Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Kratky hydroponic method

My friend Mart shared this with me recently:

My problem with hydroponic gardening has always been the extensive infrastructure required. This eliminates a lot of that. Notice that the roots are actually getting oxygen right from the air, rather than from oxygenated water. Wild.

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Monday, April 29, 2013

An update on Leon's experiment

Regular reader Leon (I shared his post-hole/phone-book experiment here) recently posted an update in the comments:

"Checked on the phone books in March of 2013 - they're pretty much still there and wet as a sponge (much more so than the sand around). New plants (chaya) planted on the top. At another location a newly planted poplar tree planted next to a "yellow pages hole" survived my 3 week absence (and lack of watering) but the one further away did not. I'm running out of catalogs and such - now I'm sticking them everywhere I plant anything!"

I'm officially obsessed

Not with model trains, however. With this:

The Jabuticaba! I'm officially obsessed with Jabuticaba trees.

I was in Boca Raton a few weeks ago with my friend JJ and got to see a mature Jabuticaba in the backyard of his friend's house.

Not only did I get to see it... I got to try the fruit. Amazing. Like grape cotton candy.

See how the flowers bloom right out of the trunk? This one was starting a new bloom cycle but still held a few fruits from its previous fruiting. That's not surprising, considering they will bear fruit 5-6 times a year.

When I see a tree like this... I'm blown away by God's creativity. Phenomenal work, Creator. I'm totally impressed.

If you live south of Orlando or so, you need to grow this tree. I have little one in a pot I'm hoping will do okay... but in the ground would be better.

Please... go get one if you live someplace warm. Tell me about it. Let me live vicariously through your experience.

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Friday, April 26, 2013

An unexpected encounter

I visited my friend JJ's new property somewhere in N/C Florida to check out what he had and ID whatever useful plants might be on the land.

As I walked the driveway... I spotted a rare little shrub:

A pawpaw!

I showed it to JJ and his real estate agent... then we looked around for larger trees or any that might be in bloom. After a bit of searching, JJ spotted a lovely larger specimen with flowers.

Altogether, we found at least 10-15 pawpaw shrubs scattered about on the forest edge. None of them was taller than 2' in height. I sent the pictures to my friend Terri. She congratulated me on the find and identified them as "Asimina pygmaea," the "Dwarf pawpaw."

And... those weren't all we found. Near the back of the property was a large area of pines and palmettos. There, we found an incredible array of small native blueberry plants. I wish I had some pictures. Maybe next time. Until then, here's another pawpaw:

I wonder how many people are surrounded by rare and edible natives... and have no idea? Anyone find something really cool and unexpected on their property? I've love to hear the story.

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Thursday, April 25, 2013

From the inbox: two mulberry questions

I got this e-mail a few days ago - Pamela gave me permission to respond here:

"Dear David,

I write you from New Port Richey, Florida, where my husband and I have just purchased his childhood home. It needs many repairs and improvements, which my husband will tend to when he has the time, he has done everything from roofing to catching lobster in Maine. I on the other hand, have been focusing on the outside. The place which will be our garden some day. My father in law build the house 30 years ago, he had a garden and several fruit trees; among them mulberry trees. Two of them. One was struck by lightning and died. The other hangs across the driveway (not a good place for it). I want to start more trees (in better locations) but don't know how to cut the tree and start others from those cuttings. The mulberry tree that's left is quite tall now, I would like to cut it back, to a height where we can reach the fruit and use cuttings to plant more of those scrumptious berries. If you could guide me, our family would be forever grateful.


Congrats on the home purchase - it's really cool that you've been able to hold on to a piece of family history. Sounds like your husband is a man's man.

And... good questions. Mulberries are survivors. I'm actually surprised that a lightning strike killed one. My experience with mulberries has been that they're really tough. In fact, when the nuclear apocalypse happens, they'll be the only food left for the surviving cockroaches. (Which is good, because the roaches will probably need the energy to rebuild the banking system...)

Question #1: How to start mulberry cuttings.

