Gerald Stratford is a lifelong veg grower and social media sensation, who has captivated people over the past couple of years with his inspirational vegetables growing tales, his fabulous plot and his talent for growing extraordinarily BIG vegetables! He is an avid lover of the outside and nature. A keen fisherman for most of his life, and a supporter of many countryside pursuits. And now he talks to us about his love of vegetables and how it keeps him self-sufficient. And how growing can give you such a positive boost in mind, body and soul.
Hi Gerald, and welcome to Who’s on the Grapevine. How have you been during these troubling times we are living in?
My partner Elizabeth and I have been virtually self-isolating since last March. We did see our family a few times after the first lockdown but on the whole we’ve been happy in our little bungalow and garden, we’ve also been able to go to the allotment as its only in the village. We get our groceries delivered once a week and theres always something to keep us busy.
Gerald tell us a bit about your horticultural journey so far? Did you start at a young age?
My father got me into gardening I’m not sure exactly how old I was but I was quite young, he gave me a little plot of land and a packet of radish seed and told me that was my garden to look after. Years later when I got married and had my own house and garden it was just natural to keep it tidy and to grow some vegetables to feed my family. Since moving here as well as growing vegetables to eat I’ve developed an interest in seeing how big I can grow certain vegs.
We are blessed in this country with many beautiful gardens, estates and areas to visit all around the country. Where would you recommend people to visit once if they get the chance? And why?
I would recommend a visit to Anglesea it’s beautifully wild and craggy in places where you can get away from the masses, I’ve always had a hankering to live there and an added bonus to me is that someone that I consider to be the greatest vegetable grower Medwyn Williams (medwyns of anglesea) lives there. Closer to home I do love the area I live in every day I tell myself how lucky I am to live in this beautiful countryside.
And who have you admired/respected most over the years for their contribution to the world of horticulture/ gardening?
I loved Geoffrey Hamilton, he was the master of recycling, you never knew what he was going to come up with next, so enthusiastic in everything he did such a shame he died so young.
Also as I’ve already said Medwyn Williams, he’s such a professional and so helpful as well.
Gerald you’re a fairly new recruit to social media, but I think it’s fair to say that last year your world changed when you growing exploits literally exploded across Twitter! How are you coping with it all now as we go into another year of growing?
Yes, it was quite a shock to begin with, I really couldn’t understand what was going on but I’m loving talking with people all over the world and I try to answer every question that’s put to me. So far I’m managing to cope with it and do my gardening, at this time of year there’s a lot of seed sowing and looking after small plants in the greenhouse and Liz gives me a hand with this so far so good.
If you were a Fruit or Vegetable, which one do you think would best represent you? And which one would you most like to be like?
A big onion, big man, lots of layers to me and that’s the same answer for both questions.
If I’m right in thinking, you were a barge operator on the River Thames for many years I imaging you saw a few sights? And maybe some riverside allotments too?
I saw so many things. We were pulling barges along the Thames on Henley Regatta week and as we were working, we took precedence over the races and when you’re towing a sixty ton barge you can’t stop in a second, this rowing eight came up behind us very fast from nowhere and the cox stood up and started screaming all sorts of nonsense at us and like the professionals we were we just carried on and waved little did I know he was a future MP. Most lockkeepers on the Thames had a small vegetable garden, talking about gardening cropped up quite often. The best allotments I ever saw were the ones in Oxford they came right down to the river opposite Abbey Road. Some winters they would flood but in the spring you would see the same people getting on with it and would give them a quick wave as I went past.
Getting an appetite up before the rain cheers and stay safe pic.twitter.com/o4XS3LtRaR
— gerald stratford (@geraldstratfor3) February 5, 2021
Gerald, your marooned on an (Lush Tropical) island in the middle of nowhere, but luckily you have with you, one book, one song and most importantly one packet of seeds. What are your choices for your Desert Island Veg?
My favourite song is “Brothers in Arms” by Dire Straits
Book is No Need to Lie by Richard Walker
My choice would be Tomatoes.
If you had to choose what would be your favourite season of the year? And why?
I would have to go for late summer because all the hard work is now paying off and the harvest is coming in and out in the countryside there is the most wonderful scent in the air of ripened corn and the sound of Combine harvesters at work in the fields.
I’ve seen pictures of your plot and you grow a wide range of veg, would you say you are pretty self-sufficient that sense?
Yes I grow enough veg to keep us going all year, we never buy veg from a shop, if we have a glut of anything its frozen, we have a large freezer. We also make pickles chutneys jams and we now make our own sundried tomatoes with a handy little machine called a Dehydrator.
What is the best garden book you have ever read or book that you would turn to if there is something you are not sure on?
My all time favourite book is one called Growing Onions and Shallots.I had it years ago and lost it but a couple of years Liz managed to get hold of a copy for me. For anything else I tend to use the internet.
Gerald would I be right in saying you are fan of many of the more traditional outdoor pursuits this country offers?
I’m a great fan of all legal outdoor pursuits, my favourite has to be angling, course. Sea and game fishing. I was the Water Industries game fishing champion in 1984.
We have seen an extra boom in the interest in Gardening, Growing Veg and nature in general over the last few months and year. From the young to the old, but how do you think we can best keep the interest and people involved in gardening/nature and maybe encourage more to join us?
