Termite Nest Potting Soil Insanity

termite-nest-homemade-potting-soil

I read in an ECHO publication that you can use termite nests to feed crops.

Proving that a little bit of knowledge is a dangerous thing, that made me decide to do this:

These acts of Termitidae terrorism were perpetrated for the purpose of making potting soil.

I smashed us two termite nests over a tarp, then put the contents into a couple of buckets.

termite-nest-homemade-potting-soil

Looks like good material for a garden… or for potting soil, doesn’t it? I mean, massive swarms of tiny termites aside.

I’ve made/stretched potting soil before and did a video on it a few months back:

That previous batch of potting soil wasn’t totally from scratch. So while looking around for good fillers, my eyes fell on the big conehead termite nests down in the cocoa orchard.

Perfect!

What I didn’t expect was how interested the local wasps would be in these termite nests.

You need to watch the video to see just how crazy things got.

Anyhow, I figured the wasps would clear out after they’d eaten all the termites. I was wrong.

Check out this update video I posted yesterday – the wasps are still at it!

Hopefully they calm down eventually. You can see the various ingredients I mixed to make potting soil, which leads us to

My Experimental Homemade Potting Soil Recipe

 

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Ingredients:

 

Smashed arboreal termite nests

Biochar (mostly from bamboo) charged with urine, seawater and Epsom Salts

Sifted compost

Rotted wood

Cow manure

Sifted grit

 

Directions:

 

Mix ingredients together on a tarp, smashing occasionally with your feet. Try to avoid getting carried off and/or stung to death by the ravenous swarm of wasps eating the termite nests. Wait until night when the wasps go home and pot your plants.

Serves 30 seedlings or 1,000,000 wasps.

 

Final Thoughts

At first I was happy the wasps were eating the termites, as my chickens were too dumb to come when I called.

Now, after a few days, as the crowd of wasps continues unabated, I’m concerned they may be eating up the termite nests themselves. Not sure. I talked to a local farmer today and he said something in broken termite nests always attracts the wasps.

I’m not surprised they keep coming as the termite nests smell surprisingly sweet, similar to a bee colony. That I did not expect.

Anyhow, I’m probably just going to pot plants in the dark if these wasps don’t go away soon. They’re really overwhelming.

Nature is nuts.

Germinating Peach Pits is Easy: Check Out These Pics

sprouting-peach-pits-2

My video on germinating peach pits has garnered almost 30,000 views since I posted it back in July:

Since posting that instructional video, I have received multiple comments and emails from people thanking me for showing them how to grow their own peaches from seeds.

My friend Amanda, who is NOT obsessed with me at all, sent me these two pictures recently of her peach sprouting success:

sprouting-peach-pits-1 sprouting-peach-pits-2

Some years ago I discovered in some dusty corner of the internet that peach pits require cold stratification to germinate.

I put this knowledge to the test with great success, starting about 50 peach pits I found beneath an abandoned and squirrel-ravaged Tropic Beauty peach growing a few miles from my old place in North Florida.

SproutingPeachPits

I did this despite the fact that there are hordes of small-minded gardeners in the world who take great pleasure in lecturing everyone about the utter worthlessness of starting fruit trees from seed.

These people are wrong. And boring. And stupid. And they smell.

Here’s a video I did showing some of my seed-grown peach trees in fruit:

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And here are two pictures of some of the delicious fruit I got as a result of germinating peach pits in my very own refrigerator:

lovelypeaches2 lovelypeaches3

In their SECOND year, my two seedling peach trees produced about five gallons of fruit. They continued to massively outproduce the grafted peach trees I planted before them, plus they grew with more vigor.

Growing fruit trees from seed isn’t a dumb thing to do. It’s a great thing to do. It’s a YUGE, high energy thing to do.

Sometimes the “experts” aren’t really experts. They’re just people who say things adamantly because they’ve heard other people say the same things.

Heck with that.

Better Gardening Through Experimentation isn’t just a film I made… it’s my modus operandi.

Thanks for the pictures, Amanda, and may your peaches grow and produce abundantly.

Finally, here’s how you germinate peach pits:

GrowAPeachPit-Update

Have fun!

