Organic Gardening
Get dirty, have fun and grow more food with great gardening tips from real-life gardeners.

Recycling in the Garden


Recycled materials can create a stunning garden entry. Photo by Ron Wynn.

We're big on gardening around here. These days there are just the two of us; still, we have about 5400 square feet of gardening space, and we fill it up with veggies and fruits.

After spending a staggering amount of money and time building a protective deer fence (after all, who wants to put all that effort into gardening only to have wildlife get to its reward before you do?), we wanted our garden to be as visually stunning as it is productive.

But after the fence expenses, we needed frugal decorative gardening options. Here’s how we found a new home in our garden for objects that might otherwise have been discarded and a few tips for finding free or inexpensive décor for your own garden.

Recycled Raised Beds and Paths

Our garden is on the side of a mountain, so we terraced it with raised beds. We think raised beds are best for lots of reasons, including easy access for aging bodies. We had lots of old pine siding sitting around from a recent home renovation and decided to use them for temporary terraced raised beds, at least temporarily. They’ve held up just fine for several years now.

With raised beds, we needed pathways. Our electric cooperative kindly dumped shredded material from clearing under our power lines. No cost and an excellent foundation for our formerly muddy paths. We saved something from the landfill in the process.

Garden Gate

Our deer fence needed a gate. If it wasn’t a tall one, deer and raccoons would have an open invitation. We had an old storm door we thought would be just perfect—and it was. After removing the glass and screening, we built a lattice panel, attached it with screws, stained it to match the frame, and added a lock. Done!

The lattice was a nice touch, but our unique gate still looked bland. We lucked out when we found an inexpensive ‘Grow’ sign made from copper tubing and an old spigot in a nearby consignment shop. It was the perfect touch. garden gate decor

Turn an unused storm door into a deer-proof garden gate. Photo by Ron Wynn.

Growing Vertically on the Cheap

We transformed discarded wire fence and some extra PVC pipe into an arch for beans and flowering vines. Just inside our gate, this flower-covered arch is a welcoming focal point for visitors.

By saving a few pruned tree branches, we created a no-cost bean tepee. You can't beat vertical for pole beans and vining plants like cucumbers and winter squash. We had a couple of discarded A-frame metal store displays lying around. We set them in the ground and voilà!

recycled vertical frame

You can find all kinds of interesting things for vertical growing. Photo by Carole Coates

Growing vertically is not only saves space; it’s another back saver. We began spotting potential trellises in all sorts of places. A country auction house near here is a terrific place for interesting finds. We bought wrought iron door shutters for five dollars apiece—an upscale trellis for gourds and nasturtiums. 

recycled door shutters

Wrought-iron decorative door shutters add a touch of elegance as a garden trellis. Photo by Ron Wynn.

More Finds

We used T-posts from our former backyard fence to stake tall, gangly plants. Left over concrete blocks from a building project served double duty as a raised bed frame and planting pockets for marigolds, an important companion plant.

We found an iron bed for only twenty dollars at our favorite auction site. Purely decorative for the flower ‘bed’ we wanted to encourage pollinators, but a nice whimsical touch.

Scrounging Decorative Items

When my mother downsized, she left a couple of shepherd staffs and some yard art, elements that added more whimsy in our garden. That inspired me to scour our home for decorative items that might add pleasant surprises to the garden, like the six-inch-long painted metal butterfly I attached to the rail of the iron bed. It looks so real that it catches unsuspecting visitors off guard every time. 

recycled flower bed

Flower 'bed' with whimsical grasshopper is ready for planting. Photo by Carole Coates


With all that savings, we felt justified splurging on a perfect-for-us garden-themed bench that came up for auction one lucky night. Even so, it only set us back thirty-five dollars. One day we'll spiff it up, but just as it is, it's an ideal place to sit and survey our gorgeous garden.

Something for Everyone

Everyone's garden finds will be different. It's all a matter of what’s available, what interests you, and how much imagination you bring to the project. Perhaps our experience can get your creative juices flowing.

What have you done to improve your garden through frugality? How about sharing your tips to give readers even more ideas?

