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permaculture advocate in Zimbabwe - too little/too much rain  RSS feed

 
Posts: 100
Location: Zimbabwe
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We are finished with the shelling.
We got 10 bags, which is 4 bags short from last year's yield and I am really happy especially considering this past season was close to opposite that of the season prior to it. This season's harvest is going to be potentially our minimum yield, in the years to come. Of course this depends on how the skill of planning, even on things that might seem out of our control, is going to be adopted by my family. Judging from the yield, it is going to make it more and more easier to talk about the importance of planning and implement it, as we work on our field.
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left the maize to properly dry
 
Posts: 129
Location: Maritimes , Eastern Canada
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Well done Rufaro !! That's many meals secured ! Just rewards for good planning , implementation and completion.
 
pollinator
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Melissa Bracy wrote:I am in a too little/ too much rain area also. I am working on a greywater system to water my tree in a mulch pit - almost done digging! On the post above by gustavo alcantar (page one of thread), he shows putting a cardboard barrier down before multch. I have not seen this before. Why is the cardboard used?



With hot intensive sun and dry conditions it may be best to put the cardboard on top of other mulch material and weight or pin it down so the wind does not bow it away. Loose material will tend to dry out and not break down into soil. Having the mulch that you want incorporated by soil organisms into the ground to become soil is best accomplished during the dry season by having it covered. Old tarps and carpet also work well for this purpose.


























w
 
Posts: 31
Location: outside Brisbane, Australia
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Yes, in my subtropical climate, the sun is so intense that it just dries everything out. The soil turns to dust a few weeks after rain, and you can see all the life being fried out of existence. This includes mulch, which just sits there as desiccated shreds the do no decompose.

I put cardboard around my plants to protect soil organisms, and to try to retain moisture. It still means that the soil underneath turns to dust, but not as quickly, and I hope that it protects the soil life so that it can spring back more quickly once rain comes. Once I came up with the idea (I'd only really heard of it for lasagna gardens before), my young trees actually started growing faster.
 
Rufaro Makamure
Posts: 100
Location: Zimbabwe
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So it is now 10 months since the zai pits preparation from last year. We have decided to take advantage of the winter wet periods in the preparation of this year's pits. We have dry winters generally and we receive rain a few days during the winter period. We missed the rain from last week, but we got lucky yesterday we received rain, enough to soften the ground a little and we are taking advantage of this.

Today I got a chance to do a break down of the expenses from the last growing season and it is as follows ( I still need to improve on documentation for accountability purposes, for now there are a lot of estimations on the amounts we ended up using):
  • Digging holes-$60 done by two people for about two weeks
  • mulching- $150 approximatly and some of the ground is still mulched meaning this expense is going to cover part of this year also
  • composting material- $30
  • maize seed- $28
  • watering- $30

  • Making an approximate total of $298 on half an acre.

    We got 10 bags and the maximum a bag has fetched is $24 meaning the yield has a financial value of a maximum of $240.

    Monetary wise, we are still running at a loss of around $58 excluding things like transport and other expenses not directly affecting the growing of the maize.

    What we are benefiting though is a learning platform. Learning how to plan and compare our efforts vs yields, which will make it easier to chose right crops for the right climate, and also enable the development of a stable environment with progressive growth if these intangible skills are acquired.

    For example, before last year there was an additional 2 acre rented area, which has no water access that we used to grow maize, meaning we could have planted on this area too. It has no zai pits, as we were using a conventional method and there is no mulching, also we used artificial fertiliser. With the water strain we had, for sometime during the farming season I suspect the yield would have been a lot less than on the 1/2 acre area. Meaning the overall loss would have been far much greater than the estimated  negative $58 we ended up with. So inasmuch as there is no profit I would say we are moving towards a positive direction as we have managed to reduce the intensity of the loss.

    One step I am grateful for this year is the purchasing of some indigenous trees which we have planted in the field (something I thought would take ages to witness) and the reason why I am so appreciative of, is that the idea did not even come from me but from my mother. I would think about having trees in the field but I was not sure of how it would be accepted, since most of the fields I have seen in my area have no trees.

    Below are images of the trees and the wet ground from yesterday.
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    bird-plum: pink or brown ivory; 'Munyii' in my language
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    snot apple: 'Mutohwe'
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    nature helping us
     
    Posts: 150
    Location: Boudamasa, Chad
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    Hey Rufaro
    I've been following your project but haven't posted anything yet. Good work! I mean on keeping track of your expenses to know where you are at. Also cool to see you have planted some trees. I'm not familiar with the snot apple. Is it for food or mulch?

    According to your calculations, mulch is your biggest expense. Have you considered growing your mulch?  I realize you only have half an acre, but it could certainly help. I would suggest pigeon pea (Cajanus cajan). Perhaps you know it? It is a bush native to East Africa that grows really fast and produces delicious beans/peas. I  plant it around the edges of my plots and in rows in between my crops. They're super hardy and drought tolerant. If planted in the rainy season they will survive the whole dry season without water. You could chop most of them for mulch and leave some for food.

