By Joyce White
In the limited space claimed from the surrounding woods of Stoneham, Maine, to accommodate their home, Liz Como and Andy Chakoumakos grow vegetables, herbs and flowers in pots and raised beds. The fourth owners of this owner-built home share it with 5-year-old Sofia, who joined their family as an infant.
The home is a work-in-progress. They’ve added space and an expanse of south-facing windows, more insulation, and radiant heat to the floors. The radiant heat, along with the passive solar component, is Liz’s explanation for their sweet pepper surprise last spring.
In the fall of 2011, before frost, Liz brought three potted sweet pepper plants inside to see if the small fruits would continue to grow into edible-sized peppers. “I was just kind of curious to see what would happen,” says Liz. Those with tiny peppers produced edible-sized peppers by November and stayed green all winter.
This March the plants began flowering again, and by mid-April more small peppers had formed. Liz repotted them into larger pots and added more soil and compost.
An article at www.gardensalive.com/article.asp?ai=641 reminds us that peppers are perennials in their native habitats. In the article, Mike McGrath details how to bring peppers inside and says to grow them under a “shoplight 24/7,” not plant lights, which he considers too dim.
But Liz and Andy, without knowing what was possible, wintered their pepper plants with just natural light from the sun and heat from the floor.
This is just one example of their innovative, organic, see-if-works garden projects. To clear more area around their house, rather than pay for bush hogging, they borrowed two sows from a friend. In 2-1/2 months, the sows turned the soil, pulled out stumps and rocks and fertilized the area with their manure. Liz terms their method “slow gardening” and says their aim is to minimize input and maximize potential.
They also created raised beds from 3-foot lengths of clay drainage pipe salvaged from a farm in Greenville. They stood the pipes on end, side by side in the ground, to form attractive and unique raised beds.
Between gardening seasons, Liz and Andy sometimes take people on sled dog outings with their 12 sled dogs when there is enough snow. Liz, a licensed massage therapist and RN, teaches at the massage therapy school in Bridgton and works as a nurse at Bridgton Hospital. Andy works at Patagonia. They can be contacted at [email protected]
About the author: Joyce White gardens and writes in Stoneham, Maine.