Hard to Believe


At the beginning of April 2016, we left our homestead in North Florida and headed south to Ft. Lauderdale, and then, after spending almost a month there, we headed to our new home in the tropics.

On the way out of town, I recorded this video with Sandy Graves of C-Head LLC:

That ended up becoming my third most viewed video on YouTube. Who would’ve thought that a composting toilet would be so popular?

Sandy is a charismatic guy and a great inventor – I’m glad we met. For a few years I had planned to visit his place and see his system and just didn’t get around to it.

It finally happened on our way out of town for the last time. As we left the Ocala area and drove east on 40, we came up on his office and I said, “Man, I never got to meet Sandy in person and see his setup… I should have done that… now I’ll never get to…”

Rachel said, “We could stop!”

“I suppose so, and I have the camera… well, what the heck!”

So I did stop. We had only been on the road for perhaps an hour, our van loaded up with clothing and children, the small trailer behind us hauling the remnants of our worldly possessions.

Meeting with Sandy was great and we ended up spending a couple of hours together.

Later, he signed up as one of this site’s sponsors – really cool. Check out his website here.

The Big Thing

The crazy thing was really the trip, though. I still can’t believe we pulled it off. I sold my plant nursery, got rid of 90% of my book library, gave away tools and a piano, furniture and fencing, barrels and lumber. Years of homesteading accumulation – gone. I even sold my guns and some of my guitars.

Do I regret it? No – not a bit. We left behind a collapsing country and sociopathic relatives and now live in a level of freedom we never experienced back in the US. Sure, it’s hard to adapt to a new culture but it’s fun if you look at it as a grand adventure.

Soon it will be the one-year anniversary of our arrival here.

I’m planning a party.


*          *           *


Why, O Lord, do you stand far away?
Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?

In arrogance the wicked hotly pursue the poor;
let them be caught in the schemes that they have devised.

For the wicked boasts of the desires of his soul,
and the one greedy for gain curses and renounces the Lord.

In the pride of his face the wicked does not seek him;
all his thoughts are, “There is no God.”

His ways prosper at all times;
your judgments are on high, out of his sight;
as for all his foes, he puffs at them.

He says in his heart, “I shall not be moved;
throughout all generations I shall not meet adversity.”

His mouth is filled with cursing and deceit and oppression;
under his tongue are mischief and iniquity.

He sits in ambush in the villages;
in hiding places he murders the innocent.
His eyes stealthily watch for the helpless;

he lurks in ambush like a lion in his thicket;
he lurks that he may seize the poor;
he seizes the poor when he draws him into his net.

The helpless are crushed, sink down,
and fall by his might.

He says in his heart, “God has forgotten,
he has hidden his face, he will never see it.”

Arise, O Lord; O God, lift up your hand;
forget not the afflicted.

Why does the wicked renounce God
and say in his heart, “You will not call to account”?

But you do see, for you note mischief and vexation,
that you may take it into your hands;
to you the helpless commits himself;
you have been the helper of the fatherless.

Break the arm of the wicked and evildoer;
call his wickedness to account till you find none.

The Lord is king forever and ever;
the nations perish from his land.

O Lord, you hear the desire of the afflicted;
you will strengthen their heart; you will incline your ear

to do justice to the fatherless and the oppressed,
so that man who is of the earth may strike terror no more.

-Psalm 10, ESV

10 Reasons Not to Throw Away Your Teabags


This is a clever post my Grandmom sent me this week:


1. The bags decompose: Did you know that most British tea bags are made from a relative of the banana? Manila hemp is made from the fiber of abaca leaf stalks. The bag itself will break down and the very little plastic they use to seal the tea bags virtually disappears within 6 months, according to the UK Tea & Infusions Association.
2. Tea adds nutrients to the soil: Tea leaves contain tannic acid and nutrients that are natural fertilizers for a garden. As the tea leaves decompose, they release nutrients into the soil, creating a healthier growing environment, according to The Gardening Cook.
3. Reduce garbage: Burying your teabags in the garden or tossing them in your compost pile helps eliminate excess waste.
4. Tea bags keep pests at bay: Used tea bags (and coffee grounds) will help keep bugs away from your plants. The odor deters the pests from chewing on your flowers and veggies.
5. The smell of tea works on cats too: Sprinkle coffee grounds or used tea grounds around your garden to keep fluffy from urinating on your favorite plants too. (You can do use this with indoor plants as well), Earth911 recommends.
6. Your teabags can grow a garden: Believe it or not, you can grow your own garden with used teabags, seeds, a plastic tray, water and a paper towel. You’ll germinate your seeds with the tea bags and then plant them in the garden, according to the Kiwi Conservation Club…
Teabags break down quickly and make good compost. Coffee grounds are also a no-brainer. Some worry that they’ll acidify the soil but I’ve never had a problem – and I’ve composted tons of coffee.
*Teabag image by Sarah Baker, CC license
*           *           *

