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Is Composting really worth the effort?

 
pollinator
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On our farm, we are installing a food forest, rotational pasture system, ruth stout method vegetable garden, and back to eden herb gardens. We have begun a compost pile between the small barn where we store our lawn tractor and sheep fodder and the border fence. We argue over the darn thing in our household. I think it should be vegetable scraps, leaf mould, and soiled bedding from the barn's only lambing stall. My grandmother thinks it should include sticks, humanure, and any and all biodegradable yard waste including freshly pulled weeds. Only today, we got in a row over whether or not to put poison ivy in it. (I won, poison ivy went in the trash.) I want to put humanure in its own pile with sawdust and to chip the sticks into same. From the point where we argue, I have begun to consider the compost pile a real chore.

We can look at this from two angles as far as I can see. 1. This is a clash of different attitudes towards life that we need a counselor to untangle. 2. We have incorrect ideas about composting that, once rectified, we will be able to make good compost without arguing.

Another point: Of course we can probably avoid this whole mess if we didn't use compost at all. Do we really need to compost stuff, or can we just toss it out into the fields and be done with it?
 
pioneer
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I would keep the humanure separate. It can actually be dangerous until completely composted.  I would chip the branches and put them in with everything else.

Bottom line in my mind: whoever is doing the work, makes the choices. The person that isn't doing the work doesn't get to dictate how the work gets done. Also, yes, compost is worth it.
 
gardener
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Ryan, i go back and forth. It seems to be seasonal. In the fall i use a compost bin cause i got carcasses of deer, turkeys etc and this seems to be the best way to use it. I have 2 bins, each 12ft x 12ft x 4ft (but can pile higher). With this size, one can be used while the other is cooking. A year is not a problem so anything can go in it.

Come spring/summer i put the horse manure and sheep stall bedding in a manure spreader and apply it straight to pasture. This gives a light mulch for seeding and works well.

The problem became what to do with basic stuff like kitchen scraps when the manure was put directly on pasture. I put in a couple of worm towers in my annual garden. It's close to the house and easy. Pop the lid  dump it in, and add some water.

This week i set up a black soldier larvae trap. This can take anything including meats.

Sticks i might throw down under my fruit trees. I have occasionaly tossed out chicken parts straight on the ground.

I think every method you mentioned is viable. It all gets used.

 
pollinator
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Do you need to make a compost pile? Not really. It all depends upon your set up and how much organic waste you need to dispose of. Kitchen waste can easily be simply buried. A simple hole would do, or if there is a lot, then a trench. The rest of the stuff, except humanure, could be used as a mulch. I wouldn't just toss it into the field. I'd use it in gardens, the orchard, the food forest as a top dressing. All this material would gradually decompose, though not produce the abundance of soil microbes as a compost pile would. Personally I'd chop it all up. I've actually done this by using a lawnmower.

Human manure should be composted either at a high temperature, or if at a lower temperature, be further processed by being aged for 1 to 2 years (depending upon who you talk to). Or it could be buried in the bottom of a hole where you plan to plant a tree in your food forest. I've used the tree hole method for years now, by mixing in livestock manure before backfilling with a bit of dirt as the layering fills the hole. But importantly, I'm not in a flood plain. Nor do I get my drinking water from a well near by.

I use compost as my primary source of fertilizer. Thus I make a lot of it. But I also use trenching of excess garbage and waste fruits. And grind up excess vegetation for mulch material.
 
pollinator
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I think it is worth it if you need the compost. Depending on how you want/need to use it, burying it as suggested by others or composting in a pile both make perfect sense.

Is a compromise to create a separate compost pile for the humanure, or are you just not wanting to deal with that at all?  Like the others, I probably wouldn’t put that in with the compost I plan to use in my garden, but then I don’t handle humanure anyway.
 
gardener
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My primary use for compost is making potting soil, and I rarely have enough of it when spring rolls around.  I use yards of the stuff.

My secondary use for compost is topping off the raised beds . . . and I rarely have enough of it.

So my uses, human poo is a non-starter.

What are you going to use that compost for?  I think that that will determine what you put into the pile, and how actively you manage it.
 
pollinator
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Seems like every opinion will find a place in this thread. Mine: only compost the humanure. You have enough systems to take all the other material as-is. If you compost, you're transporting stuff twice. If you put directly into your systems you transport it once.

