Grand Master Grower Ken Estes is something of a legend within our community. Creator of the world-famous strain Grand Daddy Purp and winner of 14 High Times Cup titles, the accolades Estes has garnered throughout his long career provide undeniable proof of his grower expertise.
He was kind enough to share some hard-won advice with us learned from his nearly 40 years in the industry. So in the spirit of “stuff I wished I knew when I was younger,” here are 20 tips we got from Estes during our talk, and that we too wish we’d known when we were younger.
“Contrary to what kids were taught in D.A.R.E. class in school, high-value plants are a gateway, but not to other bad choices — to a healthy lifestyle.”
Estes sees growing as an entrance to a better way of living, because it’s truly helped him live better. After a freak accident nearly cost him his life, the high-value plants we all know and love made Estes feel better, led to healthier lifestyle choices like exercise and eating right, and to a healthier mindset and way of thinking.
Shortly after he finished high school in the late ’70s, Estes was involved in a motorcycle accident that left him a quadriplegic, wheelchair bound for life. The pharmaceutical pain pills doctors prescribed him offered no relief and in fact made him feel worse, unable to sleep or eat.
The very first time he tried a more natural approach in 1979, it changed Estes’s life. He slept through the night for the first time in years and awoke with his appetite restored. He ate all his food. The doctors were amazed and he’s been obsessed with growing high-potency plants for natural medicine ever since.
Shortly after his accident, Estes’s doctors forecast that he had just 10 years to live. That was 40 years ago. The lesson? Don’t take as gospel the word of medical experts. Especially when it comes to your health. Question everything and get a second, third, even fourth opinion. Nature is providing real alternatives as medicine for millions of people around the world.
Estes taught himself practically everything he learned about growing through reading books in his own time. Back in the ’70s and ’80s, your local library was your best friend. But with today’s internet, we have access to more information than ever before, right in our own homes. So the bottom line? There’s no excuse to not hit the (e-)books.
Yes, you need to study, but you also need to allow yourself hands-on experience. Estes started growing almost as soon as he realized his passion for natural medicine. Through trial and error, testing his medicine himself, and learning on the job, he became one of the best growers in the world. There’s no reason you can’t do the same.
Before Estes’s life-changing accident, his passion in school was playing sports. That passion never died, but he had to find something else he could get involved in on a physical level. And lucky for him, he found a new focus in growing. In life, passion is important and you should always have an outlet in which to channel your energy. If life throws you a curveball, redirect to cultivate your passion in newer, greener pastures.
Following his accident, Estes retreated into the mountains of California to live for three months, and that’s where he unearthed some exotic, little-known strains that were being cultivated by covert growers. It’s what helped launch his career.
The lesson? Don’t be afraid to go where others haven’t and to step outside your comfort zone in search of new developments and innovations.
When Estes was first finding success as a grower, he made $30,000 off one deal. Around the same time, a Native American friend of his was on the brink of losing his home to foreclosure if he didn’t come up with $29,000 practically overnight. Estes recalled how he listened to God and to his heart, and decided to give his friend the money. Two days later, the friend introduced Estes to a Native American medicine man who gave him a plant like no other he’d seen before. This plant was what would become the Grand Daddy Purp strain. And the rest is history.
When growing high-value plants, bugs are a part of life. And they can’t ever be completely eliminated. Estes recommends that, instead of waiting for them to become a problem, take action beforehand. That’s part of the secret to avoiding crop-killing infestations.
As the saying goes, the best defense is a good offense. To fight pests and diseases, the best way is to get ahead of the problem is by developing a clean routine that you follow religiously. Estes recommends starting with a good airflow between plants, keeping your crop tidy, and making sure to clean the grow room as needed so pests have less of a chance to get a foothold.
“There’s many spokes to the wheel of growing,” Estes says. Most of them lead to optimum results. It’s up to you to try a few and find what works best for your growing style. That’s what Estes did to develop his own unique way of growing.
When Estes first started growing, he followed the formulas set in place by other growers. But it wasn’t until he figured out why he was doing what he was doing — by painstakingly researching the steps in the formulas and recipes he was emulating — that he started developing his own style and subsequently became known for his strains. There’s no shortcut!
Many people say it takes 10,000 hours to master a skill, and Estes agrees. He recalls being young and impatient, but says you can’t just follow formulas and expect to be a master. You have to put in the time and research to produce great, cup-winning strains.
Estes calls the few seconds it takes to stop and learn something the correct way the “two-second advantage.” Take those seconds to learn how to do it right, to get the knowledge you need each time, and not be in such a hurry to grow your crops, get the money, spend it. The knowledge base you’ll build over years of two-second pauses will compound to deliver amazing results.
Before widespread legalization, Estes would say he didn’t know what was worse — “cops or criminals.” He lost harvests to both sides of the law. Then there were the pests. And diseases. Once, Estes even lost half a harvest to a fluffle of baby bunnies! The point is, you’re going to face setbacks and even lose a harvest here and there if you’re in it for the long run. Just focus on what you can control, and keep growing and getting better.
When we asked Estes what advice he had for a younger person who’s interested in the industry today, he said, “It’s awesome to be excited. Find out what excites you and look there. There’s so many ways to get involved in this industry today — there’s production, growing, and all the related services, like lawyers, business services and more. Find out what excites you.”
Growing natural medicine no longer has to be done in the shadows, so make a point of being part of the community. Estes suggests playing an active role in your local spiritual institution, chamber of commerce, and generally give back to your neighborhood. “We have a lot of ways to be a part of the community and help out. We used to be seen as dealers; it’s important we set the right example now.”
The industry is growing in leaps and bounds. Estes reminds you to “cross your t’s and dot your i’s” when it comes to contracts and treating your business like a real business. As he reminds us, “It’s no longer a handshake at the end of a dusty room.”
Estes shared with us the story of the first time he realized what a big difference technology makes and why we should embrace it for efficiency and better results. He had a friend with a 900-plant garden, but the plants were lacking the care they needed. When Estes asked him why they weren’t better taken care of, his friend pointed out that it took him 30 seconds to water each plant, which equals 450 minutes of watering, or 7.5 hours of care — per day! That’s when Estes realized that technology could be harnessed to take your results to the next level. You have to embrace technology, such as drip lines in large gardens for watering, to allow you additional time to tie up the plants or trim them of leaves.
According to Estes, there are two ways to grow great crops. The first is to use your system and force the plants to adapt. The second is to adapt to the way plants want to be grown. If you keep your eyes open and remain curious and pay attention, you’ll be able to intuitively see what makes your plants happy. You can then make adjustments to your system and growing strategies based on what the plants are telling you. In a sense, you’ll learn to speak the plant’s language.