I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart;
    I will recount all of your wonderful deeds.
I will be glad and exult in you;
    I will sing praise to your name, O Most High.

When my enemies turn back,
    they stumble and perish before your presence.
For you have maintained my just cause;
    you have sat on the throne, giving righteous judgment.

You have rebuked the nations; you have made the wicked perish;
    you have blotted out their name forever and ever.
The enemy came to an end in everlasting ruins;
    their cities you rooted out;
    the very memory of them has perished.

But the Lord sits enthroned forever;
    he has established his throne for justice,
and he judges the world with righteousness;
    he judges the peoples with uprightness.

The Lord is a stronghold for the oppressed,
    a stronghold in times of trouble.
And those who know your name put their trust in you,
    for you, O Lord, have not forsaken those who seek you.

Sing praises to the Lord, who sits enthroned in Zion!
    Tell among the peoples his deeds!
For he who avenges blood is mindful of them;
    he does not forget the cry of the afflicted.

Be gracious to me, O Lord!
    See my affliction from those who hate me,
    O you who lift me up from the gates of death,
that I may recount all your praises,
    that in the gates of the daughter of Zion
    I may rejoice in your salvation.

The nations have sunk in the pit that they made;
    in the net that they hid, their own foot has been caught.
The Lord has made himself known; he has executed judgment;
    the wicked are snared in the work of their own hands. Higgaion.[d] Selah

The wicked shall return to Sheol,
    all the nations that forget God.

For the needy shall not always be forgotten,
    and the hope of the poor shall not perish forever.

Arise, O Lord! Let not man prevail;
    let the nations be judged before you!
Put them in fear, O Lord!
    Let the nations know that they are but men!

-Psalm 9, ESV

The Five Keys to Building Healthy Soil


This is an excellent talk:

Worth sitting down and watching.

Fascinating stuff, and it’s on a large scale.

He reminds me that I’m not doing enough cover cropping. Time to bust out the mung beans again.

Growing Gardens under Oak Trees?


Growing gardens under oak trees?

Dear David,

I have 10 very mature oaks in my front 
yard. At the base of one of the oaks I have started my food forest 
experiment. I dumped a layer of compost a variety of seeds (squash, 
beans, herbs, morning glories, echinechia, passionflower and i forgot 
what else lol!) and light mulch because of the oak roots, it is growing 
good so far.  So we talked about before i would begin to stop raking 
leaves and let the leaf litter collect.  I would then have a self 
mulching landscape.  From my understanding not much will be able to grow 
as ground cover since the leaves will ultimately smother them out. I 
know i can grow vines that travel up though.  Also any fruit trees or 
bushes will be of low yield since they would only receive dappled light. 
Is the solution to just plant more?? Please tell me if what all I am 
saying is true? Also i am thinking this is a mesic oak hammock since we 
are on a lake but our house is not in a flood zone because we sit up in 
the hammock zone.  Hope that helps.



I like her approach. Compost and a big mix of seeds. My kind of growing.

There are two issues here that I can see. Let’s tackle them both

1: Too Much Shade

Oaks are hard to garden under, but I hate to remove them. I explore this conundrum and my thoughts on it in my book Compost Everything in the chapter on “Stupid Worthless Trees.”

I was joking when I called them stupid worthless trees, but that’s the way many people view big, “non-productive” trees. An oak or a maple or a sweetgum is viewed as worthless by many food growers because they aren’t good sources of food. Sure, you can eat acorns or tap maples, but the work involved with processing makes them a less-than-desirable source of food.

Jennifer has a different approach. She’s letting them drop leaves and feed the soil, which large trees are great at doing. They also support other species such as birds and mushrooms – sometimes even edible mushrooms – so they’re vital parts of the ecosystem.