You're in luck, Pamela. Mulberries are easy to start from cuttings. The only caveat: don't try to start cuttings from trees while they're blooming or in fruit. I found this out from Micheal at the Edible Plant Project. The strike rate is really poor because they'll try to fruit, rather than root. You'll have much better luck if you try later in the year.

My method of rooting cuttings is moderately simple. I cut semi-hard wood twigs that are about 3/8" to 1/2" in diameter and 6-8" long. (That's new growth, but not so new it's soft and green.) Chopping a branch into multiple lengths will work. I then dip the bottom end into rooting hormone and poke a few of them at a time into small pots filled with potting soil or seed starting mix, then water well so the soil is damp. Then, I put clear plastic 1-gal ziploc bags over the tops of the pots to make  mini-greenhouses, and rubberband them in place. This keeps the moisture in. If the leaves and cutting dry out, it's dead. These pots then sit in full shade until they root. Every few days, I'll pull the bags off (being careful not to disturb the cuttings) to let some air in and check to make sure the soil is still moist. After a few weeks, they'll start to root, and after about a month, you're probably good to take the bags off for good. Just keep misting them occasionally with the hose until they take really well. Some cuttings may not make it - and some will mold. Don't worry. Do a bunch and you're bound to get some strikes. All of them may take - and in that case, share the bounty with friends. When they seem good and established, I turn the pots over and separate the well-rooted baby trees into pots of their own. At this point, I also put them into half-sun. They need to get acclimated to sunlight for a while. Full sun can burn the new growth.

And, for an even easier method, Green Deane relates in his post on mulberries:

"Mulberries, in my case, Morus rubra (MOE-russ RUBE-ruh) are full of life. One spring I trimmed my mulberry and used the branches for stakes. They sprouted. Not one to get in nature’s way I dug them up, gave them to a friend, and they are still growing."

I've stuck some big 1" diameter sticks in the dirt in my backyard recently to see if they'll do the same for me. Since it's fruiting season (and because I'm not as awesome as Green Deane) I don't have much hope... but mulberries are amazing, so we'll see.

Question #2: What about cutting a really tall tree to size?

This is a little trickier. Because it's a large, older tree, the shock may kill it. But it also may not. I'd take a bunch of cuttings first, and when you have some good solid baby trees in pots, then I'd take a look at chopping their mother down to size.

I know you can severely prune mulberries without killing them. I was told by the owner of the mulberries below that his trees get cut to the GROUND every three years and they grow back and fruit without fail:

I don't know if I'd be that crazy if I only had one tree, though. If it's in the wrong place, I might go for it... if I had backup babies. If it were my tree, and I was willing to possibly lose it for the sake of science, I'd saw it off at about 4' and let it grow from there. From what I've noted in my own trees, they recover remarkably well from injury, growing new bark around lacerations and pruning injuries. It might be safest to cut it while dormant, just before the spring flush, however. When the sap is up and it's poured its little woody heart into making a ton of leaves... and then you cut it... I just don't know for sure if it will come back. The trees down south are relatively young and are used to regular shearing.

Don't sue me if I'm wrong... but I'll still bet you can pull it off. New mulberry trees grow and produce very quickly - if you have little ones for back-up, you won't have to go long without eating their wonderful fruit. Take pictures and let me know if you have success with both your cuttings and the pruning!

And, if you fail on both, I'll send you one of my own potted mulberries. :)

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Wednesday, April 24, 2013

An "empty" lot paradise

I recently took another trip down to south Florida to take a look at The Great South Florida Food Forest Project, among other things.

In my recent article for Mother Earth News about mulberry trees, I told the story about how long before we were married, Rachel and I picked mulberries together from a tree down the street from her mom's place. That tree, sadly, was later knocked down... but a neighbor took cuttings before it died and placed them in an empty lot he owned across the street from where the original tree used to stand.

When we visited this time, I brought my camera and snapped a few pictures of the trees and the lot where he planted them.