Supercharging Garden Beds with Biochar and Compost

DaveTurningCompost

Biochar and compost, my friends. That’s what I’m doing this time.

And… freshly tilled garden beds are irresistible to chickens. Little punks.

biochar and compost and a chicken

Yesterday I shared how we started working the garden beds, along with a video. Today I have a follow-up video, plus a deeper look at my experiments.

After seeing Steven’s success with biochar and leeks – and after getting really sick and tired of how gluey the clay can get here – I’ve decided to make lots of charcoal to add to my beds.

biochar and compost

I did an open burn and managed to get over 15 gallons of biochar. It’s mostly from fast-burning materials like palm fronds and bamboo, with a big of hardwood and random sticks thrown in.

Charging Biochar

If you throw charcoal directly into your beds it soaks up the minerals for a time, lowering or even eliminating your yields; however, if you “charge” it first with some minerals and nitrogen, it acts like a reserve in the soil. Or that’s the theory as I understand it.

Being rather insane, I decided to soak the biochar in seawater and Epsom salt. And urine. And some compost. I only soaked it for a couple of hours, though, which may not be enough.

Biochar wasn’t the only amendment I added to the garden beds. I also sifted some compost with my redneck compost sifter, AKA a carefully bent hunk of hardware cloth:

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redneck-compost-sifter

Some of the compost is being reserved for a new batch of potting soil I’m going to make to pot up some of my compost pile fruit trees, but some of it we put in the garden beds along with the biochar. Biochar and compost – what a wonderful combination!

Rachel helped with this part, even after all her vigorous broadforking.

putting-biochar-and-compost-in-garden-beds

There are few things I enjoy more than working in the garden with my wife.

Having a task in front of us and getting it done together is better than watching a movie or hanging around smoking a hookah. I think. We’ve never actually smoked a hookah together, so that’s just conjecture, really.

Next on the agenda is planting… when we do that, I’ll share it as well.

Stay warm and have a great Sunday. We’ve been unable to make it to church for weeks now due to our car and I really miss it. I hope you are part of a good fellowship… and also have a working vehicle. Eventually we’ll be back to our normal Sabbath routine. Not worried. We have food, gardens, a beach within two miles walk… hard to feel too bad about a busted car.

And we definitely have “two or more gathered together” in the name of Jesus here on our homestead.

 

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul: He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.

Back to Pumpkin Breeding

Two-crazy-pumpkins

I was unable to continue the Seminole pumpkin breeding project I began last year for a couple of reasons.

  1. We sold our property in Florida and missed the spring of 2016
  2. Bringing seeds into our new country legally is difficult

I could have snuck some seeds in with me (as one native told me, roughly, “no one expects you’ll follow those rules! You got to stick them in your clothes, in your pockets!”) but I couldn’t in good conscience sign a piece of paper on the plane stating I wasn’t bringing in plant material while bringing in plant material.

I’m hoping to get a special permit to bring in my Seminole pumpkin seed lines but thus far have been denied because the seeds are not “professionally cleaned” and packaged. Since they’re my own line of seeds, saved right from the guts of pumpkins and spread out to dry on a kitchen countertop, they definitely aren’t professionally cleaned. I’m not sure why this is important but I assume it has to do with the potential for viruses to some into the country, which would be terrible for local farmers. I’m okay with it – eventually they may let me bring some in if I meet the right people and/or figure out a way around the issue of cleaning.

For now, I’m gathering varieties of local pumpkin from the markets as I spot them.

Pumpkins like the one I just posted on my Instagram account yesterday:

Isn’t that beautiful?

This is the pumpkin I also feature in yesterday’s video, where I talk more about my plans to breed better varieties:

When life doesn’t let you take your Seminole pumpkin breeding project with you… make lemonade!

Or something like that.

Growing Hops in Florida?

growing-hops-in-florida

My friend Pastor Joel just shared a picture of his happily growing hops in Florida:

growing-hops-in-florida

For home brewers, hops are very important. They give beer its unique flavor, balancing the sweetness of the fermented malt with their clean and evocative bitterness.

