about mainly on account of opium prohibition.  If this guide is of any use to chronic pain sufferers then we have no regrets. 

For those concerned that this guide might be used by recreational drug takers, please consider that home grown opium is worlds safer than most any drug bought off the street; growing one’s own opium can be considered a form of harm reduction.

Sources
As stated before, there are unfortunately very few reliable sources for growing opium hydroponically. These are the sources we found to be useful:
Hydroponic Poppies Grow Log

Burrabit’s Indoor Cultivation
Hydroponic Heroin

Set Up
We grew our poppies using a “deep water culture” set up: 22 gallon Rubbermaid tanks partially filled with water oxygenated by airstones.  This set up is extremely simple and inexpensive. We used Youtube as a guide for constructing our set up. Information on other techniques can be found on Wikipedia

Supplies
light fixtures x6 = $60
florescent tubes x 12 = $16
22 gal. tubs x 4 = $16
air stones x 4 = $16
air pumps x 2 = $30
nutrients x 2 = $52
big bag hydroton = $16
neti pots x 28 = $16 
= $222
We used four tubs; if you a start with two tubs you can grow 12 plants for about $111.00 dollars.

Additional/Optional Supplies
fan
thermometer
extension cord/outlet adapters
light timer
twine (for raising/lowering lights)
pH test kit
TDS meter

Lights
We used the cheapest florescent lights (T12/40 W) and fixtures available at Home Depot and they worked fine. Different florescent spectrums are apparently most useful at different stages of growth; to cover all of our bases we used both “cool blue/natural light” (blue/white) tubes as well as the “warm light” (yellow) tubes (most fixtures hold two tubes, so you can use one of each per fixture so that all plants receive the same wavelengths). The lights were suspended from the ceiling by twine so they could be easily raised and lowered.

Spacing
For this grow we had three tanks with six plants each and one tank with eight. The plants in the tank with eight became crowded to the point that only six managed to grow while the other two were shaded out and stunted. For large varieties like Tasmanians, six per tank is the way to go.

Nutrients
We used General Hydroponics’ Flora series.  We used this line because it is what our sources used. These nutrients worked for us, but we have no reason to believe that they work better than any other formula.  We suggest that you use whatever nutrients you have experience with or are able to find most cheaply.

pH
The ideal pH range for poppies is between 6.5 and 6.8. Seedlings are more sensitive to pH (especially rapid fluctuation) than mature plants.  At a pH above 6.8 you will see signs of Iron (Fe) deficiency (new leaves appear yellow/tiger striped), as almost all of the iron will precipitate out of the water at this level. A pH below 6.5 is less serious (our plants survived with a pH than was generally between 6.0-6.4), but it is not ideal, as a number of nutrients will become less available. If, for any reason, there is a deficiency, a lower pH can greatly exacerbate the shortage and make recovery more difficult. Phosphoric acid or vinegar can be used to lower pH, but should be administered in the smallest doses possible and diluted before being added to the reservoir. Small doses of washing soda can be used to raise pH if necessary. When changing water, wait until all nutrients have been added before measuring pH.

TDS
The TDS value refers to the quantity of Total Dissolved Solids in your solution. The value should be between 0 (fine for seedlings) and 999.  There is no “ideal” TDS value, as the mineral content of tap water varies.  The value is most useful for gauging the rate at which your plants are absorbing nutrients from the water, and for determining whether you have added the correct quantity of nutrients when you change the water (you will become familiar with you regular TDS values, so if a reading is way off it is likely you either forgot to add something, or added too much).

Temperature
The temperature for this grow ranged between a steady 52/54 degrees for the first few months and 65-72 towards the end. Some sources claim that temperature can have a great influence on potency, but we have known poppies to thrive outdoors in temperatures in excess of 90 degrees without suffering. Germination is the one period in which temperature is definitely important, as cold is necessary to break the dormancy cycle.  Our seeds germinated fine at 52 degrees, but if after a few days yours have not begun to sprout you can place them in the refrigerator for a few days before re-sowing them.