Carole Coates is a gardener and food preservationist, family archivist, essayist, poet, photographer, modern homesteader. You can follow her Mother Earth News blog posts here. You can also find Carole at Living On the Diagonal where she shares her take on life, including modern homesteading, food preparation and preservation, and travel as well random thoughts and reflections, personal essays, poetry, and photography.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Grow North America’s Native Honeysuckle for Non-Invasive, Long-Lasting Color


Nowadays when someone mentions honeysuckle, they’re usually complaining about that sweetly fragrant, infuriatingly invasive thug from Asia, Lonicera japonica, aka ‘Japanese Honeysuckle’, that’s taking over their woodlands. I am delighted to discuss here a little-known native Coral Honeysuckle, Lonicera sempervirens, that you may make a nice home for in your own garden.

Growing Coral Honeysuckle

I’ve been growing and propagating this very manageable vine for decades and it’s still on my favorites list. I have it planted every 24 inches along a 7 ½-foot high deer fence, and the deer have not found it to their liking, never even nibbling on it.

As an experiment, I tried growing it without support and found that the vine makes an interesting groundcover as it sprawls over the earth.

Although a woodland plant, I’ve concluded that the flowering is much more profuse when given some sun. On the pure species, the trumpet-shaped clusters of long-lasting flowers are a coral color and appear from May through June.

Their beauty forgives their lack of fragrance, at least to us homo sapiens that is. I’ve observed the flowers visited by a vast array of pollinators, including hummingbirds, butterflies and various species of bees. There are several named selections, Nativars, that range from bright red to bright yellow.

Easy to Propogate, Easy to Share

Should you find the need to prune it back, it’s best to wait until flowering has finished. And don’t you dare throw away those prunings as Lonicera sempervirens is a very easy plant to root and you know that all of your friends will want one after they see yours blooming! You can also preserve genetic diversity by propagating it from seeds.

If you have a trellis, arbor, or fence begging for some color, this is the plant for you, or you could just let it run free, rambling over a rock wall or a berm.

Pest- and Disease-Resistance

Average soil moisture and texture suits Lonicera sempervirens just fine. If the weather gets droughty, give it a bit of water and keep it mulched. Lonicera sempervirens doesn’t seem to have any insect, pest or disease problems, in fact, I’ve never even seen aphids on it. The genus Lonicera is named for the German botanist Adam Lonitzer (1528 to 1586), and the species name, sempervirens, which directly translated from Latin means “always green”, is kind of a misnomer up north: it does behave deciduously.

Till our next horticultural excursion.

Barry Glick, a transplanted Philadelphian, has been residing in Greenbrier County, W.V., since 1972. His mountaintop garden and nursery at Sunshine Farm & Gardens is a mecca for gardeners from virtually every country in the world. Barry writes and lectures extensively about native plants and Hellebores, his two main specialties, and welcomes visitors with advance notice. Reach Barry at and 304-497-2208. Read all of his MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Using the Garden Planner to Make the Most of Your Garden

Photo by Getty Images/youngvet.

Our Garden Planner can help you plan your garden efficiently so you can make best use of the space you have and avoid wasting time or resources.

When you set your location the Garden Planner looks up your local frost dates and uses this to recommend ideal planting dates and estimate harvest times. If necessary, you can also edit the frost dates to more accurately represent your garden’s microclimate. Hot climate gardeners can split the growing season into two to avoid growing cool-season crops during the hottest part of the year.

Layout your garden with paths, beds and containers, include compost bins and water barrels, and mark the location of irrigation lines and plant supports. Choose from hundreds of different fruits, veggies, herbs and flowers. The Garden Planner calculates how many plants can be grown in the space you have without overcrowding. As you add plants, the Plant List makes planning your sowing and planting accurate and simple by displaying precisely how many plants are in your plan, and their recommended spacings and planting times.

A Parts List of equipment is also shown in every plan that includes ‘Garden Objects,’ which is very useful when planning, for example, irrigation, which has lots of component parts.

The Garden Planner makes it easy to grow using the Square Foot Gardening method too. Click on the SFG button and add plants. The planner will automatically calculate how many plants may be grown in each square foot.