Growing hops in Florida is generally not done. Hops grow in colder climates, which makes sense since the best beers are usually crafted in temperate Europe.

My friend Bruce Bethke (who is a more famous writer than myself… and the one who urged me to write and not look back) grows hops in his Minnesota garden. The roots are frozen beneath the ice all winter.

That’s a far cry from Joel’s garden in the Gainesville area… yet Joel has gotten a half-pound of hops in his very first year of growing hops in Florida!

Growing Hops in Florida: How Joel Did It

 

I asked Joel how he grew these hops since I was wondering if the hot sun of Florida might be too much for them. Apparently not! Joel writes:

“Planted them along a full sun south facing fence running up bamboo. Only got about 10 feet in length but should do better 2nd year. No problem with pests at all.”

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Some years ago I bought some hops roots from a large mail order nursery and planted them along my fence. They never got taller than a few feet and ended up dying after the first year or so. The problem in that case, in part, was that they were “out of sight, out of mind,” and didn’t get cared for.

The other part was that they lacked much vigor at the onset. When I first planted them they got water, mulch and compost… but still just crept along. I didn’t baby them after the first few months and they never really got going. I don’t think they were from good stock.

Joel is a meticulous and methodical gardener. He has been making plenty of compost from the abundance of fallen leaves drifting into his yard, plus he has deep mulched his gardens and mixed in old chicken manure and kitchen scraps.

We shall see how these Florida hops do in future years, but I’d say if anyone could pull them off, it would be Joel.

After all, have you seen his homemade kegorator?

Anyone else have experience growing hops in Florida?

I would love to hear your story – please share in the comments.

Gardening Serendipity

St_Petersburg_Garden_Collards

Sometimes, all you need to do is steer while nature drives.

Or, as in the case of these cantaloupe seedlings, splatter a rotten cantaloupe across the ground and wait.

Splatter-planted-cantelopes

You can see us planting these cantaloupes in a recent video where Rachel and I decided to see how crazy we could get with scattered seeds.

You always get the best pumpkins, melons and tomatoes from your compost pile. They seem to like to sit in the remnants of the previous year’s rotting fruit.

Take this pumpkin growing on our fence.

Pumpkin-on-fence

We didn’t plant that. All I did was spot the little seedling there and make sure I missed it with the string trimmer. I have no idea what kind of pumpkin this is. It looks different than the tropical pumpkin leaves I’ve seen. We had nothing to do with it. My guess is that the previous tenants fed the guts of a pumpkin to their chickens some time last year… and then the rainy season awakened one of those seeds.

Since we’re on the topic of serendipity, I was given some yard long been seeds by a friend. Since I injured my hand before I could finish the bean trellis, two of my sons finished it for me and then planted the seeds. They have already started coming up and look beautiful.

Emerging-yard-long-bean

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Beside the bamboo bean trellis, the second generation of purple podded Roma beans are also emerging.

Purple-beans-emerging

Our pastor also gave us some Malabar spinach cuttings and their vines are reaching for the sky.

Malabar-spinach

Quite a beautiful vegetable.

One final bit of fun: if you have read my book Grow or Die: The Good Guide to Survival Gardening, you probably remember the appendix on planting a garden from your pantry.

Just for the heck of it, I’ve decided to demonstrate this idea in one of our garden beds.

To do so, I bought a 13 bean soup mix which is basically a bag of dried beans with a seasoning packet. I’m going to plant them all in a garden bed soon… and create The 13 Bean Soup Garden!

Why not? My luck has held so far.

Except with a machete.

Tropical corn experiment: round 1 is concluded

Local-grain-corn tropical corn

The first round of tropical corn has come in with mixed results. This was the corn we planted along with pigeon peas like so:

Pigeon_Pea_Corn_Intercrop_In_Stations

I was urged by a local farmer to give them fertilizer — chemical fertilizer – but instead, I gave them compost tea. Unfortunately, I did not give them enough. I planted more than I could take care of and overestimated the time I would have available. It turns out that moving to a completely new homestead in a new country also requires lots of time in paperwork, errands, hunting down tools, and just generally getting settled. With that in mind, the next patch I plant will be closer to the house.