Stages of Growth
Germination - the first 10-14 days or so as the plant emerges from its seed, grows roots and its first pairs of leaves (roots will often grow extensively before first leaves emerge).
Cabbage - from the end of germination to about 8 weeks, as the plant grows large lettuce-like leaves. Growth can generally be described as out/horizontal rather than up.
Bolt - beginning at around 8 weeks growth will become more vertically oriented as leaves begin to stick straight up and a stalk becomes visible.  Central buds may become evident as plants gain height rapidly.
Flowering - usually occurring between 3 and 4 months after germination, plants will bloom. Pods generally ripen 7-14 days after petals fall.  Indoors, flowering may last for two months or more.

Before starting, we should note that the grow chronicled in this guide began as an experiment that failed. When we set out our goal was to see if it were possible to complete an entire grow without changing the water in our reservoirs (we intended to do this by taking baseline measurements for each nutrient concentration (in a gallon of fresh water) and simply matching the measurements (pH and TDS) in the reservoirs to match the baseline). For the first two months the results were so good that we became greedy/lazy and abandoned our controls (the reservoirs that were to be changed weekly) and went all in. Unfortunately things (perhaps, predictably) took a turn for the worse and we nearly lost our crop. The guide below includes instructions (what you should do) followed by photos and then notes described what we actually did (i.e., what you shouldn’t do). We’re sorry not to post up a log of a perfect grow; on the whole though this grow ended up being quite successful, and we figure the errors here might be instructive.

Index Plant
A few weeks before planting the main crop we sowed a single pot; the plant that grew there essentially had a two week head start over the other 25. The idea behind this technique is to use the early plant as a sort of “canary;” since it is two weeks more mature, and thus has a more advanced nutrient requirement, it will likely show signs of deficiency or burn before any of the smaller plants. As you will see, the index plant proved quite useful and may well have saved our crop.

Here is our log:

Day 1
- Tanks should be filled so that water level reaches bottom inch or so off net pots.
-  Spray down hydroton/substrate and sow seeds directly into pots.  Sow ~25-50 seeds per pot. Most seeds will germinate; the more seedlings you have, greater the variance/better your selection when culling.
- Lights should be positioned ~ 6 inches from top of tanks/seedlings.  Lights can be on 24 hours a day as germination occurs.
- It is not necessary to have fertilizer in the water at this point, as seedlings will survive off of nutrients from seed for first two weeks of development. However it is fine to add them at this point to avoid shocking once roots have developed. At this point at ¼ tsp/gallon (or a quarter strength of whatever your final concentration will be).
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Day 7 (1 Week)
- Seedlings should have emerged/be emerging at this point
- Reduce light schedule to ~12/12 (twelve on/twelve off)
- As seedlings/plants grow, lights should be continually raised so as to remain a few inches above canopy (it is not a big deal if plants grow into lights, but it is best to keep a minimal distance, as fluorescents do give off a small amount of heat)
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In the early going, we were having difficulty keeping the pH down below 8 (our tap water is alkaline). As a result the seedlings suffered an iron deficiency, as evidenced by the yellowish leaves (only the leaf veins are dark green)

Day 14 (2 Weeks)
- Begin weeding out smaller seedlings. This can be done with a pair of scissors or by simply pinching off at the stem. We recommend against yanking them out, as the roots may be intertwined with those of other seedlings. Culling can be done every few days – the seedlings grow fast.  At each interval only remove enough seedlings so that those remaining (which should be the biggest/tallest/fastest-growing) are not too crowded.
- Lights → 12.5/11.5.
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Day 21 ( 3 Weeks )
-Lights → 13/11.
-Continue culling.
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The plant which is very much larger than the others is the index plant.


Day 28 ( 1 month)
- Reduce water to ~16 gallons/tank (so that bottom 1/3 of roots are submerged).
- Increase nutrients concentration to ½ tsp/gall (half concentration).
- Continue culling.
- Lights → 13.5/10.5
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Day 35 (5 Weeks)
- Continue culling.
- Lights → 14/10.
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Once the pH finally settled below 6.8 the iron than precipitated all dissolved at once, and several of the plants began demonstrating signs of iron overload (black dots near the leaf tips). Several, in fact, some demonstrated signs of both iron deficiency (pale yellowish leaves) and overload (the black dots) at the same time.