Note: When I need potting soil, I take it from under trees where I've been throwing stuff. Just move the un-decomposted mulch stuff off the surface and excavate. The tree roots benefit from the aeration. Replace mulch when done.
 
pollinator
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I`ve actually had this same discussion with my older relatives, who also think it is fine to throw dog crap, bones, etc etc in the compost. If they could they would probably poo in the compost as well.
The way I see it is back in the day they didn`t know about the dangers of putting dangerous manures in the compost, and put it on the field. (these are people who come from night soil cultures). They knew people died from some kind of disease but it was the old times, everyone died anyway. So i try not to take it seriously....

It seems to me that if you don`t need compost urgently, then it would be best to just compost the humanure and consider it done. Trench or dump the rest elsewhere. If you`re doing a Ruth Stout garden you can just tuck all your waste under the straw or just throw it all in there anyway.
 
pollinator
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Keep all non herbivore poo separate with plenty of carbon to help it, but the other pile (kitchen waste, weeds, clipping etc etc) can contain anything, fresh weeds are absolutely fine. if you think they may contain seeds then you need to get the pile hot but if they are young weeds it really doesn't matter.
 
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Skandi Rogers wrote:Keep all non herbivore poo separate with plenty of carbon to help it, but the other pile (kitchen waste, weeds, clipping etc etc) can contain anything, fresh weeds are absolutely fine. if you think they may contain seeds then you need to get the pile hot but if they are young weeds it really doesn't matter.



That's the best suggestion so far. When I lived in Puerto Rico, my grandparents did just that. They had a outhouse which they cleaned regular (trust me I know)and they would have a separate pile at first. Then I got the idea of why not make a big pit and instaed of having to clean out the outhouse, just make the pit like a big septic tank (bricks or rocks cemented together with no drainage). it was full of some type of worms. I remember throwing compost into it once in a while. I thought that it would help in the decomposing process. Never had to do anything else. The out house was moved on top. Since the whole thing was buried, grass grew on top of the cement roof". I would visit every year or so and the whole area was really wild growing. I am not sure if the composted poo was trasnferring nutrients or if the "worms" were but I believe it was the mycelium that transferred the nutrients to every one else!  The other piles were normal with everything from animals hair, feathers, plants, kitchen waste you name it. We even had a big lawnmower type of grinder! The animal manure did not include our dogs or cats. I dont remeber having any other type of carnivorous animals.
 
pollinator
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#Ryan the short answer is to do two compost piles. one with humanure and the other without. If you must do one, make a solar oven and bake the crap out of the humanure deposit to 180F+and then add it to regular compost. I think a vent pipe will be needed for that solar oven

Now for the long answer: we all have limited resources and so we have to always limit the speed and scope of what we do. At times the limiting resource is money, other times it is time/manhours or it could be health, etc. In this case it is social-fsmily capital. Is it really worth a fight with your biz partner/grandmother/wife/etc over something that is possible small.

All that said. I think that you are both saying that you want to compost in general. But the difference become should it just be 1 type of compose pile or multiple different types of compose. Aerobic Composting vs Anaerobic/Biogas vs Vermicomposting vs with hamanure or without, the list could go on and on.

Personally my favorite is to chop and drop and 'compost in place' next would be to tuck a bit of kitchen scraps under some woodchip, Then there is worm composting esp in the winter this is may main composting and it is indoor. I also like to do my flavor of Bokashi composting with EM. I use kefir + rice koji/rice watrr I make both of these and eat it, then I add purple non-sulphur bacteria aka worm casting from vermicomposting, some pond/river/lake water and add some insect frass/mushroom/crustaceans, I then add those as a activator to my compost.

But back to your original question is it okay for someone to use their own hand and wipe their butt and then compost that humanure and then fertilize with it. The answer is yes. If as a family unit everyone already have xyz gut microbe/parasite after 3 months everyone already have it. Now if I was selling that humanure or selling produce that was made with humanure I would be very cautious, in fact I think it might be even illegal, due to uncountable mishaps in the past.

 
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Make his’n’hers heaps.

Hers can be used on non-edibles (the cavalier attitude towards humanure worries me).


Regarding poison ivy:

I recently purchased a house that needs a lot of yard rehab.  Unfortunately, the perfect immunity to poison ivy that I have enjoyed up to this point is no more.  I look like I’ve been attacked by a rabid badger. I have a huge overgrown tree/shrub thing that is both unhealthy and festooned with hideous vines, so I have a variety of material that probably has urushiol on it including wood.

So I did a ton of research about whether I should compost the stuff. Some sources  said the urushiol breaks down in a couple of months in a compost heap.  One source said it takes 100 years (!).  In the end, I concluded that “up to 2 years” is a reasonable but conservative estimate, and therefore that I should not put it in my regular bin.