The pigeon peas are looking great. Another farmer told me I will have peas by Christmas.  The great thing about pigeon peas: they make their own nitrogen! That means they didn’t suffer from the lack of nutrition like the corn did. Next on the agenda is removing the old cornstalks and dropping them as mulch. There is a lot of string trimmer weeding that needs to take place thanks to the huge weed growth resulting from our monsoon rains.

The Missouri pipe corn had a lot of trouble with rotting. Many of the ears were worthless and quite a few stalks failed to produce any ears at all. We did get a few great big ones, though, so I have seed to try again.

The local grain corn we planted down the hillside, as seen in the image at the top of this post, did not have any rotting problems. There was a lot of rain. The problem we had with that corn was rats.

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In my latest video you can see what they were doing to the corn:

What I found interesting about this tropical corn variety was its ability to still set plenty of kernels even though some of the ears were quite small. This has not been the case with previous varieties I’ve grown such as Tex Cuban and Hickory King. If the ears are small on those, they often had pollination issues and few kernels.

I’m not sure why the pollination seemed to be so good on this hillside corn patch but my guess is because of the excellent breezes. Corn is a wind pollinated species.

In my next corn patch, I’m going to mix the local grain corn with the Missouri pipe corn and select for large ears.

Wish me luck. It ought to at least be entertaining – and I will feed them a lot more nitrogen this time.

My Experimental Pumpkin Hills

Pumpkin-hill

I have been experimenting with pumpkin hills. Since I believe the soil here is acid, though I can’t prove that via a pH test yet, I am starting my melon and pumpkin hills by starting a fire first. Then I fork in some half-finished compost and water with compost tea. The first experimental pumpkin hill looks like this now:

expeirmental Pumpkin hill

You can see me do this in this recent video:

A native farmer told me that he always burns a brush pile and then plants watermelons. The Seminole pumpkins I planted when I got here on melon pits containing fresh cow manure did terribly. As they moved away from their source of fertility, the vines got scrawnier and scrawnier and only one of them actually produced a pumpkin. A tiny, tiny pumpkin.

tiny-seminole-pumpkin2

tiny-seminole-pumpkin1Pathetic!

These were Seminole pumpkins from ECHO and might have been from a less vigorous genetic line, but I believe the real problem was soil nutrition, the thick clay, the rapid growth of weeds around the original pits, and acid soil.

I visited a local farm and saw big tropical pumpkins growing in big rambling masses of green down the sides of the hill.

Here are some curing:

More-tropical-pumpkins Tropical-pumpkins

They may be better adjusted to the climate or there’s something about growing pumpkins here I don’t know yet. My new method is to take some breadfruit leaves or banana leaves pile little sticks on top of it, light it, then douse the fire with compost tea. I also work in some rough compost from my compost bed in the main gardens.

The pumpkins I planted in the video are already coming up and they look very nice.

Pumpkin-sprout

I am hoping for my own pumpkin covered mountainside.

Growing pumpkins is a passion. I don’t even like the way they taste very much, except for the very good Seminole pumpkins I grew back in North Florida. It’s just… they’re awesome to grow. The fruits can be massive. The vines are terrifying in their growth rate. The blooms are beautiful. And the grand variety of sizes, colors, and shapes that can be found in pumpkin cultivars is breathtaking.

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For those of you who have grown pumpkins in Florida or in other tropical climates, does anyone know if there is a good C. maxima type that will take the heat and humidity?

My best luck has been with members of the C. agyrosperma and C. moschata groups… but there are some beautiful pumpkins in the C. maxima clan. Back in Tennessee I grew Golden Hubbard winter squash which were a lot of fun. That was the variety I first planted on my original melon pits which ended up earning their place in Compost Everything… and which I show off in ridiculous fun in Compost Everything: The Movie.

I like the great, big, beautiful slate blue original Hubbard squash but they are hard to find seeds for anymore… thank goodness for Baker Creek.

I found a nice fat butternut squash in a local grocery and have saved seeds from that.

Nice-butternut

I also saved the seeds from the tiny Seminole pumpkin and my wife and children are actually planting them down the hill as I type.