This edible Lactarius indigo was discovered beneath an oak tree.

The problem is the shade they create. Gardening under oaks isn’t easy unless you’re growing shade-tolerant plants. I grew grape mahonias, pineapples and gingers under mine back in North Florida. Around the edges of oaks you can also grow citrus and other fruit trees provided they get enough light. It takes a lot of solar energy to get fruit-producing vegetables like squash, tomatoes, peppers, beans, etc., to make much worth eating.

Throwing down a lot of seeds is a good idea, though – Jennifer may discover some species which are more tolerant than others of the shade.

Sometimes you can strategically remove limbs and open up the canopy to keep things growing underneath.

Planting a big variety is a good idea. The area may not be as productive as it would be without the canopy, but the oaks will buffer the overnight lows during the winter and can help you push the zone, so there are benefits.

Research shade plants for your area, test lots of species, then see what flies.

2: Leaves Covering Everything

If you are starting plants from seeds, having a lot of leaves drop can crush out young seedlings and make it hard to get things started; however, if you plant seeds when leaf drop is minimal, the plants should get established before the leaves get too thick. Older plants will be fine and the leaves will feed their roots as they grow.


One of the things I love about mature trees is how many leaves they drop. Leaves are great food for the soil and your compost pile. Perennial vegetables are easier underneath oaks, which is one reason I loved ginger. It likes the shade and will grow through leaves without trouble.

Something worth doing: travel to local parks with natural woodlands and observe what is growing beneath the oaks in wild areas. See if you can mimic what is happening in your own yard. Look for species that are edible. Smilax? Try growing its cousin asparagus. Beautyberries? Sure, plant some of those! Violets? They’re a good edible. Wild blackberries? Plant some cultivated types. See if you can find patterns in nature and then put those patterns to work in your oak gardens.

It’s not easy to grow a garden under oak trees, but it’s not impossible. Keep planting and follow your intuition and your observations.

And have fun.




*Photo credit Robert Couse-Baker. CC license.

Cheap Cover Crops


Matt writes:

Don’t know why I never thought to plant dried beans and peas to be used as a cheap cover crop. Thanks @DavidTheGood for that.

Have some lentils, black beans, and black eyed peas rockin’. Check it!


You can grow beans, lentils, wheat, chick peas, buckwheat and all kinds of interesting things found in your local grocery store or in the bulk bins at an organic market.

Way cheaper than buying cover crop mixes for a small garden. Chop them down and plant into them and the roots and plants compost nicely into the ground and keep the soil ecology living and active.

In Memory of Gary


A few weeks ago I lost my friend Bill… and this last week I lost another friend. This friend was a fellow mad gardener who encouraged my love of science, nature and gardening when I was just a kid.

He wasn’t a famous guy, or a writer, or even a particularly coherent speaker. In fact, he looked homeless, often had a mongrel dog with him, and drove an assortment of battered vehicles loaded with all kinds of strange junk.

At my Grandpop Perry’s memorial service less than two years ago, he actually brought a big rubber snake with him and was teasing random children with it by pretending it was alive.

This didn’t happen during the service itself, fortunately. It was just after the burial. You should have met this guy – it would make sense.

Let me introduce you to Gary.


Last Chance Church

When I was a kid my Dad co-pastored Lauderdale Community Church in the Ft. Lauderdale area of South Florida.


Members often joked that the initials stood for “Last Chance Church,” and that if you couldn’t make it at LCC… you couldn’t make it anywhere.

Gary was a wild-eyed, gap-toothed guy with endless energy and a handshake that would crack your knuckles. He was in and out of LCC all the time and his fearsome appearance would startle those who weren’t familiar with his gentle interior.

Gary was born in ’52 so he was a couple of decades older than me, but when I was a kid he found out I had gotten a microscope for my birthday so he brought an old, worn vintage box of specimen slides to church as a gift for me.

Slides of mouse organ slices, to be precise. He fit in at LCC. We had former biker gang members, down-and-out single moms, great solid families with wonderful kids, islanders on their own time schedules, homeless people, missionaries, business owners, construction workers… if you showed up, you were family.

I have to share more stories about Gary though… ’cause it just gets better.