Trying to get it into garbage bags seemed lmore hazardous than just finding a place to dump it.  I took the farthest back corner of my yard and created The Brushpile of Doom. Anything suspicious is getting dumped there, never to be dealt with again.  I figure will provide habitat and as it breaks down it will fertilize the nice tree that it is under.

So based on research and not personal experience (except for a lot of itchy weeping sores), I’d say leave the poison ivy out of the pile.
 
pollinator
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Ryan,

I’m going to jump in here with an observation of my own.  Firstly though, there is some very good information here.  I wholeheartedly recommend keeping the human poo separate and I cannot possibly recommend deliberately putting poison ivy in pile as I am highly allergic to the stuff.

I try to build a compost pile every year, but mine is a lazy pile and my compost by itself is not terribly special.  What is special is what the compost pile does for the soil under and around the pile.

Years ago I had a very wet spring and the grass grew faster than I could mow.  When I did mow I had a veritable hay field and had to get the grass off the lawn.  I eventually moved all the grass clippings next to an orchard I was just putting in.

Mind you, this was far from an ideal compost pile.  I had a tremendous abundance of greens, made no attempt at adding any browns and I never turned the pile.  The clippings were still moist though and we continued to get rain.  The pile got HOT though (it was a cone about 5’ tall and 5-6 feet wide at the base).  Over the summer it all reduced to almost nothing.  I harvested no compost from the pile and if this were the end it would be an example of how not to compost.

The real magic was more visible the next year.  The ground on which the pile was placed was mostly flat, but did have a very gentle slope on it.  The year following the pile there was an obvious highly fertile ellipse about 6-7 feet in diameter centered where the pile used to sit and tapered about 15-20ish feet down the slope.  Anything within this ellipse grew faster, greener and more healthy than anything outside.  At the very tip of the ellipse was a recently planted peach tree, one of several in a row.  That extra green and healthy patch lasted for years as the nitrogen and especially microbes worked their way into the ground.  And the peach tree at the end grew about twice the rate of any other other tree in the row (or the rest of the orchard for that matter).  People walking by would ask me what type of tree that particular tree was.  They were amazed when they found out it was the same as the others, it just happened to have compost near it.

The point of this whole post is that even bad compost can be wondrous for the soil beneath.  After that experience I started putting compost piles IN the garden and not beside or away from the garden.  I don’t really make the best compost and I don’t care because of what the pile does for the ground itself.  This fall I will find an unused spot in my garden bed and pile up the vegetation and just leave it.  Come spring I will spread whatever is left, but the primary beneficiary will be the ground that hosted the pile itself.

I wish you luck and hope your composting goes well.

Eric
 
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Eric Hanson wrote:Ryan,
The point of this whole post is that even bad compost can be wondrous for the soil beneath.  After that experience I started putting compost piles IN the garden and not beside or away from the garden.  I don’t really make the best compost and I don’t care because of what the pile does for the ground itself.  This fall I will find an unused spot in my garden bed and pile up the vegetation and just leave it.  Come spring I will spread whatever is left, but the primary beneficiary will be the ground that hosted the pile itself.

I wish you luck and hope your composting goes well.

Eric



Hi Eric, thanks for this post. I only have a small garden, my entire lot is 5000sf. I do something very similar to what you do, little "compost" piles that just sit, then are spread, and it works in a similar way. Because I am in an urban/suburban environment I do put food scraps (anything that will "rot" or the dogs will get to) in a tumbler or a compost basket I have in a raised bed, but all yard clippings and waste go in the piles. Glad to hear I'm not doing something crazy.
 
Eric Hanson
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Kali,

I think what you are doing is extremely sensible.  It is easy, effective and takes virtually no effort.  I agree that in your situation the tumbler is best for scraps that might attract pests.  Also, my “compost” pile was really just a fortuitous accident and actually doing just a bit of planning can only improve your results.

Best wishes and keep at it!

Eric
 
pollinator
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I think the points about how to design a compost pile to passively benefit everything around and downstream are right on. On the other hand, both the humanure and poison ivy also need to be considered for their potential spread of their natural nastiness.

I like the habitat brush pile idea for the ivy, though I may start it with a 12” layer of sticks to prevent the vines growing again (at least what I do with English ivy).  

For the humanure, it seems a trench in/right above the orchard filled with that mixed with woodchips and woody debris, topped with woodchips at least a foot thick would be a great way to use it, assuming the orchard is large enough to absorb the nutrients and does not flood.  

I compost virtually everything except coffee grounds through my chickens and ducks, which get bedding of woodchips or straw. This all then runs off through woody debris trenches between dozens of hugel beds. I topdress the hugels with composted bedding (deeper layer under continuously piled newer bedding). The birds are much better about turning the bedding than I am a pile.
 
