My name is Jeffrey Hickey. I’m 63 years old, and Oaksterdam University has asked me to blog my 2020 cannabis grow from rather deep isolation north of San Francisco. I am a 2016 alumnus of Oaksterdam.
In April of 2015, my beloved wife of 38 years, Karen Kiser, became catastrophically ill, with an eventual diagnosis of two different auto-immune forms of arthritis. It took two years for an accurate diagnosis. During that time, I witnessed the love of my life enduring pain beyond anything I’d seen, or frankly, cared to comprehend. To say she was in “chronic pain” was an understatement. That first year especially, expanded our relative understanding of how much discomfort one person can take. It was initially called the almost iconic Fibromyalgia, but in fact, my wife has Seronegative Rheumatoid Arthritis and Enteropathic Arthritis.
At her worst, Karen said her hair hurt.
There was an initial, almost knee-jerk response from physicians who wanted to put her on steroids for the pain, and the offer was cruelly tempting. But Karen wanted to remain off steroids and opiates if possible. She eventually did take steroids for a time, but never opiates.
Over the counter stuff did nothing. She is currently taking an immunosuppressant, and a lot of supplements, along with cannabis.
My entire life became about finding something to help and not hurt my wife. When this hit Karen, I was recovering from prostate cancer surgery. During my recovery, I made a miraculous discovery, due to the above and beyond help of a cannabis dispensary. When I got cancer, I got my license, because it was only medically legal at that time. I’d done my share of cannabis as a young man, and bits and pieces along the way, but cannabis was not important to me. However, when I got cancer, I wanted whatever help I could get.
After surgery, I ironically experienced my own worst pain moments, with the onset of bladder spasms. If you want to know more about them, look them up. I will only say this: bladder spasms changed my understanding of pain. When I went home after surgery, I experienced spasms to the point where all I could do was bomb myself with whatever they gave me for it and hope I could sleep through it. I was literally lying on the floor in a fetal position, so miserable I could not even cry, when the phone rang. It was a guy at my dispensary. They knew I’d had prostate surgery and he was calling to find out if I’d been having any bladder spasms. He told me he had something that might help. About 30 minutes later, he knocked on my door and handed my wife a few packages of CBDoos lozenges.
I sucked on one and within 15 minutes, the spasms stopped. Not diminished like on the med. Stopped.
The spasms returned the next day and I took another lozenge. This time, they stopped and did not come back. That is the day my healing began. It’s also the day I began learning about CBD.
(I must interject here, and this will be discussed much more in the months ahead, but I now understand the relief I got was probably not from CBD. It was from CBG)
Not long after Karen became ill, I began searching desperately for CBD. Those were Wild West times, driving from county to county, dispensary after dispensary. What I found a lot of in those initial days was (I now understand) some very poorly made medicine, and many things that seemed no more than placebos.
I also began my long process of education. I read everything I could about CBD, and various cultivars with ratios of CBD to THC that certainly stirred the imagination, but I did not as yet fully understand what everything meant.
One morning, I noticed a product, Jayden’s Juice. It was a tincture, touting a 20:1 ratio of CBD to THC. That Karen would not be too stoned was important to her. She certainly wanted pain relief, but had no desire for baking. I was interested in Jayden’s Juice. I went to their website and read their inspiring story of a father creating medicine for his epileptic son. I wept, because I was pretty raw those days looking for hope.
I emailed the company, not expecting to hear anything, but hoping. Within five minutes, I received a response from Jason David, the father and creator of Jayden’s Juice. He was about a three-hour drive from me, and I was on the road to see him within fifteen minutes.
That evening, when I got home, Karen was in bed, where she had spent most of the previous year, in varying stages of spasm. I measured out a dose for her and she took it. I sat by her on the bed and watched as closely as possible. Jason told me a first-time dose might produce rather dramatic results.
Within fifteen minutes, the first thing I observed was that my wife’s eyes were no longer panicked. It was her normal, relaxed eyes, not darting around in frightened misery. She smiled. I can’t tell you what that meant to me. She smiled. I mist up even now. Within another fifteen minutes, all her spasms stopped. She was still in pain when she moved, but she could relax, even sleep for the first time without as much pain in maybe over a year. She was still in a lot of pain, this wasn’t that kind of dramatic change. But in that half hour, my wife returned.
A number of things were obvious: Cannabis could help, but it was not going to be sustainable to buy. I did buy, of course. I bought a lot that year. It was way too much money to spend on medicine, but it was helping Karen, so I didn’t care.
However, it was obvious I needed to learn how to grow. We needed to learn how to make our own medicine. How was I going to do that?
Enter Oaksterdam. In early January of 2016, nine days after I had my first hernia surgery, I limped my sore bottom to Oakland and began learning how to organically grow outdoors. I had been a very good tomato grower for decades, which I soon discovered was helpful. But I knew nothing about growing the way I was taught at Oaksterdam. Between learning to grow a new way, and learning all about the plant, I was also learning as much as I could about every possible CBD carrying cultivar available to grow at that time.
I quickly began developing an idea for what I wanted to accomplish by attending Oaksterdam. Of course, I wanted to learn how to grow the best and cleanest possible plants, but I still needed to solve the sustainability problem. I needed to create our own, home dispensary. That means prime bud, that means shake and popcorn for edibles, pills and tinctures, and that means developing a sustainable seed library.
(Growers note: I’ve grown with clones and seeds. I only grow with seeds now.)
What I learned at Oaksterdam was not only how to grow, but how to completely change the way I farm. I also learned how to efficiently utilize the resources I have all around me to help grow the best I can. I will be going into this in far more detail as we go.
