Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Baker Creek Seeds

I received the Baker Creek catalogue last week. This is my favorite seed company, and their catalogue is beautiful! All the seeds from Baker Creek are open pollinated - heirloom seeds that you can save after you grow your own vegetables. One of the reasons why I like this company, is that they grown all the seeds they sell themselves. They aren't just a middleman, passing on seeds produced by large seed companies. Since they are located in Missouri, they have some of the same growing conditions we have in the summer, hot and humid. They are aware of the challenges of growing vegetables in the South.

Here is the list of seeds I ordered. It took me only 10 minutes to place this order, because I had the codes:

AB101 $2.50 1 - Red Rice Bean (asian dry bean)
AML110 $3.00 1 - Ananas D' Amerique A Chair Verte (melon - grown by Thomas Jefferson!)
BN101 $2.00 1 - Royalty Purple Pod (bean)
BN108 $2.00 1 - McCaslan 42 Pole (bean)
CU147 $3.00 1 - Dragon's Egg (cucumber)
EG131 $6.50 1 - Brazilian Oval Orange - 1/ 4 oz (eggplant) I know... expensive, but these look like wonderful ornamentals. I'm planting them as edible landscaping. :)
LG101 $2.25 1 - Red-Seeded Asparagus Bean (Asian long bean)
LT116 $2.25 1 - Little Gem (lettuce)
ML102 $2.75 1 - Prescott Fond Blanc (melon)
OK102 $2.00 1 - Burgandy (okra)


TK123 $3.00 1 - Millionaire
TM122 $2.00 1 - Principe Borghese
TN112 $2.50 1 - Red Round
TP103 $2.00 1 - Black from Tula
TP114 $3.00 1 - True Black Brandywine

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Eggplant & Broccoli

5 lb. of eggplant harvested yesterday. I used to think eggplant only liked hot wether, but I've been getting a bumper crop with lows in the 40s last week.
This is the rest of yesterday's harvest. The broccoli was fabulous last night for dinner. I am starting more seeds today! I never knew how much better broccoli is fresh off the plant.

2009 Seeds

All my 2009 seeds are here. I will begin sprouting seeds for our Spring garden on the first week of January. I still have seeds saved from previous years which I'm not listing, so this is just a partial list of what we'll be planting, and I will be listing my flower seeds in a different post. I have been saving Calabaza squash seeds for a couple of years, and I bought new Calabaza seeds to help diversify our genepool. Most of the seeds I bought for 2009 will be new to us. The ones returning are: Cherokee Purple and Amish Paste tomatoes, Jericho lettuce, China Choi Chinese cabbage, French Charentais - failed once before, aji dulce and alma peppers, and Black Beauty zucchini. I've grown watercress from cuttings before, and I would prefer that if I had a source.

Renee’s Garden
Alpine Strawberries – Mignonette

Summer Lettuce Bouquet, European Reds and Greens
Merveille de Quatre Saisons (H)
Baby Mesclum, Paris Market Mix

Leeks French Baby Leeks, Primor
Watercress, English

Pumpkin, Cinderella’s Carriage (H)

Rosemary, French
Thyme, French

Melons, Three Flavors –Galia, Earlidew & Solid Gold

Sweet Peas, Color Palette Cupid

Seeds of Change

True Gold – sweet

Chinese cabbage, China choi

Paprika Alma

Prize of the Trials, Cherry

Mideast prolific

Green Deer Tongue
Red Riddinghood, head

Sweet Dumpling, winter

Broccoli, De Cicco

Cherokee Purple (H)
Black Prince (H)

Komatsuna Summerfest, Asian hybrid greens
Turnip, Hakurei, hybrid
Pumpkin, Rouge Vif D’etamptes
Melon, French Charentais, hybrid

Garden of Eden, pole
Tongue of Fire, American & Italian Shell

Tomato Growers
Sprite, grape, 60 days
Gregori’s Altai, pink beefsteak, 67 days
San Marzano, paste, 80 days
Amish Paste, 85 days
Stupice, cold tolerant, 52 days
Glacier, cold tolerant, 58 days
Amana Orange, orange beefsteak, 90 days