You can plan SFG plants and plants with standard spacings, for instance fruit bushes and larger vegetables, on the same plan. Click on the SFG button to switch between SFG and normal spacings.

Planning succession planting is easy with the Garden Planner. Double-click on the plant in your plan, then set its in-ground dates. Use the calendar drop-down to view your plan month by month to check where and when gaps appear.

To quickly find out which plants can be sown or planted during a particular month, click the Custom Filter button to the left of the plant selection bar. You can also filter crops by crop family, or by characteristics such as easy to grow, shade tolerant or suitable for fall planting/harvesting.

Plan for an even longer growing season by adding a cold frame, row cover or other protection over a plant in your plan.  This will extend sowing and harvest dates for that plant, and is very useful when planning early or late-season vegetables and fruits.

The Garden Planner helps you to avoid problems with pests and diseases by providing crop rotation warnings in follow-on plans in subsequent years. Your plan will flash red when you try to place a plant in an area previously occupied by plants of the same crop family.

To create a follow-on plan, open your current year’s plan then click on New Plan in your plan’s toolbar. Choose the follow-on plan option and any elements you wish to copy across, then click OK.

The Companion Planting tool takes the strain out of find perfect matches for your plants. Select a plant and click on the heart-shaped Companion Planting button. Suitable companions are then displayed in the selection bar for you to choose from.

Get More Tips with These Great Gardening Resources

Our popular Vegetable Garden Planner can help you map out your garden design, space crops, know when to plant which crops in your exact location, and much more.

Need crop-specific growing information? Browse our Crops at a Glance Guide for advice on planting and caring for dozens of garden crops.

More Videos

Watch more videos on gardening techniques and other self-reliance, DIY topics on our Wiser Living Videos page.

Gardening Indoors to Beat Winter Doldrums

winter, arizona, meme dry heat

There are hundreds of memes out there on the internet about how ironic life can be sometimes. The one that springs to my mind, I made myself.

But seeing the 9" of snow (and the -2º temperature) that my part of Arizona experienced in early January made me remember why I have been growing tropical plants inside for so many years.

It all started in early 2008 when I started the Gardeners with Altitude garden club here in St. Johns. We had a huge seed-starting class at our local library where we had over 50 people in attendance. We discussed all the things that could be started indoors and I was asked if I had ever grown citrus. Now, I realize that most companies cannot ship citrus plants to Arizona due to agricultural restrictions, but I immediately went home to see if there were any that could. What I found was that I could not find any. But lo and behold, a mere two or three weeks later, while perusing my local Home Depot in Show Low, I found kumquats, loquats, and oranges in little pots. I brought them home. 

Limequats on tree

It wasn't long before I realized some of the trees were going to do better than others, and that first winter, I harvested 10 kumquats, one orange, and a handful of limequats, like the ones in the picture above. 

In the summer, when temperatures outdoors are much more favorable to the happy little trees, I moved them outside of the house where they could take advantage of that great sun. The problem with potted plants in Arizona sun and summer temperatures is that they can bake to death in the period of a couple hours. That first summer, after bringing the plants outside to the fresh air, I was gone most of the day to do some shopping and what-not, and I came home to an orange tree that looked very dead indeed. I drenched it with water and in a couple weeks, all but one branch had revived. 

Since then, the orange tree has died, and though the kumquat continued to put on a handful of sweet-peeled, tangy fruits for a couple years, it, too, finally kicked the bucket. But I added to my tropical fruit collection by adding a banana tree a garden club member had to be rid of. It has had several pups grow from it, and I've given away banana plants to several people. 

Lemon tree

Recently, I acquired this great lemon tree. 

This picture doesn't show just how crazy beautiful the plant is, but here are some lemons it produced this winter; the first year I have had it!


And the limequats from the tree above:


One thing I have learned the last several years about caring for plants like these inside the house include making sure to fertilize, watching the water level, making sure they have enough heat and light, and helping them pollinate. 