Not only are there mulberries there... he's now planted acerola cherry trees, mangoes, papaya, bananas and other tropical fruits around the lot. It's gone from a sandy parking area to a jungle of food.

I'm glad the tree we once visited lives on in this man's possession... he seems like a worthy protector of her progeny. I wish I could have spoke with him in person this time - I've only met him once, and just in passing.

(NOTE TO SELF: Avoid tropical plant fever - do NOT spend too much time in south Florida.)

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Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Using Moringa as fertilizer

I'm always on the lookout for alternative fertilizers - especially considering some of our traditional organic options have been poisoned by Big Ag (see my article on toxic manure).

Knowing that the moringa tree is a highly productive and extremely nutritious food for people, I wondered if perhaps it might also be a good amendment for plants.

The answer is yes! Check this out:


It seems some new experiments are in order.

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Monday, April 22, 2013


Happy Monday.

Please enjoy some of our patented RADIOACTIVE POSSUM BABIES.


Friday, April 19, 2013

A new tobacco variety for 2013

Tobacco! Tobacco! Tobacco!

I'm growing it again, and it's looking good thus far. This year, however, instead of growing my "Havana" strain, I'm trying out one called "Florida Sumatra," which is on the tobacco page at www.seedman.com.

This variety is supposed to air-dry into a nice smokeable leaf. Some of my previous experiments with rolling cigars (okay, ALL of my previous experiments with rolling cigars) have been unsatisfactory. I'm hoping the larger leaves on this cultivar may prove more amenable to my limited rolling skills.

Even if not, it'll still be worth chewing or packing into a pipe. 

Awwwww yeah!

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Thursday, April 18, 2013

Talk tonight at Home Depot in Ocala

I'll be giving a talk on organic gardening tonight at 6:30 at the Home Depot "Ladies Night Workshop."

I'll also be joined by the excellent Master Gardener Jo Leyte-Vidal. She was my teacher when I went through my certification... and she's one heck of a gardener.

Incidentally, I'm sure you can show up even if you're a guy. Heck, I would. But ladies like me. Your mileage may vary.

Here's the flyer Gloria at Home Depot sent over:

Last time was a blast - hope some of you can make it. We'll be talking about growing food in small spaces, as well as the other stuff on the flyer.

(I'm just thankful it's not ME trying to talk about making a "Flower Tower.")

Here's the map - see you there!

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Wednesday, April 17, 2013

"The Pineapple Story"

After my wife saw my post the other day on pineapples, she reminded me of one of our favorite old missionary stories about a fellow dealing with some really tough growing conditions. And theft. And his own faith. (It's funny too.)

Rachel writes "Any time I think of growing pineapples, I think of this man and his experiences. It might be a little long, but it's worth watching. Such a touching story!"

Here's the video she found of Otto Koning sharing "The Pineapple Story:"

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Tuesday, April 16, 2013

The Big Potato Bed Of Huge Potatoeyness

Here's the Big Potato Bed Of Huge Potatoeyness. Also known as part of my former driveway.

This is the first time I've attempted growing a bed of this size. I'm not sure how it'll do, being that this year had some weird late cold - and now it's hot - but we'll see. Probably got the spuds in too late... I'll pray they produce regardless. It may help that this area isn't in full sun.

My daughter took the above photo, incidentally. Pretty good for a 7-year-old. Especially one that doesn't get much in the way of camera privileges. I think I'm going to have to let her start taking more of my photos.

Here's another one of our potato beds:

Our house was a foreclosure and the barn had been used as a garage and the ground in front of it was heavily compacted from being driven over. I feel bad for whoever had been living here - it was obvious they loved their cars. Lots of old shop manuals and bits and pieces left behind.

Now... instead of a drive... and since I'm not all that good with mechanic work... we have potatoes.



Monday, April 15, 2013

Planting grain corn/homemade seed spacer & hole puncher

I got a really nifty variety of green dent corn from the USDA to try out.

Green kernels - how cool is that?