Aji Dulce #2, 85-90 days
Jalapeno M, 75 days
Carmen Hybrid, Italian bullhorn, 75

Rosa Bianca, Italian heirloom, 75 (H)
Florida High Bush, 85

Zucchini, Black Beauty, 52 days

Four Seasons

Armenian Yard Long, 70 days
Fancy Pickling, (H), “Homemade Pickles”,

Rouge Vif D’etampes


Brussel Sprouts, Bubbles, hybrid
Strawberry, Everbearing
Watermelon, Dragon Skin
Kale, Siberian
Melon, Amish Muskmelon
Okra, Little Lucy

Calabaza (H)

Amish purple popcorn
Gourmet popcorn,


Purple Passion Flower
Nasturtium, Jewels of Africa

Red Clover
Luffa Gourd
Parlor Palm, Neantha bella

H= heirloom seeds

Growing a garden from seeds is exciting! :)

Monday, December 15, 2008

Just Planted

Brussel Sprouts - Bubbles
French Baby Leeks
English Watercress
French Thyme

The December Garden

The eggplant in the hydroponic stackers is ready to pick. The plants are bowed from the weight of their fruit. They have done well with the lower temperatures we've had this Fall, better than the one in the bucket. I think that the styrofoam stackers protect the roots from the weather, plus the plants are closer together which may also help.
Our greens bed: bok choi, spinach, and kale at the end. We're planning to make these beds into raised beds come Spring.
Our first strawberries of the season, perhaps ready for a Christmas treat?
My very first success with broccoli. In the past, I've grown giant leafy broccoli plants with just a tiny little sprout of a head that bolted as soon as it emerged. What changed? The soil and planting time. The broccoli is now growing in our first raised bed.
This was our harvest on Saturday: romaine lettuce, tomato, radish, and thinned carrots - yummmm!
My cucumber experiment continues. At this point, I have this one lonely cuke growing. The plants themselves are smallish but healthy. I will harvest this one today, maybe they will grow another one if this one isn't there sapping the little bit of energy they have. I think the cold snaps and fewer hours of sunlight have stunted them.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Brave Chickadees

The kids are doing a science experiment, observing what kind of seed the birds prefer. Michael made these inexpensive bird feeders recycling old juice bottles. It looks like the winner is plain, black sunflower seeds. Cocoa (the cat) has shown great interest in this experiment. Sadly for her, she just can't reach those brave chickadees.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Every morning, I walk over to the garden either to turn on the irrigation, let loose chickens, spray neem or foliar fertilizer, and more. Today, I noticed the dew on these fig leaves glittering in the sun. Lucy met me on the path, patiently waiting for her morning petting.
Above me were these autumn leaves, and Bonaparte gave me his usual stare. He is our least friendly chook, the kids stear clear of his evil bantam ways; but the hens seem to feel safe with him around, even though he is half their size.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Mountain Aires Christmas

I received the Mountain Aires Christmas CD in the mail last Friday. I've been listening to it over and over. It's good for the soul!
George Grant has a description of it in his blog.
To order a copy, go to the Mountain Aires website.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

From the Garden to our Table

Part of our dinner tonight came from the garden. I harvested tomatoes, eggplant, romaine lettuce, and aurugula. We have another cold front moving in tonight. They are predicting a low of 40 in Tampa, which usually means in the mid 30s for us.
Also some kale just harvested a few minutes earlier
curry eggplant in the making...
and fresh eggs from our chickens...
kale mushroom omelett coming up...
plus salad = dinner!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Monday, November 24, 2008

From the Ground Up

This morning, I was sitting on the bricks by the raised bed pulling weeds and admiring the vegetables from that perspective, thus the title. :) I love this mesclum lettuce. I will come back out this evening with my kitchen shears and cut some for our salad. I've been doing that for a few weeks now. Mesclum grows back to this height in about a week after trimming. Yumm!
In spite of the cold snap of last week, our basil is growing well. I'm making some homemade tomato/basil spagetti sauce for dinner.
I have to say that the thing I like best about our raised bed is how easy it is to weed. I never thought I would say that I am enjoying weeding. Sitting on the bricks makes all the difference.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Fall Colors, Oranges, and Bees