I have had four cannabis harvests in my life. I know other growers who know more than I’ll ever know. But after being in school, I’ve had the benefit of being highly motivated to learn. Oaksterdam got me started, and I’ve taken it from there. My four harvests have yielded the following:
2016: 7.4 pounds from 12 plants
2017: 11.7 pounds from 18 plants
2018: 12.1 pounds from 12 plants
2019: 17.1 pounds from 12 plants
The tale of these grows is about much more than weight, and I’ll get to that. I include it to demonstrate how my growing mediums have improved over years of change. From the start, I wanted to learn how to grow less, but yield more. Last year was the year all the work I’d done on all 22 beds, and the soil, began to pay off. It was the year I learned how to defeat my nemesis: Powdery Mildew. It was the year I understood the exact relationship I have to the sun, while growing in the shadow of a neighboring southern hill. Days matter in my growing season, as you’ll see.
I made a deal with Karen when I started. I’ll learn to grow the best I can, and she will learn how to process this into medicine, in various forms. We get samples of every plant tested, so we know exactly what we’re putting into our bodies.
We both got to work. Slowly, we began to dig our way back. This has been greatly aided by Karen finally finding prescription medicine that brings her relief, with risks, but it has allowed her more movement than she’s had in five years. She’s been on drugs that help for a year now. She is still disabled for life, with permanent damage, but she and we have a life together again.
I didn’t mention that when catastrophic illness hit us, it was like a bomb went off on our entire lives. Life long friends disappeared. We understand, of course, how difficult it is to be around chronic pain. This proved too challenging for many we’ve known. We’ve let them go.
My point in sharing this information is this: Karen and I have been in a form of social isolation since she became sick. She has been an international, award-winning animator at Pixar. I was an IPPY award-winning novelist. None of that mattered anymore. We were home, my wife was disabled, and other than our two adult children, we had few in that first year plus to count on.
So I have a unique perspective when it comes to being isolated. It’s not breaking news to say it can be challenging. It’s not a stretch to feel this is all brutally hard. I get it.
But ask yourself this: How many times have you said, “I don’t have time to do that.”
“Who’s got the time for that?” “There isn’t any time.”
Well, we’ve all got some time now, haven’t we?
I do not look at isolation as being limiting. I look at isolation as an opportunity.
I did not expect to be a cannabis farmer in my 60’s. It was not in the plan. Karen and I had a whole future dreamed up of traveling and gardening. It was getting time to retire.
There is no way we can retire now. And I could not be happier.
I tell other people my age, or getting close to it, if you want to keep yourself feeling young in your mind, task yourself to something challenging. Learn something new that isn’t necessarily easy. I had to learn all about cannabis. I had to be educated, and then continue that education on my own to wherever it took me.
Growing cannabis is so much more than any notion I had prior to attending Oaksterdam. I didn’t know ANYTHING about the way I now farm before I went to Oaksterdam.
And now, from deep isolation, I am being given the privilege to blog about my 2020 crop for Oaksterdam. I’m honored and humbled to do so. The class I took in 2016 helped inspire me over an uncertain road, during one of the most vulnerable times of my life.
Until now. We are all vulnerable at the moment. But even in deep isolation, life moves on. It never stops. While we hide from an unseen virus, nature proceeds without notice or care. I sit inside my home and watch the jays, and ravens carrying sticks to their nests. There will be babies soon in the corvid family.
Friends, there is work to be done. I’m starting my seeds on April 15. Plants will go from inside to the beds six weeks later, on or around May 27. I will be growing 12 more plants, the majority of which will be high CBD plants, including my favorite Ruderalis-like, AC/DC. If you don’t know what Ruderalis is, I’ll explain later, but you could also look it up in the meantime. One of the things I did when I started this was to look up every single word I did not understand. It was a new language for me four years ago, but with each year and every grow, I’m improving. Growers will tell you the learning never stops and that is fine with me. You’re about to spend part of your year learning with me, about how I grow. You’re going to witness what I’m doing with my opportunity. You’re going to learn about compost teas, microbiotics, and mychroaize. You’re going to discover aromatics. You’re going to spend time learning about terpenes. You’re going to learn the importance of water pH. You will understand the value of foliar sprays. You’re going to see what companion insects do. You’ll see companion plants and why I LOVE borage. You will learn about plant extraction, and how we make our own medicine. By the time I start harvest, I’m going to want you to know all about the plants growing all around you right now that may or may not be the secret ingredient for improving, or possibly entirely changing how you grow.
Nothing I grow is for sale. Selling would be a total buzzkill for me. I don’t grow to make money. I grow so we don’t have to spend money on cannabis. I also grow so we can be certain of what we are putting in our bodies. We have a couple of friends in similar health straits, but they can’t grow, so I grow for them. I grow because I can and I have discovered I love doing this. It’s hard work, and it makes me happy. In this blog, I will be honest about the costs it takes to build an infrastructure to do what I do. It’s best to know the facts, so you can make informed decisions.
Bottom line on this post: I learned to grow cannabis to help save my wife’s life. But that is not exactly what happened. Without question, cannabis is helping Karen live a better life than she had before, but it did not save her.
Cannabis has saved my life.
In case I haven’t been real clear: I love my wife. This year, while I grow, we’ll celebrate 38 years of loving together. From extreme isolation.
Covid-19 is providing challenges for all of us. Per the orders of Karen’s doctors, we went into our isolation on March 6, well before most folks. Because of Karen’s vulnerability, and until either massive testing is done, or a vaccine is available, we may be in our current isolation for one or two years. If that’s what it takes, we’re ready.
I invite you to join me as I show you how I’ve learned to grow. I don’t know it all. But what I don’t know, I try hard to find out. Welcome. I started seeds on April 15. You’ll soon be joining me in the cottage where plants will grow six weeks prior to putting them in our beds.