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How to grow poppy seeds


Although breadseed poppies and opium poppies are in the same species and look very similar, it's legal to grow your own poppy seeds.  Many websites will tell you otherwise, though, so I was afraid to try my hand until I found culinary poppy seeds being sold by a reputable seed company.

Growing poppies is pretty simple, but I've learned a few tricks over the last couple of years to increase yields.  Unlike most ornamental poppies, breadseed poppies aren't hardy enough to be seeded in the fall here in zone 6, so you should instead scatter the tiny seeds lightly on the soil surface in late February.  If you live in a warmer climate, you might get away with seeding in late autumn.

Thinning poppiesIn 2010, I sowed my seeds too far apart, so this year I planted more heavily with the result that the seedlings formed a solid mass of green across the bed by late April.  That seems to have been overkill --- fewer poppy seeds came up on a different bed, and these better spaced seedlings resulted in much larger pods.  I suspect that the optimal distance between plants would be about four inches in a highly productive, no-till garden, although extension service websites suggest 6 to 8 inch spacing in a more conventional garden.  If you're going to overplant and thin, remove the extra seedlings by March or early April --- I thinned later than I should have in the photo above.

Breadseed poppy flowers

Your breadseed poppies will be in full bloom in June, and your honeybees will love them.  Besides keeping the plants weeded, you don't have to do anything now until the pods bulk up and then turn brown.  At that point, snip off the seed heads and bring them inside to dry.

Mash poppy pods

Once the poppy heads are entirely dry, tiny holes near the top of the pod will open, so it's technically feasible to shake mature pods in a paper bag until all of the seeds fall out.  In practice, though, it's much more efficient to pound the pods to crush them, tear the heads open a little more with your fingers, and then shake out the seeds from one pod at a time.  This really doesn't take very long if you've just grown a small patch of poppies.

Sift poppy seedsPoppy seeds are too small to winnow easily in front of a fan, but you can remove nearly all of the bits of chaff by sending the seeds through a sifter.  Let the seeds dry a bit more in an open container, then seal them away for winter treats.  I've discovered that if I paint raw egg on the top of homemade buns before their last rise, sprinkle on breadseed poppies, then mash the seeds into the dough with the palm of my hand, nearly all of the precious seeds stay in place and the plain old bread turns into a treat.  I figure this year's quarter cup harvest will last all winter.

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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Thanks Anna! My breadseed poppies were a complete no-show this spring, but I will try again thanks to your encouragement and tips. I love it when you geek out with charts (like in the recent seed saving post), and I love your blog. What do you like to bake w/ your seeds? Thanks, Paula

Comment by Paula B. Wed Aug 3 20:01:38 2011

Breadseed poppies do seem to take a bit more care than some other crops, but I think that if you stick with it, you'll get them to grow.

I mostly just put the poppy seeds on top of buns, but I also like to make lemon poppyseed muffins. Delicious!

Thanks for your kind words! I always wonder a bit if my extra-geeky posts are skipped over or enjoyed. :-)

Comment by anna Wed Aug 3 20:11:03 2011
Anna, When I first looked at the picture of your poppyseeds, they looked like tiny colored peanut shells! I am just now catching up on your blog after being away for a week at Annual Session.
Comment by Sheila Mon Aug 8 21:52:02 2011
I know what you mean! When I took the photo and then zoomed in, I was a bit shocked by what the poppy seeds looked like!
Comment by anna Tue Aug 9 07:11:50 2011

i really like yr website.

ps. theyre legal to grow but they are pretty much exactly the same.

Comment by edi Sat Aug 27 05:32:04 2011

Thanks for your kind words, Edi!

I can't quite figure out whether opium poppies and breadseed poppies are really "exactly the same" or not. Sure, they're in the same species, but varieties can be extremely different. I have read that there are several different varieties of breadseed poppies with different culinary and horticultural traits, so presumably there are also varieties of the species that have been bred for higher opium content. Hard to say, though!

Comment by anna Sat Aug 27 13:57:18 2011
I grew breadseed poppies from seed this year, the flowers were beautiful, but now Im left with the pods which are interesting but the plants are floppy and really not nice in appearance, they are falling down and they are quite a mess. Do I have to wait until the pods dry in order to cut them, or can I cut them and hang to dry inside the house. (I want the seeds for next year and for muffins!) And if I wait for the pods to dry do I let the plant die on its own and will it come back next year? or do i just pull it out or cut it out? Please help with any suggestions.
Comment by Maria Sat Jun 23 11:12:29 2012

Maria --- If you want to eat the seeds, you have to let the pods mature fully on the plant. It can help to tie them up so they don't flop down. The plant is pouring energy into building those seeds even though the plants look like a mess.

This species of poppy is an annual, so once the seeds are ripe, you can pull the whole thing out --- it should be dead or nearly dead by then anyway. You'll need to plant from seed again next year. Good luck!

Comment by anna Sat Jun 23 12:15:41 2012
Hi everyone! I am interested in hopefully finding someone that would sell me just the crowns of the seed pod. My 8 year old daughter is making art projects from them and we are almost out of the ones we collected. She has been so excited about this we are researching growing our own next year. I too am excited because it will be a fun project for us to do together but would love to have more crowns for her to continue making art. Please email if you know a direction I can go to find them. Thanks and happy growing!
Comment by Merri Fri Sep 28 11:58:28 2012
Merri --- Unfortunately, all of mine have been cracked open to extract the seeds. I hope you find someone with some on hand --- they are definitely beautiful.
Comment by anna Fri Sep 28 13:00:50 2012

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