Tropical plants like citrus, pineapple, bananas, and kiwi benefit greatly from a little fertilizer every few weeks during the blooming and fruiting periods, specifically. I use Neptune's Own fish fertilizer on my plants because growing as naturally as I can is important to me. Because it is a water-soluble liquid fertilizer, getting on a good fertilizing routine helps with making sure they are getting enough water, too. The soil should be fairly dry an inch or two down, but never more than that. These plants produce high-water-content fruit and they need enough water to produce blooms and fruit.

A south- or west-facing window can usually be sufficient lighting if the days are long enough. Here in northern Arizona, I like to supplement with some grow lights or even fluorescent shop lights when the days are less than 10 hours long. Keeping them warm enough indoors is as simple as making sure they are in the house rather than a garage or storage area. If its warm enough for you, it is warm enough for them.

The last thing about making sure you get decent fruit from these types of plants is to help pollinate the blossoms. Commercial growers sometimes swear that the blossoms will fertilize themselves, but I find I get a much better harvest from my baby trees if I take a paintbrush around the blossoms a couple times during the bloom period. 

Hopefully you can beat the winter doldrums by growing a few indoor plants, even fruits, for yourself. To me, nothing beats a fresh glass of lemonade in January, courtesy of your own indoor tropical garden!

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Two Natural Cidermakers Share Their Approach to Sustainable Orcharding

Cider Makers Working Apple Press

The welcome note to MOTHER EARTH NEWS reader below is written by Nicole Blum and Jonathan Carr, followed by a brief word on sustainable orcharding by Jonathan Carr.

Hello MOTHER EARTH NEWS readers! We’d like to introduce ourselves, tell you what we do, what we are thinking about, and how we do it. We have been farming since the late 1990s, starting this life together running a tiny market garden on family land in Ireland, serving the upscale Dublin market.

After moving back to the United States in 2001, we were fortunate to find an affordable, but overgrown orchard, in Western Massachusetts, where we have spent many a year clearing land, building our house and barns, rehabilitating fields, planting apple trees, pressing apple cider, and envisioning what makes ecological sense for this beautiful hillside.

We have been supporting ourselves running a modestly successful farm business for the past nine years, selling our natural hard cider and traditional cider-based products at farmers markets, at wholesale, and online. We are business people of sorts, which is strange to us, but which has given us a real world tutorial on the economics of food. And now, 16 years in, we are taking stock.

Sharing the Business of Natural Cidermaking with You

This space will serve as a reflecting pool for us to share our past successes and stumbles out in the orchard and back in the kitchen, but it’s also going to be a living lab to dig deeply into appropriate farming and orcharding practices in light of climate challenges.

Can we have a light footprint on the land and still get rewarding harvests? We are working to build a sturdy, resilient orchard and farm which is climate-adaptive, low-energy input, soil-regenerative, and follows the realorganic” standards.

We are expressly setting out to think both big and small, while living joyfully and fully. We plan on sharing delectable recipes and plenty of crafty goodness, as well as all of the skills we have gathered as orchardists, cidermakers, farmers, quasi-homesteaders, inventors, builders, and people staring at an uncertain future with great hope in their hearts.

Does all of this sound like a tall order? Maybe so, but is there really any other choice? Please come join us along the way as we strive to farm gently, eat well, and thrive in our place with our values intact.

Our Approach to Sustainable Orcharding

So let’s jump right in!

How do we practice sustainable orcharding here? The short answer is evolution - both personal and at the orchard level. I say personal because our growing approach is a palimpsest that has passed through many stages: first by-the-book “organic”, then (after a stint in grad school) reluctantly brainwashed to use chemical controls (didn’t last but a minute), and finally, embracing a Fukuokan, deep-orcharding, natural farming perspective. Sounds groovy — what does that even mean for our 1,800 apple trees?

Apple Tree Sap Cider Making

Farming Principles of Masanobu Fukuoka Applied to an Orchard

We follow three main tenets: 1. No spraying. 2. Minimal intervention via pruning or mowing. 3. Feed the soil, not the tree. Now, you can probably guess that the orchard can look pretty bedraggled at times when only getting mowed once per year! However, the understory grows full of flowering plants that nurture beneficial insects for most of the season until we mow prior to harvest.

