Gardening can help diabetics

March 6, 2013

Gardening seems to benefit all gardeners, whether from the physical exercise, or just being out in fresh air and sunshine. Perhaps it’s the rhythm of hoeing, planting and weeding that allows our inner selves to relax.

Diabetics especially can benefit from gardening because we tend to eat what we grow, and thus get more vegetables in our diets. Many of us avoid starchy foods such as potatoes, but now there are varieties that have a low glycemic level. Nicola is a low glycemic German potato now available here. Nicola potatoes are medium-large oblong tubers with smooth yellow skin and a waxy, light-yellow flesh. The solid flesh is ideal for boiling, mashing and roasting. It has a nutty flavor that is great in potato salad. When it is baked many people find they can eat it plain without adding butter. Nicola is a high yielding potato that is ready to dig in just 90 to 110 days from planting. The compact plants grow just two feet tall and about as wide. Nicola is available from Seed Savers Exchange. You can plant seed potatoes whole, or cut into pieces with at least one eye per piece. If you plant seed potatoes with more than one eye, they will grow more potatoes, but the potatoes tend to be smaller. Let any cut seed potatoes dry out for about two days so that the cut parts form a callus that helps keep out soil-borne diseases.

As soon as the ground can be worked, plant seed potatoes two to three inches deep, spaced about a foot apart in rows three feet apart. When your potato plants are about a foot tall, hill them up by mounding soil six inches up against the base of the plants. Hilling lets the potatoes grow deeper in the soil and out of sunlight so they don’t turn green. Water your potatoes regularly but do not let them get soggy.

When your potato plants start to bloom you can steal some small “new” potatoes by gently digging under the hills and carefully removing a few potatoes.

Once the leaves begin to die down, it is time to dig up the whole crop. Let your fresh-dug potatoes dry out in a dry spot out of direct sunlight for a few days. An unheated garage or cellar is ideal. Another good low glycemic vegetable is the Jerusalem artichoke. These native American sunflowers have a nutty taste similar to water chestnuts. About 75 to 80 percent of their carbohydrates are in the form of inulin rather than starch. Our bodies metabolize inulin much slower than other sugars.

The tubers are rich in iron, potassium and many B vitamins. Jerusalem artichoke is a huge perennial growing from three to 12 feet high. Many gardeners grow them simply for the abundance of bright yellow three-inch flowers. Jerusalem artichoke tubers vary from knobby to round, and range from red to white in color. They are available from Johnny’s Seeds. Plant small, whole tubers four to five inches deep, about 16 inches apart in early spring. Choose a sunny spot with well-drained soil that has a pH of about 7.0. Once planted, they tend to come back every year. To prevent them from invading your entire garden, cut off all flowers before they go to seed. Jerusalem artichokes are almost immune to insects and diseases.

You can eat your Jerusalem artichokes by slicing them into thin matchsticks for a cold salad. Try grating them or frying in olive oil. Many cooks simply boil the tubers with the skins on and serve them as mashed potatoes. Plant Jerusalem artichokes and Nicola potatoes for a tasty garden even a diabetic can love. Now that is sweet!

  • Paul Barbano writes about gardening from his home in Rehoboth Beach. Contact him by writing to P. O. Box 213, Lewes, DE 19958.

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