After a week of colder temperatures, we finally have a little fall color in our yard. The maples are the only trees on our property that turn red and drop their leaves in the Fall, if we have colder temperatures. I think they're lovely.Our best looking orange tree. I took this picture as a 'before' picture. We are in the process of getting a couple of beehives. I hope the bees will help increase our orange crop next year

The oranges are not quite ripe yet. We all look forward to fresh OJ at the beginning of the Advent season every year. It's looking like this will be our smallest harvest yet. The two lemon trees are a sad sight with only a few lemons near the top of the trees. I think the reason is the development that went up on the west side of our property. There used to be a large orange grove there. I think our trees just didn't have enough bees pollinating them.

Our tomatoes survived the cold weather well. The lowest temperature we had was 37 degrees on Tuesday. I definitely think the tomatoes are sweeter after a cold snap. :)

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

First Tomato Harvest

Our first tomato harvest (Sweet 100) picked this morning. I can't wait to have these in our salad for dinner. The low this morning was 42, so I'm hoping for sweeter tomatoes. Tomorrow morning is another story. They're predicting a low of 29. Since all the tomatoes are in pots, we're going to try to set up our pop-up greenhouse to protect them. We could still have another month of tomatoes before the next cold snap. It would be a shame to loose them when they just started to produce.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Looking Forward

Spring planting for us begins in mid-February. It always seems like the months of November and December just vanish with the holidays, and then gardening is upon us in a rush.
Building a chicken tractor was one of the first things we did when we got our first flock of chickens. They are very efficient at cultivating a garden bed, eating weeds and bugs, and dropping nitrogen-rich manure as they go. Their digging and scratching will incorporate this manure into the soil, so that it's not laying around on the surface.
Since we are hoping to expand our garden next year, the chickens are now working on clearing the grass and weeds for our new beds. We will be moving the tractor around during the next three months. Given enough time, they will clear the beds of all weeds and seeds. If you have chickens, you can put them to work. They will be happy to work for you for just a little water and grain. :)

Friday, November 14, 2008

Still Growing and Blooming

The peach tree is blooming. I've never understood why it puts out a few blossoms in the Fall. They fall off without leaving any fruit behind. It is the lone survivor of our peach orchard, the rest were lost to hurricanes a couple of years ago. It was barely a stick after the storms. This year, it gave us six peaches; and it doubled in size over the summer.
Lantana, a Florida native wildflower. This variety grows wild on our property, and the butterflies like its nectar.

Walking Iris - a Florida invasive. Walking is what it does, spreading itself all over planting areas. They are easy to pull though, so not a problem. I think the flowers are interesting, somewhat alien.

The mango we planted in September is showing new growth again. I'm glad it likes its location.

The loquat (Eriobotrya japonica) is in bloom. Its flowers aren't very showy; but I noticed their lovely, sweet, subtle scent as I walked past them this morning. My children look forward to loquat season in March. They aren't alone. Every year, the birds and squirrels eat about half the fruit before we even realize it's ripe.

At the foot of this red hibiscus grows a Spanish Needle, considered a weed in suburban yards. I think it looks pretty here. They are food for many butterflies - Gulf Fritillary, Orange Long Wing, Zebra Long Wing, Pearl Crescent, and others.

Milkweed, not my favorite from a distance. It lives for the Monarch butterflies whose caterpillars make those ugly holes on its leaves. Most of the time, it's a bare bundle of sticks. We enjoy the butterflies, so it earns its keep.

The weatherman predicts a high of 86 for today and maybe some badly needed rain tomorrow with the cold front. We haven't seen a drop of rain in weeks. Mr. Weatherman is also predicting a low of 43 on Sunday, so that's what we'll have to keep an eye on. I still have cucumber plants in the garden which I will cover up. We'll be harvesting all the Calabaza squash/pumpkin tomorrow. For now, can you say 'humuggity'?

Just Planted

Mesclum - Lowes
Carrot (Sweet Treat Hybrid) - Burpee
Lettuce (Jericho) - Seeds of Change
Radish (French Breakfast) - Seeds of Change

I have planted all of these already this season and have been harvesting the lettuce and mesclum for couple of weeks. I noticed some of the the first radishes I planted are showing their red tops, so not much longer before we start harvesting them. Jericho is still #1 on my list of favorites.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Article - Plastics in Food

There is an interesting article about plastic contamination in food here.