Day 42 (6 Weeks)
- Final culling.
- Change water (from here until bolt it is important to change water every 7-10 days. The plants nutrient requirement is highest during this period so they are vulnerable to deficiency.)
- Reduce water to ~8 gallon/tank (again, so that bottom 1/3 of roots are submerged).
- Nutrient 1 tsp/gallon (full strength/final concentration)
- Lights → 15/9 (the lighting schedule is a very loose science, but it is generally around this point that you should start easing them towards the 18/6 they will need to bolt. If they appear ready, you can of course bump them up sooner).
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Day 49 (7 Weeks)
- Lights → 15.5/8.5.
- Change water.
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Day 56 (8 Weeks)
- Plants beginning to bolt.
- Change water.
- Lights → 16/8.
- Water ~ 6 gallon/tank.
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Day 63 (9 Weeks)
- change water
- lights →17/7 
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It was at this point that the index plant began showing serious signs of deficiency (burnt looking/purple/pale scaly and stunted leaves, and we did our first water change

Day 70 (10 weeks)
- Lights → 18/6.
- Change water.
- Water ~ 4 gallon/tank
- By this time you will have likely started to notice a distinct (but not at all overpowering) scent in the air.
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Even after changing the water the index plant struggled to recover and several other plants began to show signs of deficiency as well.

Day 77 (11 Weeks)
- Change water.
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Index and other large plants continue to deteriorate as others begin to recover. Some of the cabbage leaves were at this point more than 2’ long.

Day 84 (12 Weeks/3 Months)
- Change water.
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It was at this point more or less clear which plants were going to survive deficiency and which weren’t.

Day 91
- Heads/buds visible.
- Change water.
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Day 98
- Bent/nodding heads.
- Change water.
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The plants that had suffered deficiency and then recovered began to bud later than those which had made it through unscathed.  In most cases the deficient plants lost at least their primary and secondary buds. A few lost up to five yet managed to recover.

Day 105
- First blooms.
- Change water (around this point the plants’ nutrient requirements will generally diminish as they have absorbed/stored most of what they need for the flowering process.  From here on out water can be changed every 10-14 days or as needed).
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Day 112 (16 Weeks/4 Months)
- First pods ready to harvest.
- Change water (as needed).
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At this point most of the surviving plants are between 3.5’-4.5’. The blue pod is ripe for harvest.

Day 119
- Harvest continues.
- Change water (as needed).
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Day 126
- Harvest continues.
- Change water (as needed).
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Day 133
- Harvest continues.
- Change water (as needed).
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Day 140 (20 Weeks 5 months)
- Change water (as needed).
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Day 147
- Harvest continues.
- No longer necessary to change water.
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Day 154
- Harvest continues.
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Day 163
- Harvest continues.
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Day 170 (24 weeks/6 months)
- Harvest continues.
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Day 177
- Harvest continues.
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Day 184
- Harvest continues.
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Harvest
All told this grow produced ~85 pods, harvested over a period of two and a half months. Considering that we lost more than half of our crop and almost all of the plants that did make it to flower lost their primary and secondary buds, we have to imagine that a more successful grow would have yielded close to 200 pods. Furthermore it is likely that blooming/harvest would have begun perhaps two weeks sooner had the earliest buds not been lost.

In the end 16 of the 26 plants that entered the bolt stage (when the experiment went awry) survived and flowered. Most of the plants that weren’t burned too badly grew between 4’ and 4’6” and produced about 6 or 7 pods on average. Several of the plants that were extremely burnt/deficient recovered to produce 3 or 4 smaller pods.

We are quite confident that the burn was a result of deficiency rather than nutrient overload. Symptoms were consistent with those of other plants that were known to have suffered deficiency, and it is telling that the most mature/largest plants were struck hardest, while only the least mature escaped unharmed. Although the TDS and pH values in our tanks were consistent with proper baselines, we believe that deficiencies in certain nutrients (specifically ) were masked by excesses in others (such as iron) as well as the hydrochloric acid which had been added to correct the initial iron deficiency. The whole mess serves as a perfect example of why regular water changes are so strongly recommended. With regular water changes and attention paid to pH, your crop will in all likelihood avoid the gruesome fate that met our best plants. If you do run into problems, patience will pay off. Poppies are on the whole quite resilient, so don’t write your crop off too soon.

Be sure to save seeds from your best plant to use in future grows.

Best of luck.

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