100 seeds just hit the ground last week. Should be popping up soon.

The next question is, of course, "David the Good... how is it you made such nifty rows?"

American ingenuity, my friend. American ingenuity.

I made this seed planter/spacer a couple years ago. The little rounded dowel pegs on the bottom are exactly 6" apart. The pegs on the very ends are 3" from the edge of the planter. Line it up, kick it with your foot, and boom! Nice neat holes for your corn, beans or whatever. Making it took about a half-hour. Time well spent.

I'll let you know how this corn does. I'm trying multiple varieties of grain corn this year to see what does well here in Florida.

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Friday, April 12, 2013

Natural Awakenings article for April

This one is an expanded spin on my "growing trees from seed" post. It's not plagiarism if you blatantly steal from yourself, right?


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Thursday, April 11, 2013

Turnip round-up

A few days ago, I hauled in the final batch of turnips for this year.

Total weight of all turnips (mostly just the roots... I give most of the leaves to the hens) harvested this year: 36lbs

That's a good start for 2013. And it doesn't count the many small and misshapen roots I chucked to the chickens... or the turnips we ate and forgot to weigh.

(For the survival crop profile on these consistent producers, click here.)

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Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Growing pineapples in North Florida

It can be done! It can! Check this out:

Down in South Florida, gardeners have all the luck. Everything cool grows there, including pineapples. I used to cut the tops off and plant them here and there around my landscaping. Here in North Florida it's not that easy, though.

You'll do great until a good frost hits... then your pineapple plants melt.
There was an Ocala farmer named Adam Eichelberger who launched a commercial pineapple venture over a century ago, as recorded by local historian David Cook:

"After the war [of Northern Aggression], Adam returned to Ocala to try to regain his fortune. It was a difficult time for everyone, but he found a solution in what he now called his Banana Hill Nursery. He would sell trees and plants to others, and also would sell planted orange groves.
He also took a gamble in growing pineapple plants and was wildly successful until the first time the winter temperature fell below freezing. At one time in the 1870s, the Banner said he had shipped more than 500 barrels of pineapples north aboard the Ocklawaha River steamboats. Expectations were high - but soon dashed." (Read full article)

The cold is insurmountable here. You may do good for a few years... the BAM! Your pineapples are dead.

Fortunately, they're easy to grow in pots. The pictures in this post are of one of the many pineapple plants I inherited when my Grandfather died. I took them up here, potted some and planted others up against the south wall of my house. I now have at least five blooming, both in pots and against the wall... and the frosts have only claimed a few test starts I put out in the yard.

If you haven't ever tried a fresh pineapple, you're in for a treat. Grow a few - you won't regret it. They have shallow root systems and thrive with very little care. Just don't keep them wet or they'll rot.

Here's one more shot of the bloom:

Why grow other bromeliads when you can grow these? They're attractive and edible. The down side is that they take a couple years to produce from a top or a slip... but the up side is that you can start them any time you want, put them aside, start more, put them aside... and eventually, you'll have tons of pineapples. Just do it in between taking care of your faster-producing plants and you'll get there.


Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Homemade row spacer

Now this is a clever idea that beats the heck out of strings and posts:

Monday, April 8, 2013

The last of the radishes

I can't say I'll miss them. I grow radishes every year, but don't like them.

Most of these have gone to the chickens - except for the ones Rachel turned into some decent bread n' butter pickles. Those were good.

Any time there's empty space in the winter, I try to fill it with something. Even if we don't eat them, our livestock will. Kale, collards, turnips and mustard are all good in-between crops for the cool season... and yes... radishes are too. Nasty things.

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Friday, April 5, 2013

Great Fruit Trees for the Deep South, Pt. III: The Mulberry

Here's my latest post for Mother Earth News, in which I share a romantic story and tell you about one of my all-time favorite trees:


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Thursday, April 4, 2013

Timely Gardening Tips for April

Here's an April article I wrote for the Marion Gardener last year:

Timely Gardening Tips for Marion County
David Y. Goodman
UF/IFAS Marion County Master Gardener

Back when I lived in Tennessee, I loved the spring. Things were coming alive. We had plenty of rain and amazing, amazing green everywhere. Here, things are coming alive… then dying of thirst as the brutal sun bakes our sand into desert and desiccates their newly awakened roots.