Why, you may ask? Why am I not down the hill planting pumpkins?

Well, I sustained a rather severe injury to my hand and it’s currently immobilized in a cast. Rachel isn’t letting me do anything right now and she is the nurse. You’ll see what I did in a video later this week and I’m going to have Rachel reenact the injury as me.

It’s going to be hilarious.

When life gives you injuries, make YouTube videos.

In case you wanted to know, yes, it was machete related.

Pro tip: you won’t finish your yard-long bean trellis if you sever a couple of tendons in the middle of the job.

Back to pumpkins.

As survival foods go, winter squash and pumpkins are a must have. Varieties such as the Seminole pumpkin are particularly valuable since they store for a long period of time.

Many of the tropical pumpkins I’ve tasted, such as calabazas, do not have excellent flavor and tend to have stringy flesh. I have been collecting local varieties from the market and from farmers and hope to rectify this through selecting pumpkins with superior flavor and texture. We shall see.

Getting them planted properly to begin with on a fertile hill of compost and ashes seems to be key, though I have just started and am still learning from the natives.

If I can just stop injuring myself and recover, I’m going to transform this mountainside.

Inga Alley Cropping

inga alley cropping

I never heard of Inga alley cropping until a week ago. Now I’m somewhat obsessed with it.

 

 

One of the benefits of sharing my videos and posts publicly is the interaction I get to have with other people.

In this video I mention how I intercropped my corn and pigeon peas in imitation of the natives:

In response, a YouTuber commented:

Screen Shot 2016-07-23 at 8.23.49 PM

Here’s the video he mentioned on inga alley cropping:

Now I’m not ignorant of alley cropping as a useful agricultural method, particularly on slopes. I’ve done some study on Sloping Agricultural Land Technology (SALT) since moving here and realizing what a pain in the neck it is to garden on an incline and how important it is to maintain the soil and keep it from rapidly washing away downhill and into the river.

What I was ignorant about was how useful Inga species are. The only one I knew about – and which I have sadly not been able to find here – is the “ice cream bean” tree beloved of Geoff Lawton. It’s a nitrogen-fixing with edible pulp in the pods and a rapid growth that makes it excellent for establishing a food forest canopy and as a nurse tree to less vigorous species.

Chasing Down More on Inga Alley Cropping

I responded to Alex on Youtube:

“Alex – thank you for the link. I’ve used “chop-n-drop” in my previous food forest systems but hadn’t considered the possibilities for weed reduction via deliberately growing trees like that. Love the idea and will see if I can find a place to test it. The corn and pigeon peas mix is the way the natives grow them. I am learning what they do here first, then doing my own experiments on the side.”

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In response he wrote:

“Well, if you love this idea I might as well point you in the right direction for further research. Mike Hands pioneered this system over 20 years ago as a way to stop the destructive pressure of slash and burn ag on tropical rain forests. He has an NGO dedicated to spreading the technique. http://www.ingafoundation.org/

The best manual put out on the technique IMO is Integrated Farming Manual available for free here http://www.yaaxche.org/files/Agromanual2014.pdf. The manual was put out by the Ya’axché Conservation Trust and the Maya Mountain Research Farm. The Maya Mountain Research Farm in Southern Belize is a great place to visit to see the technique in action and to learn about all their successes and mistakes they have made in the last 25 years.

That might help you succeed and save you a few years of making various mistakes, well worth the trip. http://www.mmrfbz.org/

That’s not too far away from me; however, it’s really hard to access… definitely would be an adventure. I would love to visit at some point. For now, I’m hunting down more on Inga alley cropping.

More Video

 

Here’s a fascinating video on how inga alley cropping is being put into action to save rainforests in Honduras:

I could see systems like this being put in place in sandy Florida plots in order to improve the soil rapidly and build biomass. You could cut the trees to make biochar as well. You could do this with moringa, leucana, heck, even mulberry! You won’t get the nitrogen fixation but you would get the shade and the valuable dropped mulch on the ground.

I have identified a species of Inga in the local jungle which I believe to be Inga oerstediana. It’s in bloom right now… when it sets pods, you can guess what I’ll be doing with the seeds.