Eric Hanson
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Ben,

You are right on regarding poison ivy and humanure.  Regarding the humanure, I suspect but don’t actually know that the parasites in the humanure are actually spread via accidental soil contact and perhaps a bit of migration through a small green plant.  I therefore suspect that as long as the humanure is buried deep that the parasites would not actually transmit through wood/bark and therefore not into tree fruit.  Can you confirm or deny this assumption I am making?

Eric
 
Ben Zumeta
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Parasites will not travel through the root-fruit barrier, which functions a lot like the blood-brain barrier and also protects from heavy metal transmission. The vector of disease would be through fallen fruit or dust.
 
Eric Hanson
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Ben,

I suspected as much but did not know for certain.  Thanks for confirming this for me.  

In your estimation, would a moderate amount of humanure applied deeply and thoroughly covered be a viable option for an orchard?

Thanks,

Eric
 
Ben Zumeta
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I should say I do not have a compost toilet at home (other than a septic system I try to manage as  permaculturally as possible) and am just applying what I know from managing some in national park wilderness situations, as a practitioner of LNT in the backcountry, and at friends homesteads.

I would first ask, does your orchard ever flood (which would not be good for trees anyhow) or get so dry as to be dusty? I would not risk it if so without thoroughly mitigating these risk factors. I’d also keep in mind, dilution is the solution to pollution, so it is possible to go too far down shit creek.

If you go ahead, I’d put it uphill of fast growing nutrient hungry plants, and even plant them on top of the filled trenches. Keep voluminous woody debris, chips, sawdust and or other carboniferous organic matter on hand where you plan to be depositing humanure, and layer it in as evenly as possible. Manage the moisture and nitrogen levels by minimizing urine mixed in. So I’m saying you’re gonna have to tell gramma to go pee on a Bush (capitalization was autocorrect, but I’m leaving it, my Grammi was a Perot supporter ;).  When people get weird about humanure, I have to ask them what is more absurd and disgusting than billions of large mammals defecating in drinking water? Imagine if the next highest biomass mammal population I can think of, wildebeest, were to require porcelain bowls of clean drinking water to rifle their turds into all across the Serengeti?
 
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Hello Eric,

I bookmarked the below link a few weeks ago while looking into the possibility of translocating some forest topsoil from near a septic drainfield into raised garden beds.

https://inspectapedia.com/septic/Septic_Food_Contamination.php

It might be tangentially related to what you are talking about here - although I don't remember if fruit trees are specifically mentioned.
 
Eric Hanson
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Ben, Donner, everyone,

Thanks for the input.  I have always been curious if humanure could possibly be used on a human food crop and I guess the answer is a cautious “yes”.

I should say though that I do not have a composting toilet and probably won’t be getting one.  My orchard is a hike from my house and due to a string of health problems a few years ago, my orchard is in some poor shape.  I don’t quite want to rip it out yet, but if I am to ever get it back into shape, some drastic action will be needed.

Humanure probably won’t be used on my orchard, but if someone else is wanting to put humanure to work, this might be a viable option.

Thanks very much for the information.  I hope someone might be able to make good use of this.

Eric
 
Elizabeth Geller
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Ben Zumeta wrote:I
I like the habitat brush pile idea for the ivy, though I may start it with a 12” layer of sticks to prevent the vines growing again (at least what I do with English ivy).  


It's too late to start it with the sticks, but I could add them on top.  If I can find enough sticks...ah, the perils of living in the 'burbs!  I'd pile wood chips over it, but I think that might make it less habitat-friendly.  The poison ivy I put in had sat out for over a month before I was able to make a good spot to ditch it, so here's hoping that it was dried up enough not to re-root.

With the English Ivy, I understand that leaving it to dry out is helpful in keeping it from re-rooting.  Do you find that is true?   Luckily, I don't have too much of it left.

Regarding humanure - I have no experience with it, but I read the Humanure Handbook out of curiosity.  The advice in there seemed sound to me, especially the matter of letting it compost for a couple of years. Do you all find that overkill?
 
gardener
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Humanure can contain; Lysteria, many different cocci (infectious and non infectious pathogens), salmonella and several other bacteria and viruses that humans do not do well with if ingested or breathed.

The Chinese have been composting humanure for at least 3 thousand years so it might be thought that they have a system fairly well perfected for composting those materials.
They build community wide compost heaps that are layered up as the year goes along, this gives a heating/reheating cycle since they put everything into their compost heaps where they do this sort of thing.