Well – perhaps it’s not quite that bad – but last year I did spend an inordinate amount of time dragging my hose from new fruit tree to fruit tree and from garden bed to garden bed. As soon as I finished watering everything, it was time to start again. On the up side, there were no more frosts! Hurray for frost-free growing! And, unlike Tennessee and other Northerly climes, we’re not subject to long, cold, drizzly brown winters.

Keep an eye on your grass throughout April. Hopefully you fed it in March, but if not, it’s not too late. Adequate fertilization will help reduce drought stress. Also, make sure you give the lawn a good soak every week this month if the skies don’t do it for you. Your young trees and shrubs will also need extra attention. Make sure to chop back the grass around your young trees in a 3-4’ ring. If you don’t, the competition for water will greatly inhibit your tree’s growth. Grass is remarkably stingy with letting nutrients and moisture through to the tree roots beneath.

And speaking of trees, have you ever seen a tree called “Hercules’ club?” Also known as Zanthoxylum clava-herculis, this strange creation looks like an invention of Dr. Seuss. A Florida native, Hercules’ club can be found growing at the edges of woods in half-shade. Its trunk is covered with strangely spaced thorns and most of the greenery appears in a big puff like the feathers at the end of a feather duster. A little-known fact is that this bizarre looking far-off relative of the orange also has bark that can be used as a topical anesthetic similar to Novocain. You may need an anesthetic, too, if you run into its thorns. I’m going to plant a few beneath my oaks this year just because I like things that look weirder than I do.

Along with the warmth, the bugs are back.  Keep your eyes open and provide habitat for predators. Planned “wilderness” patches, stick and rock piles, dense foliage and water features are all great places for bug-eating good guys to live.

April is blueberry season. If you don’t have any of your own, be sure to look around for a local U-Pick establishment or hit the farmer’s market. You’ll be surprised at the good price you can get when you buy in quantity, and by buying locally you’re supporting other Florida farmers and gardeners.

Enjoy the warm weather – and plant away!

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Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Germinating a hamburger bean

Here's another shot of the hamburger bean (Mucuna urens) I showed you in my previous post on drift seeds:

And now here it is a week after I sawed a notch in it with a pocket knife, soaked it for a day or two, then put it in moist peat moss and vermiculite:

See the little root peeking out? And how weirdly black and swollen the bean looks? That sucker took on a lot of water (and piercing its seed coat was no easy feat). I replanted the bean after the above picture and let it alone for a few more days... until a shoot rapidly emerged from the ground. And I do mean rapidly! It grew about 12" in a couple of days and started rotating around in a circle looking for something to grasp. It moved so fast that my wife and I sat on the porch and watched it make an entire rotation in about an hour. I stuck a little pole in for it to grab... which it did - and twisted itself completely tight to it within another hour's time.

From what I read, this particular bean grows many tens of feet into the air... reaching the top of tall trees... so I have no idea how I'll be able to keep it contained. I'd like to raise it to a point where it bears beans of its own, but that will mean protecting it from frosts this coming winter.

Here it is now:

Mucuna urens is a close relative of the velvet beans (Mucuna pruriens) I've been growing but it's apparently even more tropical. Who would've thought you could find a bean on the beach and grow it? I picked these things up dozens of times without ever thinking about germinating one. There's a first time for everything, I suppose. And even if this doesn't do anything for my "survival gardener" cred, it's at the very least a rather satisfying experiment.

For more on drift seeds, check out www.seabean.com.

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Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Grass vs. Trees

Green Deane shared this audio segment in his weekly newletter today - it's too good not to pass on:


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Choo choo... NOT!

In case you all didn't get yesterday's joke... April Fools.