Just by doing things happily with a smile on your face not being a misery embrace the newcomers, encourage them remember everyone was a novice once, don’t ever disparage what the novice gardener has done and always be happy to take time to talk and answer questions oh and maybe a few more gardening programs about growing stuff especially vegetables and not just make-over programs.
Do you think horticulture/nature studies should be included in the curriculum for younger children?
Yes, and not just for young children when I went to school we had Gardening lessons all through my school life. Girls took Domestic Science, and the boys took Gardening. This was stopped just before I left school in preference for a car park and swimming pool what a shame. I think every child in the land should get the basics of gardening and that includes both sexes.
How did the growing Big Veg come about? Was it just a happy discovery from your years of growing or something you actively invested time in for a village show for instance?
First and foremost, I like growing veg and an offshoot of this is growing big veg. I never call it giant veg there are people who devote their time to growing Giant veg and I don’t think I will ever compete with them but I like to see how big I can grow things it’s the competitive side of me coming out mainly I compete against myself if this year I can beat last year’s personal best even by only 1g I count that as a win and if they manage to win a prize that’s a bonus.
Gerald, we all have plants that grows well for us and some that just never seems to happen what is your Plant/Veg Heaven and Plant/Veg Hell?
Heaven has got to be tomatoes I love picking the ripe fruit and taking them indoors to Liz, I know she loves them as much as I do. Hell is a swede I’ve grown them out in a field no problem but the minute I try to grow them in my garden they fail but I keep trying.
Gerald, can you talk us though one of your favourite veg to grow. How you sow it for instance, along with any good advice through the growing stage, and finally your preferred way to enjoy feasting on your crop after all your hard work.
I love potatoes. This year I am growing 15 varieties I grow a few new ones each year. For anyone new to gardening a potato planted in a standard 10lt bucket will give you enough potatoes for 1 or 2 meals anywhere in the world. Put a layer of compost in the bottom, pop a couple of spuds in, fill the bucket with compost and place somewhere in the garden or on a balcony. As it grows keep it watered and fed and when the plant has flowered harvest the potatoes. My favourite way to eat them is as a baked potato cooked traditionally in the oven. Add butter when cooked sprinkle with cheese and eaten with an assortment of our homemade chutneys and pickles.
Now growing veg isn’t your only lifelong pastime. You have been an avid fisherman for most your life as well? Are there any aspects of fishing that transfers well to veg growing I’m guessing patience may be one?
Patience is paramount in 90% of what I do, also the urge to always go one better than before.
Gerald, Queen Victoria has just turned up in a time machine and she wants the walled garden at Osbourne re-designed and she wants you Gerald to oversee it! She has said you can borrow the time machine to choose 3 assistants from the past or present to help plan and do the work. So Gerald who is on your Garden Dream Team to assist you? And why?
My first assistant would be my father Peter the most patient man that ever lived. The second one would be Geoffrey Hamilton the most imaginative gardener I’ve ever known. And lastly Medwyn Williams one of the greatest gardeners alive today.
With your newfound fame working for Queen Victoria this has led to a deluge of offers! But which one do you choose Strictly Come Dancing, Dancing on Ice, SAS Who Dares Wins or Great British Bake Off?
I’m sorry to say none of these would appeal to me, my dream would be host a new programme about vegetable and fruit gardening.
I for one would watch that Gerald!
Gerald what have been you great successes and failures in the veg garden this year?
My greatest success were my stump rooted carrots, virtually everyone was perfect even the one that grew five fingers became famous. My failure was my giant marrow which stopped growing at 45lb which was very disappointing.
Gerald could you give the readers of Kitchen garden any great tips for their plots for coming season how to sow a seed, better germination, something/knowledge handed down that works for you?
I think a heated mat or bed in the greenhouse is the best thing you can have to start your seeds growing this will give better germination, I start most of my seeds this way sowing in a seed tray cover with compost or vermiculite put on heat mat until they start growing then prick out into individual pots and grow on till ready to plant outside. My father told me “Never walk past a weed”
Whats your favroite veg fresh from the ground or pod?
Tomatoes the taste and smell really get my taste buds going
I know the world of Big Veg growing can be quite competitive and secretive in the techniques and tricks some swear by, but can you give any aspiring grower some good tips to grow their own mega Parsnip or Carrot for instance?
The two main ingredients would be the correct seed ( Medwyns of Anglesea) and compost, a small amount of good compost is better than a ton of cheap compost.
Making holes for my parsnips ( part one )cheers pic.twitter.com/kKPAvVBBa9
— gerald stratford (@geraldstratfor3) March 5, 2021
Have you got any big plans for the plot this year, a new veg you fancy trying?
Last year I grew a tromboncino and this year I’m thinking of growing a snake gourd.
What are the greatest lengths or depths that you have been too in the name of growing veg?
Staying up all night the night before a show looking after my veg.
Do you grow much fruit?
I grow Raspberries, Strawberries, Red and Black Currants, gooseberries and I have two each of Pears, Apples and Plum trees, these are very young so I haven’t had much off them yet
You can follow Gerald on Twitter: @geraldstrafor3
On Instagram: Stratfordgerald