Sunday 6 September 2015

Poppy harvest

I think I'm writing about Papaver somniferum the exotic opium poppy rather than the common corn poppy Papaver rhoeas but I'm a crap field biologist, so we're lucky if we get the genus right let alone the species.  In contrast to the honest yeoman farmers of Afghanistan, I'm not interested in producing opium in my back garden. But the baker in me has an almost insatiable requirement for poppy-seeds, so I'm not averse to clipping dried poppy seedheads from the road side, if I see a clump.  We've had a very quiet year in the kitchen garden: only two of two dozen planted green beans Phaseolus vulgaris sprouted and grew large enough to plant out and they are bearing now. Otherwise nothing got planted in the Spring.  Nevertheless a huge clump of pale purple poppies took over a bed in the poly-tunnel made from 4 cut-in-half 900mm x 1200mm election posters which blossom across our fair land every time there is an election or referendum.  That magnificent stand of flowers have now withered on the stems and the seed-heads have swelled. Yesterday I was out harvesting [Above, showing stages] for poppy-seed buns.  Eventually the seed-head develops a ring of holes around the top and the black seeds within get shaken out and dispersed if there is a strong enough wind. Obviously, poppies propagate more widely if the seeds disperse further. The seeds develop earlier than their container and you can, as shown above, cut off a seed-head, top it like a boiled egg and shake out the seeds into a jar.  The seeds are tiny and look like little beans rather than being round.  The interweb reports that a human embryo is the size of a poppyseed = 1mm at four weeks of age.  It is amazing how both humans and poppies grow to such a size from such small beginnings.

Apparently this year is going to be a bumper crop for the poppy farmers of Afgho. Like any biotech firm, the Taliban have been doing some breeding and selection and produced a poppy that yields 2x the amount of raw opium to the hectare. Farmers in Helmand province have about as much choice in the matter of sourcing the seed as they would have if they were in thrall to Monsanto.

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