I HATE building model train sets. I don't mind looking at other people's model train sets... but I have absolutely no patience for what I view as an inherently useless pastime.

It is true that my grandmother bought me my first model train kit (which I requested) for Christmas one year.

That was one of the biggest mistakes of my life, right up there with taking a girl I liked to a way-too-expensive Rolling Stones concert because I knew she was a fan.

I didn't get a kiss... I couldn't afford a T-shirt... and honestly... I hate the Rolling Stones. And now she's off and married with kids and I'm still $120 short on my net worth...

Women and model trains. I tell ya...

The model train kit ended up at the thrift store after I got utterly frustrated with it (and after my grandmother died so I could chuck it with less remorse.) Sanding the rails... trying to get the things to run. Ack. And then, when it was all working, all you have is an endlessly repeating loop to watch. Choo (yawn) choo. As for the girl... sure, she's still pretty but I like the one I have now much better.

Bonus: my now-wife hates the Rolling Stones. And I never spend more than like $5 on gifts for her and she kisses me all the freaking time.

In fact, I can barely keep her off me long enough to garden.


Where was I? Ah yes... talking about yesterday's gag. Anyhow - remember what I said about being bored with this site and gardening? Not at all. The passion has only grown... I don't intend on stopping any time soon. Keep reading, keep sending me ideas, keep leaving comments... and I promise to keep posting.

Have a wonderful April, fools.

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Monday, April 1, 2013

Taking a different track...

When I started this blog... I was really on a gardening kick. Every plant... every seed... every new harvest engaged me.

For almost the last year, I wrote a gardening article every week or two... then started FloridaSurvivalGardening.com as a daily blog at the end of August.

But now I'm getting antsy. Sure... the readership has picked up... but the fire isn't there any more. I get at least 200 visitors most days. They're generally the kind of folks that like gardening, love homesteading, are trying to survive the econopocalypse... or all of the above.

I've partly kept writing because I don't want to let people down. It isn't easy to keep up a post a day... especially when I'm becoming more interested in other things.

That said, DON'T think I'm about to quit writing! Not at all! I'm just going to take things in a different direction.

Though you may not know it, I have another love besides gardening. And it's that love which has become a total obsession over the last few months.

(Promise not to laugh?)

I love model trains. Particularly HO scale trains. Since seeing a holiday set-up in the mall as a kid, I found them fascinating. I imagined the cargoes they could carry... put myself in the shoes of their tiny passengers... and imagined myself as a conductor.

NOTE: Models like this are only for experts - I've broken a lot of little windows during assembly...

At age 12 I got my first train set as a gift from my Grandmother. And over the years I've added tracks... added engines... added houses... added trees... added little workmen... and soldered connections and sanded rails to keep the wheels turning in good working order. (I hate flipping or crashing my models. I'm not Mr. Addams!)

The great thing about HO trains is that the parts are quite reasonable - and there are often second-hand sets available. Is it a neurotic hobby? An old man's passion? A "kid-that-never-grew-up" thing to do?

Maybe. But I don't care. If Google can honor Cesar Chavez instead of Jesus on Easter... I can certainly make a much smaller change to this blog, right?

All aboard! Time to ditch the greenery and clackity-clack our way towards new adventure!

Over the next few weeks I'm going to introduce you to the world of model railroads, giving you tips on buying, building and restoring sets. We'll even delve into handcrafting the landscaping and tunnels. Unlike gardening, this is a hobby for everyone. And... even better... you don't have to wait to get started! A fruit tree takes years to bear - but a train set can be enjoyed right now - no digging required.

Stick around... "Florida Survival Gardening" is now officially transforming into "All-aboard Train Modeling Adventures!"

Tomorrow I'll show you some of my friend Jim's incredible freight yard models - and if I get a chance, I'll shoot some video of the totally mod circular track I'm working on. Very hypnotic.

Thanks for reading... hope you all keep stopping by. Don't be too disappointed - over time, I think you'll get as excited about trains as I am!

Choo CHOO!

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