Frugal Challenge - Reading

I'm learning from others how to be frugal this week. I borrowed this book from the library, and it has a few good ideas and lots of frugal recipes. Cooking is a great way to save money, we rarely go out to eat as a family any more. It would be easy for us to spend $100 on a restaurant dinner.

The author has a family of six like ours. I'm sure she would have to update the $12 amount, since she wrote the book in 2002. Still, all her ideas are valid. There is a lot of good shopping advice in this book. She suggests buying BOGOs with coupons, shopping at Aldi - which I will try once the new store in town opens its doors, and buying certain things in bulk at places like SAM's and food coops. She mentions gardening as a way to save money on produce but doesn't go into the subject past the suggestion. I'm sure that could fill another book, and there are already many out there. ;)

Monday, November 10, 2008

Autumn Beauty - Calabaza

I harvested our first Calabaza squash/pumpkin of the season last week. I had to show it off on our dinning room table for a few days before cutting it up :). I dont' have a scale that can weigh something this heavy, but our estimate is about 15 lbs.

The seeds for this pumpkin came from a crop I grew last year. I still have plenty more. According to Seed to Seed they should keep for at least six years. Calabaza seeds aren't easy to find. For some reason, the large seed companies don't sell them. It may be that there isn't much demand, since the Calabaza (Cucurbita moschata) is definitely a tropical squash. The vines had damage after the low one morning went to 41 degrees. On the other hand, this variety is very disease resistant - perfect for our Florida garden.
To save seeds from a pumpkin or squash, all you need to do is scoop out the pulp and seeds, separate and wash off the pulp, and spread the seeds on a cookie sheet to dry. I like to put mine on top of the refrigerator. They have to dry for at least two weeks. If they aren't completely dry, they will not germinate - learned that from experience. To insure dryness, I keep my seeds in a ziplock bag in the refrigerator with one of those silica gel packs that come in vitamin bottles.

My pumpkin bread recipe goes like this:

Calabaza (pumpkin) Bread

2 cups of pumpkin puree
4 eggs
1 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup water
2 cups honey
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger

Turn on oven to 350 degrees. Grease two loaf pans.

In a large bowl, mix together pumpkin puree, eggs, oil, water and honey until well blended. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and ginger. Stir the dry ingredients into the pumpkin mixture until just blended. Pour into the prepared pans.

Bake for about 50 minutes in the preheated oven. Loaves are done when toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Enjoy!

This weekend everyone enjoyed a pumpkin casserole. Tonight, we'll be having Pumpkin Curry Soup. I think I'll be canning some of the dozen or more pumpkins that are still on the vine. ;)

Saturday, November 8, 2008

This and That...

Looking around the garden and backyard, I found all these great creatures going about their lives. It didn't take more than fifteen minutes to capture them all.

I have a planter by the garden gate with a few Salvias. I planted the original plants there about a year ago. During the heat of summer, they died back but left seeds behind. The new plants are growing better than the parents did, and there are many more of them. They attract butterflies, bees, and others like this Silver Spotted (Epargyreus clarus)Skipper I found feeding on them this afternoon.

Michael asked to see the skipper's straw-like proboscis - we've been studying insects lately. He went and identified it for me in one of our Audubon guides :). It sat and fed on a Salvia, though the guide says it likes wisteria. I think the eyes, on close-up, are amazing; they take up about half its face. Teaching our kids about nature in our backyard has been one of the most exciting things I've done in my homeschooling career.

Lizards are masters of camouflage. I almost didn't spot this one, except that it jumped off a leaf onto the brown wood.

Our eggplant is finally producing. I think I'll harvest a few of them tomorrow morning. The plant is loaded with small fruit, so it will direct its energy to growing the little ones once the large ones are gone.

The Cassia bush in our back yard is starting to bloom. I found a Cloudless Sulfur caterpillar on one of the buds. We have enjoyed watching the Sulfurs fly in great profusion this Fall. I never knew that the Cassia was their host plant.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

A Tomato Experiment

I noticed this morning that we finally have a couple of cherry tomatoes ripening on the vine. I will wait a couple of days before picking them, as they look a bit green yet.