Crazy Plants and Custom Paint

Gary was always gardening.

He collected flowers and beach beans, palms and tropical fruit, vegetables and herbs and anything that grew. He showed me my first coontie palm and introduced me to the atala butterfly. He germinated lots of coontie seed and would plant them all over to attract the butterflies. Just a year or so ago he saved a pair of atala butterflies for me, carefully dried and placed in an envelope.

I wish I’d written him more often.

When I was a teen and gardening seriously, Gary would share seeds sometimes.

Once he brought me a baggie of red beans with white ridges he told me he got from some Thai friends. My guess is they were a type of lablab. “These grow real big,” he said.

I planted them in garden behind my parents’ house and ran some strings up the wall so they could climb. I assumed they wouldn’t get up to the roof but I was wrong. Those beans not only grow up and onto the roof, they covered a good chunk of it. As an experiment I ran another string from the eaves a good 30′ to the top of a flagpole… and the vines followed that all the way across. Then they created massive, rough, hairy pods loaded with beans. The trunks got to be at least an inch across, too. I’ve never seen beans like those… and I’ve never seen them again. Weevils ate my saved seeds and that was that.

Gary would show up sometimes when you didn’t expect him. I remember him showing up at my parents’ place once carrying a mug which he held out to my mom, grunting a single word. “Coffee!” She rolled her eyes, but got him coffee.

For a while Gary drove a huge battered old station wagon with faux wood paneling on the sides. Inside you’d find tools, camping gear and weird and random items like plastic lizards, coconuts, rope and scavenged bits and pieces.

He once asked if I’d paint a picture on the tailgate for him. I asked him what he wanted and he said, “fish, underwater.” So that’s what I painted. Now it was a big, battered, tasteless tan station wagon with an amateur painting of reef fish on the back. A thing of beauty!

Truck Trips and Expired Produce

ca77ebc8-4c7f-44d8-a92c-2aace2229a7bWhen I was in college I took care of a house for a while for a family and had some gardens going in the yard. Gary showed up one day and said “Hey – want manure?” I said yes… and he yanked two big recycling bins of elephant manure out of the back of his station wagon and dumped them in the side yard for me. “I can also get spoiled produce for compost,” he said, “I know a guy.”

And he did, because shortly after he showed up with boxes of rotten greens and fruit. When Gary knew you were interested in something, he would share it with you. His hands were always open, though he owned almost nothing himself. As best as I can tell, his income came from odd jobs and charity along with scrap-metal scrounging. Gary wasn’t the kind of guy that held down a job or was even really employable, though my friend Jack did hire him to drive a truck for his thrift store… which I’m sure was a loss.

I also worked at Jack’s thrift store when I was a teenager and often would go out on one of the trucks to pick up donations. A few times I got to go out when Gary was driving.

Gary would pack all the donation boxes up one side of the truck and every time he took a turn, some of them would fall over and crash in the back. Gary would wince and say “oops, oh man…” but didn’t re-stack the boxes.I have no idea why. It was like he thought they should just stay there and not fall over.

He was cut from a different piece of cloth.

Scratch that. He was made of something else entirely.

Jack… if you’re reading this… I probably owe you a few bucks. More than once, that thrift store truck ended up at some rare plant nursery or other out in Davie on our lunch breaks, which may have gone longer than they should have, occasionally.

Wild Orchids

One day when I wasn’t working, Gary showed up and we were talking about plants. He told me that there were native orchids that grew wild in Florida. I didn’t know that and asked him where. “Oh, out in the Everglades. And some even closer.”

“Where?” I pressed.

“Hey, I’ll show you.”


We got into his car and drove out to a gas station near my parents’ place. He said hi to the owner and asked if we could cut through the back. The owner waved us on, so we did. Behind that little gas station was some giant live oak trees. “Up there!” Gary said. I looked up… and sure enough, there were colonies of orchids growing in some of the long, rough, mossy branches.

Whether or not we threw things up there and dislodged some to plant elsewhere I will not share here.

He planted orchids – both wild and tame – here and there all over my grandparents’ backyard. Why my grandparents? Well…

Taming Gary

My Grandpa Greene was a respectable kind of guy who worked with his hands and believed every man could pull himself up by his bootstraps and nail down some sort of a living if he worked hard and learned some basic skills for dealing with people.