Cropping has largely slipped into a biennial pattern — good one year, poor the next — the trees’ clever strategy for making sure that pest levels can’t build up. We choose to live with that, although I understand why most apple growers do everything possible to achieve consistent annual bearing through thinning fruit — to have a consistent income, for example.

Incorporating Wild Apple Varieties

So, onward to orchard evolution: the big picture.

In standard orchard practice, well-loved apple cultivars are grafted onto rootstock, which is a sort of vegetative propagation. That’s how we maintain specific clones of named apples. However, apples are incredibly genetically diverse when allowed to sexually reproduce. Plant an apple seed and you never know what kind of a tree you will get!

An incredible diversity of tree forms, vigor, fruit size and color, leaf type, etc. is unleashed, including the ability to adapt and thrive in local circumstances. That’s why we’ve started collaborating on the process of collecting and evaluating promising wild apples, growing and bearing well without the benefit of human oversight.

We can’t cling to old varieties of fruit if they are not adapted to pest and disease pressures, needing to be sprayed with chemicals to stay healthy and make a decent crop of fruit. We need to keep planting new seeds, let the process of evolution keep unfolding, and follow where it takes us. Excelsior!

Silvopasture in an Apple Orchard

The final piece of our management system is one we are shifting over towards with our new plantings: Silvopasture.

In orchards of old (1800s and before), fruit trees were “high-headed”, i.e. scaffold branches were developed at 5 or 6 feet off the ground. Lollipop trees! This allowed passage of both cultivating/mowing implements and grazing animals.

Some apple orchards in Normandy are still maintained in this ancient way (les vergers haute-tige), with cows grazing contentedly below. Benefits include better air circulation to reduce foliar diseases, access for mowing near trunks (especially if you don’t maintain herbicide ‘control’ under the trees), animals mowing for you and eating fruit drops (helping to control pests), and ease of harvesting (if you shake the apples onto tarps). Drawbacks include southwest injury on the exposed lower trunks, less accessible canopy for pruning and hand harvesting, and a longer establishment period.

We don’t know anyone in the States who has an intentionally high-headed orchard. Do you? We’d love to connect.

Jonathan Carr and Nicole Blum co-own Carr’s Ciderhouse, where they produce natural hard cider from sustainably-grown apples and other delicious, traditional cider products. Their goods have been featured by the likes of The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Yankee Magazine, Real Simple, Food and Wine, Town and Country, and Cidercraft. They are the authors of Ciderhouse Cookbook (Storey Publishing, 2018). Connect with Jonathan and Nicole on Instagram and Facebook.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Planning for Spring, Thinking About Sandy Soil

Obligatory chicken pic. 

It's called "Kalkaska Sand."

It's the official soil of the great state of Michigan. And I'll be honest with you: it's a challenge. Maybe it's the drastic change. I spent all of my gardening life before now growing in the heavy, nutrient-rich clay in the near-suburbs of Detroit. It was heavy, and wet, and would turn into something like cement, cracking in the hot sun. 

And now? My soil is more like what you find at the beach. Literally. I can dig into it with my hands. It's fast-draining, warms up quick in the spring (which is great since our growing season is so short) and planting has never been easier.


There's always a but.

All of that lovely lightness does come with a few drawbacks. It drains very, very quickly and doesn't retain water well at all. It's also fairly devoid of nutrients. So since we started gardening here a little over two years ago now, our focus has been on not only digging new beds, but in amending the soil in those beds so our plants will be as productive as we want them to be. Here's what we've been doing.

Improving Sandy Soil

Honestly, it's all about amending this soil, just as it was with our heavy Detroit clay. We're adding as much manure, and topsoil, and leaf mold and compost and chopped leaves as we possibly can. We have a small flock of hens now and their composted manure is just a beautiful thing for the garden.

But it's not a quick fix. Maybe if we only had one small bed and focused on that, all of this would happen faster. Or if we had a larger budget to purchase truckloads of compost and manure. But we're doing this on a budget and relying partially on what we can buy as far as soil amendments while doing as much as we can to find and make free soil amendments.