I was reading yesterday that rhonda jean likes to harvest her tomatoes green because, by doing this, her vines produce more flowers and more fruit, plus she avoids pests. I just don't know if the taste and nutritional value of a tomato picked green would really be comparable to that of a vine-ripe tomato. I have always thought that storebought tomatoes were flavorless because they were picked green. Also, I read recently that in order to have a sweet tomato, it must be allowed to ripen on the vine and picked after a cold night. The plant will send all the sugar it has stored into the fruit if it senses a freeze is about to kill it. I was also told this secret by a strawberry farmer in town and have tested it myself. Since we live in the winter strawberry capital, it was easy to do. Last year, I only bought strawberries the day after the temperatures had gone down below 40 degrees. We enjoyed the best strawberries ever. I am hoping this same thing will work with my Fall tomatoes, so I'll be looking to harvesting them the day after we have temperatures in the 40s. Stay tuned!

Friday, October 31, 2008

Just Planted... and Seed Orders

Broccoli Di Cicco - '09 (Johnny's)
Sweet Alyssum (white)

The broccoli seeds arrived earlier this week from Johnny's along with three other seed packages: komasuna summerfest greens (asian), cherokee purple tomatoes, and hakurei turnip. All but the tomatoes are new to us. I learned that the komasuna greens are a Japanese variety which does well both in hot and cool weather. I will be saving those for Spring. The turnips will go in the ground later this week, after I look up its growing needs.

Broccoli Di Cicco is an heirloom broccoli from Italy that's supposed to do well with warm temperatures, plus they say you can continue harvesting side shoots after the main head is picked. I learned in Gardening When It Counts that the hybrids produced for commercial farms are not worth keeping in the ground after harvesting the top head, they don't keep on producing. Aside from lower production, the seeds can't be saved for future planting either.

I started noticing a couple of weeks ago that some seed companies were out of some of the seeds we need for our Spring garden. Also, I received a note from Johnny's with my order that said their seed prices will be going up on Nov. 15th, and last week I saw this at Victory Seeds:
Oct. 1 Update: Since people are feeling so much uncertainty about the economy and the future, we are receiving an unexpected volume of orders.

I usually don't order seeds till early December. After reading that notice, I decided it was time to finish up my list and place our seed order for next year. I now have orders pending at Seeds of Change, Tomato Growers, Eon Seeds (a FL based family bussiness I'm trying for the first time), and Johnny's. I did end up finding what I needed. With my small order from Johnny's last week came a free shipping coupon for any order placed until mid-November. :)

Baking Bread - frugal challenge

This week, for my frugal challenge, I am restarting our weekly bread baking. For the last few years, our oldest daughter had been baking most of our bread. Now that she is in college, she doesn't have much time for baking. Everyone was happy to see these loaves back in the oven again and smell the fresh baked bread.

Several years ago, I had done the math and calculated the cost of baking vs. buying bread at the store. It came out to be a good savings, around $30 to $40 per month. But the best thing about baking our own bread is the taste. Homemade bread doesn't have the chemical smell and taste that storebought has. Storebought bread contains chemical additives, hydrogenated oils, unhealthy preservatives, and fattening sweeteners.

Homemade Sandwich Bread

2 cups warm water (110F)
1/2 cup honey
1 1/2 tablespoons active dry yeast
1 1/2 teaspoons sea salt
1/4 cup olive oil
3 cups white bread flour
3 cups whole wheat flour

1. In a large bowl, dissolve the honey in the warm water, add yeast. Allow to proof until yeast resembles a creamy foam, about 10 minutes.
2. Mix salt and oil into the yeast. Work in 6 cups of flour. Knead dough on a lightly floured surface until smooth (or use your mixer with a dough hook). Use a little more flour if needed. Place in well oiled bowl, and turn once to coat the entire surface of the dough with oil. Cover with a clean damp cotton cloth. Allow dough to rise until double in size., about an hour.
3. Punch dough down. Knead for a few minutes, and divide in half. Shape into loaves and place into two well oiled 9x5 loaf pans. Allow to rise for 30 minutes.
4. Bake in a 350F oven for 25 minutes. When you thump the top of the bread it should sound hollow.
For a buttery crust, brush hot loaves with butter. Cool on a rack and enjoy

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

What's Blooming

We are having record lows this morning in Central Florida. Our thermometer by the back door showed 41 degrees, lower than the official 42 record low for Tampa this morning. Plant City is always a couple of degrees lower. It was so nice to go out and breathe in the crisp morning air.