So many ideas… I feel like I’m going to leave this mortal coil long before I explore all the many trails of research I wish to pursue.

Anyone else ready to go out and start planting tight rows of trees in your gardens? Anyone?

For more on Inga Alley Cropping, there’s a lot of info here:

Inga Alley Cropping

Update on Growing Cherries and Almonds in Florida

AlmondsCherriesReceipt

Carrie writes:

What ever happened with your cherry and almond trees? I haven’t seen
any posts on them since 2014.”

Answer:

I sold the farm and don’t know.

.

.

.

Just kidding.

I do know how they were doing when I left and I can share that.

Here’s the report

 

MinnieRoyalCherry

Minnie Royal

Of the cherries and almonds I planted, all the ones from Willis Orchards, with the exception of the Coral Champagne (which is still sickly), kicked off.

The two trees I got from Grow Organic, however: “Minnie Royal” and “Royal Lee,” were doing fine. The Minnie Royal was twice the size of the Royal Lee for some reason, at about 10′ tall when we moved.

No blooms or fruit on either tree this spring. I hope to get a field report from our old homestead/food forest soon along with some photos.

Good nursery stock makes a big difference in how things grow. I won’t buy from Willis Orchards again but my respect for Grow Organic keeps increasing. They have great seeds, tools and trees. I’ve been more than happy with every purchase and recommend them without reserve. Their bareroot trees have all lived and thrived.

Good stock.

I tried intergrafting sweet cherries with wild black cherry and didn’t have any luck. The grafts looked like they were taking, then all died, so it appears the reports on incompatibility are true.

I may have a sweet cherry that took on a wild plum stock, though, but I can’t check on it now.

Unfortunately for science, my days of experimenting with cherries and almonds in Florida have come to a close, as has my apple experiment.

AppleOrchardPlanted

We’ll see if the new owner has any success. I hope so!

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For now, I’m germinating apple seeds here and hope to start growing them in the full tropics. That will be fun.

Nostalgia

 

Sometimes I really miss my gardens and food forest… like today, as I’m thinking on the many experiments and trees I planted.

GardensFebruary2015-4

I would really love it if a good photographer could go over there and film some videos and take lots of photos so I can see how everything is going.

It was truly turning into a garden of Eden. So much life – and knowing that it started as a weedy, sandy yard baked by the hot Florida sun… and was then transformed into a model food forest for Florida… and that I left it behind… well, sometimes it gets to me a bit.

SwallowtailMonarchWeeds

But only for a few minutes. I’m looking out my office window at a big jackfruit hanging on the limb of the jackfruit tree. Next to it is a towering banana tree and behind that is a view of the mountains draped in misty clouds.

I miss my food forest but I’m also quite content here. There’s just a bit of nostalgia and a feeling that there were so many threads left untied back in Florida. Watching the video tour of my yard now seems like a different life.

And I know, this sounds like a stupid complaint, but…

Gardening is too easy here!

 

I’m used to a bazillion bugs and nasty freezes. Here I haven’t seen a single pest on my tomato plants… or a stink bug on my beans… or the remnants of a racoon-ravaged pineapple in the yard.

Too. Easy.

You just plant things and they grow. Heck, I stuck twigs from a katuk tree in the ground along the fence line and they all rooted. That’s ridiculous. I used to have to care for them like babies in Florida. The hot sun and the dry sand did in a lot of my cuttings… and the winter will happily take the rest of them if you don’t keep them in a very sheltered location.

Okay, I’m done.

Pardon my stupid complaints. I am a foolish and fallen creature. I need to get outside and work in the gardens. There are weeds taking over the cucumber beds and the field corn right now, so all isn’t truly perfect in paradise.

Have a great Thursday… until tomorrow, enjoy the video on super easy composting I posted yesterday – and remember, the new episode of Totally Crazy Easy Gardening comes out this afternoon at 2:30PM.

 

UPDATE @10:45AM: I bumped the next episode of Totally Crazy Easy Gardening to tomorrow afternoon in favor of another video featuring Rachel picking wild greens and weeds for dinner. You’re going to like it.

 

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