Social media has arguably flourished during the pandemic. According to business.com, social media usage has increased and changed throughout the year. TikTok stars, such as Nathan Apodaca, aka @420doggface208, have gone viral and put songs back on the charts. But others, such as Gerald Stratford, @geraldstratfor3 on Twitter, have gained a following for simple, sweet and original posts.

Stratford’s bio reads “Retired fisherman and gardener heavy into growing big veg.” Stratford lives in Milton-under-Wychwood, in England, with his partner Liz. His Twitter account exploded in May and currently has 174.7k followers.

The Post sat down with Stratford to talk gardening, Twitter fame and more.

The Post: Tell me about your career as a fisherman. 

Stratford: It was a hobby and it also was a professional occupation of mine. I was lucky enough to incorporate my hobby with my professional job. It didn't make me rich, but I was doing something I enjoyed. And also for just over 20 years, I worked afloat on the River Thames, which was sort of a part of it. I was employed as a barge controller, which means anything that floats, I was operating for a company. 

P: What’s your relationship with gardening? When/how did you get into it?

S: I’ve always been a gardener; because when you get married or live with somebody, you have a garden with your property and you just do it. Like housework — like you do. So I’ve always had a love for gardening and growing vegetables. 

My father was a good tutor for me and my brothers when we were very young. We all done gardening and that was the roots. 

(It’s) just something I enjoyed. I enjoy it. With my fishing, like a lot of us men, we like challenges. Like if you go fishing, you want to catch the biggest fish, or if you grow a potato or pepper, you want to see if you can grow the biggest one — or some of us do. That is me in a nutshell. I'm a very competitive person.

P: What kind of vegetables do you grow, and how do they get so big?

S: I grow all veg. Me and my partner Elizabeth both love veg. We aren’t vegetarian but we love vegetables. We eat what we grow every day. I grow virtually everything. I could tell you stuff I don’t grow — that would be easier than what I do grow.

P: Well, what don't you grow?

S: Things like some of the tropical stuff, like watermelon. I’ve never grown watermelon. Certain other tropical fruits and vegetables, where you need — in this country — false heat in your greenhouse.

But I grow all the major things: potatoes, carrots, turnips, swedes, parsnips, beetroot. In the winter, I have plenty of kale, brussel sprouts, cabbage of various types. Just this last three years, I’ve started growing an Italian kale called “cavolo nero.” Very nice. 

P: Are all the vegetables you grow big?

S: Yes. Growing big veg is sort of an offshoot of just growing veg. A percentage of us — mostly men — like to grow a big carrot, or a large potato, or giant pumpkin or squash. 

We do things a little bit different. I grow an awful lot of my show vegetables in 200 liter barrels. Instead of just growing straight into the soil, you grow them in a barrel. You fill the barrel with sand and then you get a receptacle and burrow a hole — about 3” — and you fill that hole in the sand up with compost. 

Then you have five of these holes in one barrel. You plant three seeds in each tube, and then when they get to their second leaf — 2” (tall)  — you have to make a decision. You have to pick two out to leave one. That one then grows and grows and grows — with your love and attention to it — hence, you got long carrots. 

The Post: What’s your favorite part about gardening?

S: I like the exercise. I’m 72, but I like to think I’m fit and healthy. I’ve had a few health issues, like most people do 70+, but I’m fit. I think doing the gardening and digging the soil — that is a physically demanding job. I do like doing that. I also like talking — talking about it with other gardeners. Do you know what an allotment is?

P: No.

S: Well, in this country, it started after the first world war. When soldiers came back from war, the government, at the time, created some legislation to give soldiers a small piece of land to plant vegetables to feed their family and give them something to do.

That is cast in stone now and it spread across the country, and to this day, it's still going. Most communities have a small area in the village and some people rent a small place of land — I’m one of those. I've got two allotments, as well as my garden. We’re self-sufficient in vegetables. I know it’s only two of us, but we’re self-sufficient.

We freeze a lot. We store a lot of root crop and we also do lots of pickles and chutneys and jams, etc. What's (leftover), I give to the family if they want anything. After that, I donate it. I give it to people. This last year, I’ve started giving vegetables to a local nursing home — the St. John’s care home. Times are hard, and if I can save some organization from buying stuff and lending money — if I can help — why not.

P: Do you use any pesticides or herbicides on your crop?

S: No. I try (not to). I'm not totally organic, but if I’ve got doubts about something, I might use it. We all have a duty of care, I think. If there is a bad press over something, I won’t use it.

P: Tell me about your Twitter account.

S: In 2019, in Feb., one or two of my friends, who I talk gardening with — one of them said, “have you thought about going on Twitter, Gerald?” And I thought about it, and I thought it was a good idea. I think I might just like that.

I joined Twitter and I'm not a technically advanced person ... And I made a few friends and a few people followed me. And then May of this year, I grew a 30-liter bucket of potatoes. And they were ready to harvest.

It was a Saturday afternoon in May — nice weather — and the sun was shining. I gave the phone to Elizabeth and she took a couple photographs. I put it on Twitter that evening and put something like “my first early rocket” — that's a variety of potatoes, by the way.

A while later the phone started buzzing and twitching and making all sorts of noise. What's going on? I didn't really know. So I phoned up Stephen, my nephew, who’s more computer-advanced, he came back a while later and said, “you’ve gone viral with a bucket of spuds!”

Within 72 hours, I think I’d got 79,000 likes and 9,000 followers and I was blown away. I just couldn't understand it.

And I sent another photograph a few days later and it's just a continuation. People like what I do. I don't do politics or anything — it's just me and my garden. 

We live in a sad enviro. It doesn't matter what country you're in — there's a lot of negatives, isn’t there? I try to be positive. If I can make somebody happy for a while, I'll carry on.  That’s it in a nutshell. 

The tweet that made Stratford viral. 

P: What advice do you have for people interested in gardening? 

S: Rome wasn't built in a day. Do not try and do too much. If you've got to take one packet of seeds, just enjoy planting that one packet of seeds in a garden area or whatever. Just enjoy it, don't try to get too big or too fat. Don’t try to get too big with your vegetables — a small carrot or ugly carrot will taste just as good as a show winner.

And always never be afraid to ask. In my experience, nobody’s ever said “No, I'm not giving it.” Always ask for advice — the advice is generally there.

P: What’s the best advice you’ve ever gotten?

S: Persevere; never give up. My father, when I was very young — at the time, I didn't really understand what he said, now I do, and that is: if you want something badly enough, son, you will get it. Because your work ethic will create an environment where that dream could come along. Never give up.

P: Anything else you would like to share?

S: I’m enjoying this — suppose you could call it — stardom, in these later years. But I'm not gonna get ahead of myself. I just want to enjoy it and I want people to enjoy it with me. Let’s all enjoy the road trip together. 

It’s all happened almost by accident. I haven't planned any of this. I have to now. Now I'm in a position where I have to do some things. From a few minutes a day on the phone, now I’m spending sometimes five hours a day answering questions and acknowledging people. I love it, it’s nice!

I don't do negatives. I leave that to the politicians and the rulemakers. I'm just a human being, doing his garden and eating the produce. 

Stratford says more content — including videos — are to come. To keep up with Stratford and his “big veg” adventures, follow him on Twitter @geraldstratfor3.

@_kerijohnson

kj153517@ohio.edu