Which means compost. So much compost. I loved composting before because it's so good for my plants, but it's become even more of a necessity here. In addition to the aforementioned chicken manure and bedding, we compost:

fall leaves
food scraps
used coffee grounds
grass clippings (even though we're on ten acres, we still find it worth it at this point to mow some of it with a regular walk-behind bagger mower, just so we can collect the grass clippings easily)
pine needles (we have so many pine trees...)
wood shavings from my husband's woodworking business
shredded paper (not glossy)
and nearly anything else that we can possibly add to a compost pile

In addition to composting, mulch has been integral in helping our quick-draining soil retain some of its moisture longer. It also helps the plants' roots stay a bit cooler since sand heats up fast -- which is great in spring when you're impatient to get a garden in, but not so great when you're in the middle of a drought and heat wave. 

And after a couple of seasons, we're starting to see a difference in the first couple of beds we made and started amending. There were very few earthworms in our soil before, and we saw them regularly during our most recent growing season. The soil is holding moisture longer. It's still not perfect. But it's getting there.

And that's a lot of what gardening is about. It's more about the long game than the immediate payoff. Of course, we want tomatoes and lettuce and sunflowers. But every year, we work and we improve so that we can grow even better next year. 

It's a good philosophy to have, not just in gardening, but in the rest of our lives as well. 

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Sowing to Harvest: Growing Onions

Photo by Getty Images/rootstocks

Growing Onions from Sowing to Harvest

Yellow, red, and white varieties of bulb onions are available to the home grower.You can find a list of varieties by double-clicking on the Onion icon in our Garden Planner. Add some onions to your plan then view the Plant List to check recommended sowing, planting and harvesting dates for your garden.

Planting Onion Seeds

Sow onion seeds into plug trays or pots in a greenhouse or cold frame for the earliest start, at least a month sooner than outdoors sowings. Sow four to eight seeds per plug tray cell.

Onions prefer a sunny, open spot in rich, well-drained soil. Grow them in raised beds or on mounds if your soil is heavy and tends to remain wet.

Transplant the clumps of seedlings while still quite small so as not to disturb the roots. Planted each clump about 4in apart.

Sow seeds direct into the soil once the soil has warmed up in spring. Mark out seed drills about half an inch deep and a foot apart. Plant the seeds thinly, cover back over then water. Thin the seedlings in stages until they’re about 2in apart for smaller bulbs, or 4in apart for fewer but bigger onions. You can enjoy the thinnings as green onions. Cover early sowings or transplants with row covers.

Some hardy varieties of onion can also be sown in late summer for an extra early crop in spring or early summer.

Planting Onion Sets

In many areas you can buy onion transplants for immediate planting. Alternatively, plant sets: part-grown onions which save time sowing. Unfortunately they don’t store as well as onions grown from seed or transplants, and they are more likely to bolt, (there are some heat-treated varieties available that are more resistant to bolting), but they are very convenient.

Plant sets 2-4 in apart in mid spring once the soil has warmed up a little, leaving the tips poking out of the soil. Some varieties can be planted in early fall for harvestable bulbs up to two months earlier next summer.

Onions must be kept well-watered in dry weather. Keep weeds in check by hoeing between the rows and hand weeding within the rows.

Harvesting and Storing Onions 

Harvest time is not far away when most of the leaves have bent down towards the ground. Allow bulbs to swell and color up for a few weeks before harvesting.When they’re ready, lever them out of the ground using a fork or trowel.  Onions for storing need a period of curing somewhere dry and well-ventilated first - an airy shed or a greenhouse is fine. In warm, dry climates you can simply leave the onions where they are on the soil surface. Space bulbs out for good airflow between them – you may like to use a rack for this. After about two weeks the skins should have toughened up, and they can then be stored in nets, tied into bundles or woven into onion strings. Onions will store until at least midwinter, and as long as spring.

Get More Tips with These Great Gardening Resources

Our popular Vegetable Garden Planner can help you map out your garden design, space crops, know when to plant which crops in your exact location, and much more.

Need crop-specific growing information? Browse our Crops at a Glance Guide for advice on planting and caring for dozens of garden crops.

More Videos

Watch more videos on gardening techniques and other self-reliance, DIY topics on our Wiser Living Videos page.

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