The pumpkins are still blooming profusely. This little moth sat very still inside this flower maybe hoping to catch some warmth from the sun. I didn't see much bug activity out there, even the bees seem to be waiting for the temperature to rise. They have been out in droves lately harvesting pumpkin pollen.

This Salvia lives in a pot by the vegetable garden gate. Even though it is one of the bees' favorites, they are not visiting. Maybe they are too busy with the pumpkins to bother. I also have a volunteer Everglades tomato growing in this pot.
Belinda's Dream is a Floribunda rose bush that produces these beautiful pink roses year-round. It is my low maintenance rose. It performs with very little care. I discovered it at a u-pick farm a couple of years ago. It sat apart from the other roses, looking gorgeous. I had to ask the lady there what it was. She directed me to a family-owned rose seller in Plant City. I've found that with roses, as with most other non-natives, it is best to see how they grow in the ground in our area before committing to planting one. I've heard many times that roses are too difficult to grow in Florida, and that is true for certain varieties, but not all.
This is another great low-maintenance rose that does well for me. Is is an old-garden rose I ordered from Pickering years ago. I will have to dig out my rose records to find the name, because it is a survivor. I am planning to plant a moon garden around this bush. It looks so beautiful by the light of the moon. I will start by spreading out some white Sweet Alyssum seeds around its feet today. I also have some white Morning Glory seeds waiting to be planted.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Growing Cucumbers

I have had mixed success growing cucumbers in the past. I always planted cucumbers in my spring garden. They would grow well the first couple of months but would only produce a few cucumbers before succumbing to mildew when the rains started.

This Fall, I planted three cucumber plants in hydroponics buckets. They grew and sprawled over the ground then produced the largest crop of cucumbers we've ever had. I think one of my conclusions here is that they really like the regular watering they get with the automatic irrigation, plus the constant source of fertilizer. Our soil is just very poor, so we have been working on building it up with peat and compost. Hopefully, by next Spring, we will have it in better shape.

These seedlings were planted back on Oct. 2nd, just over three weeks ago. I put four seeds in a black pot that had been growing tomatoes last Spring and added compost to it, and they all came up. I have been using COF* (Home-made Complete Organic fertilizer) in my garden this fall, so they've had two side-dressings of COF. I've also sprayed them with kelp and fish emulsion twice.

This is what the plants looked like this morning. Cucumbers and others from this family (pumpkins, squash...) are not worth buying as seedlings. They sprout and grow so easily and quickly when seeded directly in the soil.

I'm hoping that these will do ok in the cooler Fall weather, since they are in this black pot. The sun should keep the soil warm until the plants are mature, and they should do better now that the daily rains have stopped. I decided risk it and ignore the suggested planting date for cucumbers in Central Florida, which only goes through August. It is unlikely we will have a freeze before Christmas; and even if we did, we could try to cover them up. We've enjoyed our cucumbers so much, I couldn't bear to see the last of them.

I just finished harvesting the last of the cucumbers from the plants in the hydro-buckets. The plants are done, mainly because of the mildew growing on them due to all the rain we had in September. I will have to work more diligently to keep the fungus off these types of plants during the rainy season come Spring.

* COF is a homemade Complete Organic Fertilizer. The formula was created by Steven Solomon, the author of gardening when it counts. The basic ingredients I use in COF are: seed meal, lime (gypsum & garden lime), phosphate rock, and kelp (if possible). I finished reading gardening when it counts last week and cannot recommend it highly enough for anyone trying to grow vegetables at home. Steven Solomon is the founder of Territorial Seed Company; and although he no longer owns it, he has many years of experience growing vegetables organically.
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