Keep your word, have a firm handshake, show up on time, work hard and do it again day after day.

He and my Grandma decided to rent a room to Gary for a while because Grandpa figured he could help Gary stop wandering about and skipping from thing to thing and get some solid work going.

It didn’t really work out that way, as containing Gary was like containing the wind.

Gary would work hard, but he also lived in a totally different world with totally different priorities. Keeping a job, dressing in an average manner, showing up on time… they just didn’t register with him.

He wasn’t lazy, he just lived in another sphere.

He planted orchids all over my grandparents’ backyard – which they didn’t mind. But he also planted loofah vines along the fence which rapidly consumed a chunk of the backyard and grew up into the trees. This was getting to be a bit too much for my Grandma, but the last straw was when Gary threw masses of Spanish moss into her backyard oak tree. She most definitely did NOT want Spanish moss in that tree, thank you very much, and she told Gary that enough was enough with his crazy gardening experiments!

Though my Grandpa tried to make a respectable working man out of Gary, it couldn’t be done. Eventually Gary found another place to stay, but my grandparents still had a soft spot for him and he was always welcome in their home.

While he was with them, Gary built a solid compost bin from cinderblocks. Though my grandparents had never composted before to my knowledge, they started thanks to Gary… and kept composting.

Insane Faith

People might think Gary was crazy. He was crazy, I guess, but in a good way. He had crazy faith.

One time he invited me to join him on a manure run. He had decided to get a bunch of horse manure from a ranch in Davie and thought I might want some for myself. I agreed and we took off in his battered station wagon.

As he drove, I noticed the gas tank gauge was all the way at empty. “Gary,” I said, “shouldn’t we get some gas?”

“Naw,” he said. “It’s fine.”

We drove further out into Davie and the tank was really looking way too low. I did not want to get stuck in the middle of nowhere.

“Gary, I really think we should get some gas.”

“Quit worryin’,” he said, “I told you it’s fine. I prayed o’er it.”

All that morning and afternoon we rode around on empty. We stopped here and there, made it to the ranch, loaded up with manure, and wandered here and there back… until I finally said, “Look, Gary – I’ve got five bucks! Just get some gas! I can’t take it!”

Gary shrugged and pulled into the next gas station. I pressed the $5 into his hand and he went inside.


A minute later he came back with a pack of cigarettes, then proceeded to put the rest of the $5 into the tank… something like $2!

“There,” he said.

I just shook my head. There was no one like this guy.

One time I watched him give away his lunch and his groceries to a single mom begging in front of Publix with a couple of kids.

I thought “she’s trying to scam us,” he thought “it doesn’t matter, I’m going to help.”

That humbled me.

Another time he stopped by the side of the road when we were in the big Thrift Store truck picking up a donation. A few children were playing there so he said “hi” and asked them if they knew his friend Jesus.

They shook their heads, probably a little taken aback by this fierce-looking stranger.

Gary said, “well, He’s the one that died to save us all. He’s the Son of God and sacrificed his life for you kids. If you believe in Him, you’ll go to Heaven. You need to ask your parents to take you to church, okay? Then you can learn more about Him. Ask your parents to go to church, alright?”

You might see Gary and think “this guy looks like a crazy homeless man in a less-than-roadworthy vehicle,” but I have a feeling God saw him in a very different manner.

I did too.

Once you knew him, his generosity, faith and loyalty were unmissable. He never fit in this world but I know there’s a place for him in the next.

Though he looked very serious in photos, in person he was more often than not sporting a wide grin. We lost one of the good guys this week.

After a battle with pneumonia, Gary passed away at the age of 64. A couple of days before he left, he told his mom that he thought he was going soon to heaven and really wanted to go.

Thank you, Gary, for everything. One day we shall meet again. Say hi to Bill for me.


*            *             *


O Lord, our Lord,
    how majestic is your name in all the earth!
You have set your glory above the heavens.
    Out of the mouth of babies and infants,
you have established strength because of your foes,
    to still the enemy and the avenger.

When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
    the moon and the stars, which you have set in place,
what is man that you are mindful of him,
    and the son of man that you care for him?

Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings
    and crowned him with glory and honor.
You have given him dominion over the works of your hands;
    you have put all things under his feet,
all sheep and oxen,
    and also the beasts of the field,
the birds of the heavens, and the fish of the sea,
    whatever passes along the paths of the seas.

