'I'm 72 and I Grow Giant Vegetables'

My father was very ill when my brothers and I were young and we lost him when I was 19. He was a very good gardener though and I think a little bit of him rubbed off on me. Whatever my father was doing in the garden, I'd be behind him getting in the way. Whether he was planting cabbages or digging up potatoes, I wanted to copy him.

He was an all round gardener but he used to grow mainly vegetables on two allotments behind our garden to feed our family. Like most people did in the 1950s and '60s, we didn't have big supermarkets to buy from, so we grew our own. It was out of necessity but we learned a skill. After my father passed, my brothers and I carried it on to support our mother. I developed a passion for angling, but I still did my gardening.

I'm now 72, I've been married twice and I've had two divorces unfortunately. But things happen, you still have to do your gardening, your garden is a part of your house in my eyes.

Four years ago, my partner Elizabeth and I moved to a small bungalow in a village called Milton-under-Wychwood in the Cotswolds in England. We had a nice garden and Elizabeth and myself both like gardening, so I decided that I was going to cut down on fishing and focus on the garden. But like fishing, where I love catching the biggest fish, I always want to grow the biggest vegetables. If I'm planting carrots, I was always thinking how I could grow them to be longer than normal, or fatter than normal. So, I decided I was going to have a go at growing big, or even giant vegetables.

Although I had dyslexia when I was younger, I can now read and understand very quickly. I might read a book on growing carrots in one evening, and then write down all the necessary information in order to better my knowledge. That's what happened with learning to grow my giant vegetables.

With big veggies, you need good quality seed to start with—you can't just have any old seed and hope it will produce something big. So it's a nice challenge. It's time consuming but it's not hard.

For example, to grow a big carrot or a big parsnip, I use a 200-liter barrel that has had something natural like fruit juice in. I cut off the top, wash them out and fill them with builder's sand. Then I get a metal bar and push the bar through the sand to make five or six carrot shaped holes to the bottom. I'll then fill each hole with my own compost—which is a recipe I can't share—but ordinary good compost will work and get you a good carrot.

Vegetables, Giant Vegetables, Gardening
Gerald Stratford with a selection of big carrots he grew himself. Gerald Stratford

You give the barrel a good watering and leave it for seven to 10 days. Then you plant three seeds in each hole, when they grow up to about two inches tall, you have to be cruel, pull two up and leave one. Being the softie I am, the two I pull up I plant in the garden so they still give me a carrot. Then you just look after them. You would plant them in March time, and then harvest them in August or September.

I currently grow giant carrots and parsnips, long beetroot, 15 varieties of potato, tomatoes, four types of cucumbers including an extra long cucumber, big marrows, courgettes and onions.

But just because my veg are big doesn't mean they don't taste nice. They taste beautiful. There's a fallacy out there that if something's big it won't taste as nice as if something is small. It will. I grow my meter-long carrots in the same amount of time it takes to grow a carrot that's six inches long, and they're going to be just as tender and sweet.

We are self sufficient with our veg, and if I have any spare I give it to family and friends. Or, if there is any left over when I have a glut of something, I donate that to the local care home.

Vegetables, Giant Vegetables, Gardening
Gerald Stratford with a giant zucchini he grew himself. Gerald Stratford

I've always had a dream of growing a big onion, over the years I've got bigger and bigger. My biggest so far is 6lbs. But I would love to grow one to 10lb or larger. But to do that is more specialized, I'd have to grow one inside.

I would tell people who are interested in growing giant vegetables to be patient. Don't get frustrated and always ask for help from someone you know who is interested in gardening.

I will never ever stop talking to people if they have questions. If I've 30 minutes to spare I'll even help them if they ask me. If somebody is struggling and they ask for assistance, I'm all too willing to help.

Gerald Stratford has been growing big vegetables for more than five years. His website is bigveg.co.uk and you can follow him on Twitter @geraldstratfor3 and Instagram @stratfordgerald.

All views expressed in this article are the author's own.

As told to Jenny Haward.