In the Garden with Ronaldo Linares

Ronaldo Linares is well known for the Cuban culinary style he's showcased on the Food Network show "Chopped" and in his New Jersey eatery, Martino's Cuban Restaurant. He's spent much of his life with his hands in the soil, cultivating a passion for gardening. Learn how to make your garden the best it can be with Linares' tips.

Gardening has been a part of Ronaldo Linares' life for as long as he can remember. He grew up in Colombia, where his mother grew much of their food in their own garden and summoned the help of her son for many of her garden tasks. Despite his mother's influence, Linares didn't explore his passion for gardening until years later, when his chef friends encouraged him to give it a try.

At first, Linares thought the task was impossible for the limited amount of space he had available at his small home. "Then I thought, you know what: What more do I need to plant? I didn't need to plant a lot of stuff, because when you have a big garden, you can't possibly eat it all, so you lose it or have to give it away," he says.

Linares began by plotting out his garden on paper, drawing where everything would go. This gave him an estimate of the supplies he would need to build his garden. Using untreated wood (to keep chemicals from seeping into his soil), he built a 5x5-foot raised bed and filled it with his favorite soil. "I go with the organic soil because I'm a chef, and that makes me very conscious about what I am cooking and what I am putting into my body. So I want to be sure that the product I grow is at its best." Learn more how to make your own raised bed. 

When choosing vegetables to grow, Linares consulted his personal flavor palate. It's important not to go overboard on planting. Instead, plant only varieties you like and will eat a lot of. A combination of three vegetables and three herbs was all he needed: "I planted radishes, lettuce, and carrots in my garden, with a section for my herbs -- dill, parsley, and cilantro," Linares says. "From these I have made sautes, slaws, pesto, chutneys, salsa, and more." Learn more about radishes. Learn more about lettuce.  Learn more about carrots.  Learn more about dill.  Learn more about parsley. Learn more about cilantro.

Gardening has paired well with Linares' love for cooking, but he says growing food can do more than cut produce costs. For him, it's therapeutic. He spends lots of time giving the plants love and making sure they get everything they need. He compares it to watching your child grow. Gardening also gives Linares the chance to indulge his creative side and think outside of the box on how to use his harvest.

Although it's therapeutic, gardening requires a great deal of patience, Linares says. Produce won't pop up overnight (even with fertilizer), and there is always the chance of setbacks from pests, weeds, or critters. "Gardens are not created equally -- some get insect-filled, some go through a drought, but you have to be patient and remember that every year you'll get better and find your own tricks and solutions," Linares says.

His mother-in-law taught Linares one of his favorite tricks after some of his vegetables showed signs of nibbling: sprinkling cayenne pepper on the leaves of plants. Just like some people hate spicy foods, so do many animals -- especially deer -- and it doesn't cause any harm to your vegetables. Get more solutions for dealing with bugs, diseases, weeds, and animal pests.

Learning your own tricks will make gardening more enjoyable, but half the battle is getting started. Linares has heard many excuses for why people don't garden: not enough space, not enough repertoire, and -- his favorite -- it's for women.

Gardening is for everybody, Linares says; even kids can do it. So he recommends getting your children and grandchildren involved. It will foster bonding and give children a life tool they'll be able to use when they are older. "As a young kid working in the garden with my mother, I had no idea what I was doing, but she would take the time to explain everything in the garden to me," Linares says. "From that early education, I have made better food choices growing up because I knew what was good for me and what was not."





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