O Lord, our Lord,
    how majestic is your name in all the earth!

-Psalm 8, ESV

Growing Potatoes to Feed the Soil


Bruce at RED Gardens makes some interesting observations:

I like the way this guy thinks. Worms love rotting organic material. At first, I would be quite frustrated by losing all those potatoes to slugs… but, as you can see, that loss wasn’t really a complete loss.

It makes me wonder if if would be worth reclaiming sub-par starchy vegetables and smashing them up to add to the soil in some beds. A lot of potatoes get thrown into the dumpsters behind grocery stores.

Don’t ask me how I know that.

Fermented Plant Juice


This is similar to the Korean Natural Farming method of fermenting plant material anaerobically:

Multiple comments beneath the video claim that it IS the same method, but it isn’t.

Screen Shot 2017-03-24 at 3.25.00 PM

This Hawaiian technique for creating fermented plant juice uses a lot of sugar and lacks leaf mould and sea salt. I am curious if it works well.

Some commenters claim it has done miracles for their gardens.

Youtuber Tom Fisher writes:

“I used your FPJ made out of Henbit and raw sugar and mixed it with EM1 and Bokashi Juice. The first spraying was FPJ and BJ. The plants took off right away. AMAZING!!! I sprayed our, and my neighbors flowers and shrubs with it and they are gorgeous! My garlic is over 30″ tall and my strawberries are a foot tall have have more flowers on them than I have ever seed in my life on strawberry plants. Thanks for an excellent video. You are a blessing to me and my family. Blessings to you!! My next batch will be Comfrey or Purslane.”

I may have to do a side-by-side test of methods to see how this works compared to the JADAM method.

Many compost tea enthusiasts will tell you that anaerobic fermentation is a bad practice, yet my own experiments have shown it to be a good source of soil fertility, particularly when compost supplies are low or you are gardening in sandy soil and need to optimize plant nutrition.

Pulling a bunch of materials from a wide range of plants is good for minerals.

Not having to bother with stirring or a bubbler or rapid application after creation is labor-saving.

So… I’m on the anaerobic train. Darn the microbes – full speed ahead!

I am gratified to see my own experience and experiments are backed up by both traditional Korean and Hawaiian practices.

Compost Everything!

The Potential for a Compost Water Heater


Yesterday I walked up to the big galvanized compost pile I created and was amazed by how much heat was radiating from it.

That’s the pile I built in this video:

It got me thinking again for the umpteenth time about the potential for heating water with a compost pile.

At our house there is a sweet solar water heater on the roof which provides abundant hot water… except on rainy days. The compost pile made me wonder: what if the water from that heater were backed up by a compost pile water heater like this article describes:

“…the basic idea behind a compost water heater is that tubing is coiled throughout the compost pile and then filled with water, which in turn is heated by the compost pile.

As the below image illustrates, cold water goes into the coiled tube and hot water comes out. Not only that but it’s also possible to extract methane gas from the compost pile, which can then be used for cooking or heating.

Thermal compost pile

Looking back at the work of Jean Pain, his compost piles built with wood chips were massive. In some cases, he was employing 60 tons of compost in a single pile to provide his energy needs. More recently, however, experiments have used piles that are as small as 6’ x 6’ to create a similar effect. Some of these modern piles are producing temperatures of 150°F or more.

The trick to improving the original design is the use of more polyethylene tubing. In the typical 6’ x 6’ compost pile mentioned above, you might expect to use at least 300 feet of 1 inch diameter polyethylene tubing. This tubing is carefully coiled and layered in between the layers of compost to repeatedly heat the water as it moves through the various layers of the coil system.

As a general rule, the pile will start with a compressed layer of compost followed by a layer of coiled tubing followed by a layer of compressed compost until you reach the desired height.

Since a compost water heater does not have a hot water tank, the tubing becomes the “tank” in this example. This means that the more tubing you use, the more hot water you will have available at a given time. Think long, relaxing shower versus being the last one in the house to get a shower before work.”


Just thoughts for now.

Using Seaweed in the Garden


A nice afternoon led to a good video on using seaweed in the garden:

Enjoy. I’m going to write a much longer post on this topic for The Grow Network soon.

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