For this type of composting you will want to make sure you have plenty of diversity in the microorganisms, bacteria, fungi (lots of fungi), nematodes, flagellates, etc. This will give you enough different organisms to take care of all the possible pathogenic organisms in humanure.
I would definitely try for at least a two stage heating of this heap and use a thermometer to make sure the internal temps get up to 180 and remain there for at least a week, per heat up.
Once the compost is finished I would then make some more additions of bacteria and fungi (at least oyster, strop, turkey tail) and let the heap sit, breeding the microbiome until it was loaded with the organisms.

Once the material is fully broken down (sieve some through a 40 mesh screen to see what is still large chunks and recompost those. (this would be done in year two)

If you want to just use a trench method, additions of fungi to the materials just prior to covering with soil would be highly advisable for pathogenic safety.

Redhawk


 
pollinator
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I'm late to the party, but my current process is to compost in place or trench composting in preparation for beds that will be planted in a month or so. My pile was reducing so fast, I ended up spreading it around, planting cucumbers and pumpkins in the spot, and going to a combination of trench in-place composting of food scraps and dead animal pieces, covered with various carbon sources and buried with soil and RE-covered with more organic stuff. I then pour straight urine on top to help it break down, and let nature do the rest. Sort of a combination of trench composting and lasagna composting.
 
Bryant RedHawk
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Ryan Hobbs wrote:On our farm, we are installing a food forest, rotational pasture system, ruth stout method vegetable garden, and back to eden herb gardens. We have begun a compost pile between the small barn where we store our lawn tractor and sheep fodder and the border fence. We argue over the darn thing in our household. I think it should be vegetable scraps, leaf mould, and soiled bedding from the barn's only lambing stall. My grandmother thinks it should include sticks, humanure, and any and all biodegradable yard waste including freshly pulled weeds. Only today, we got in a row over whether or not to put poison ivy in it. (I won, poison ivy went in the trash.) I want to put humanure in its own pile with sawdust and to chip the sticks into same. From the point where we argue, I have begun to consider the compost pile a real chore.

We can look at this from two angles as far as I can see. 1. This is a clash of different attitudes towards life that we need a counselor to untangle. 2. We have incorrect ideas about composting that, once rectified, we will be able to make good compost without arguing.

Another point: Of course we can probably avoid this whole mess if we didn't use compost at all. Do we really need to compost stuff, or can we just toss it out into the fields and be done with it?



This is one of those questions that gets the last part answered first for clarity of understanding.

If you  just toss compostable stuff out in the fields you are inviting pathogens to multiply and prosper, possibly to the point of endangering those who eat anything produced in those fields (reference the many vegetable and greens that have been recalled due to listeria and other infectious disease causing bacteria/ viruses.
Some of these recalls were found to be the result of farmers using non-composted pig manure from hog farm feedlots being simply spread on the soil as a "fertilizer".

It seems that your "Clashes" are from a lack of education about composting, ie.
What is compost and how to properly make a good, bioactive compost heap.
It also appears that the intrinsic  requirements of humanure composting are not understood, the heat needed to kill the pathogens, the length of time this takes and then how and where to best use humanure compost.
Fortunately there are many really good books on all the different parts of this question and it might be a grand idea to acquire at least one of these books and then sit down with the grandmother and read through the book together so both are learning the material at the same time.

Now for compost; compost is organic matter that is composed of carbon materials (browns) and green, nitrogen containing materials (greens) to these two you can add any vegetable matter left over from food preparation, sticks and twigs (browns).
Heat is required to build inside the compost heap, this happens from the nitrogen that was put into the heap (think of a huge pile of fresh grass clippings and how hot they will become just sitting in that heap of grass clippings, (spontaneous combustion without the combustion).
Humanure requires far higher temperatures than "regular" compost requires, at the end of the heating cycle you turn the heap and if it was built correctly it will have a secondary heating that doesn't get quite as hot as the initial heating.
Once any compost heap has gotten past the heating stages, it starts to head to the crumble phase, this is when earthworms will come in from the bottom, and their castings will contain many bacteria, these will get busy eating the minerals they crave and their chemical and electrical signals will attract other members of the microbiome, increasing bioactivity as well as increasing diversity of the microbiome. When the compost has completed the digestion period it smells like sweet earth and crumbles in the hand from a compressed ball.
This is the "Black Gold" of gardening. It can be used as a top dressing (mulch) or it can be worked into the soil, both methods help to increase the microorganism counts in the soil which in turn increases the water infiltration rate, water holding capacity and the nutrient availability for the plants roots, it also helps with disease resistance of the plants.

Redhawk
 
I have a knack for fixing things like this ... um ... sorry ... here is a concilitory tiny ad:
dry stack retaining wall
https://permies.com/t/85178/dry-stack-retaining-wall
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