    Nathanael
     
    Rufaro Makamure
    Posts: 100
    Location: Zimbabwe
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    The drip system is now in place as of yesterday, and it is just on time.

    Just having those pipes in place, has been one of the biggest tests I have faced since I decided to do permaculture, full throttle. It involved mostly social skills and I am still working on this set of skills. Something as simple as being able to communicate to suppliers during procurement process what it is exactly I want can stand between a dream becoming a reality or not. Passion and finances are important, I also realized that self confidence is equally important. I do not remember seeing a drip system close up, and I did not know how to ask the companies I would go to, to go with me and show me in detail how the system actually worked. I relied mostly on the videos from the internet and  there were all sorts, from complete PVC to polyethylene, those with in-line emitters and those with on-line emitters. Initially I wanted the on-line emitters to allow me to suit the system to the holes already in the field but it was difficult to even communicate what it was exactly I wanted to suppliers, also lack of confident with the set up I had come up with, from things I had gathered from the internet. As I was trying to build on the system I raised enough money to buy the online emitter system and looking at where the time was in relation to the growing season, I had to reach a compromise,between on-line and in-line emitters, in order to meet the target of having a drip system set up this year. So I ended up having drip lines with in-line emitters. From time of initial payment up to complete installation, prices started going up and I had an increment of 10% on the initial quote. Between Monday the first of October and today some of the things have doubled in price, I heard of one guy who had a quotation of $2000 for some work on his bore-hole drilling process who is now paying $4000, because of inflation. The thought of this almost happening to me is shaking, it would have meant a halt to this wonderful dream, which is now a reality.

    The importance of people could never have been fully explained to me. To be able to believe that the drip can be more than just a dream was initiated by a lady I met randomly for less than half a day, end of 2016 beginning of 2017. I think I shared an encounter with her in past posts in this thread. Then the strength and moral support to keep pushing until I bought the system was from a person I have never met but we would communicate on-line. I would have really big obstacles created in my head, most of the times I would come back from looking for drip equipment, but through communicating, I would be able to get out of my head and truly see, what it is, that was on the ground and what steps I needed to take to go to the next phase. My family has always been my backbone, although I have to be selective on challenges share with them for now, since I am still selling the idea (I think the drip system set up will seal the deal with my family, as results of increased resilience and, a stable and improved yield will prove worthwhile). As soon as I am able to send the pictures of this great achievement, I will share.

    One uncle who has always been into gardening has shown great interest in sharing his experiences through my thread. As we talked it seems like he has been inclined towards permanent agriculture in his practices. He is of great interest because he is in the rural areas and he has been working on his homestead since the early or late 90s (more details will be from him). I also wish to start writing the progress at my mum's place through her planning and efforts, and smoothly allow a transition from my dream to hers, at her plot, and work on starting my own place.  



    I'm not familiar with the snot apple. Is it for food or mulch?  



    A snot apple is a fruit from an indigenous tree. I hear it can also be added to animal feed. It is also named the 'african chewing gum'



    chewing-gum.jpg
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    snot apple
     
    Rufaro Makamure
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    My uncle who is based in Hurungwe rural area (the one I was talking about) is with me and we had the opportunity to see all the ideas that were sent from different people advising on how best to work around dry areas. I will write what his comments are,

    "I appreciate the methods of moisture conservation and impressed at how the world is interconnected and so similar and how people can share ideas. I am eager to send my project also and share ideas with the global world and help regenerate our environment. I was interested in stones being used for mulching and I want to try that together with swales in growing fruit trees at my homestead. Some of the trees at my house that were not doing too good because of lack of moisture are orange tree, mango tree lemon tree to mention just a few, I will see how they will do after implementing some of the ideas I picked, when I get a chance I will send pictures to show progress.
     
    Rufaro Makamure
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    Drip system installation images.
    IMG-20180928-WA0036.jpg
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    trench for burying the pvc mainline
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    man at work
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    Drip lines coming from the buried pvc
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    water drops from the emitters
     
    Rufaro Makamure
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    The compost has been a lot easier to make this year, with all the materials from within our plot. The green matter was from the banana plant that we have reserved specifically for this purpose, since we cannot let it grow till it produces fruit, because of its location, also we got some from the chomolia plants (kale) which we were pruning. In August we made another compost heap using mainly maize stalks for dry matter, so we were using material from this compost as our dry matter, together with the bedding from our chickens, which also formed the animal manure layer for the thermal compost. We made the compost ourselves, so we did not need to use any money in making it. The compost is not yet ready, but it is producing good heat. When we were turning it we realised that it had a lot of dry areas and we did our best to water it afterwards. We are preparing to plant in the field.
    IMG-20181019-WA0023.jpg
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    we did not outsource anything
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    finished compost pile
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    turning of the compost
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    watered it after turning
     
    Rufaro Makamure
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    We have put the maize seed in the ground and we are now waiting for the rain. We managed to mulch a quarter of the field this year, we will use pumpkin as live mulch and in the coming years we will be using mulch from within the plot. This year, mulching cost us $25 and a bucket of maize, which is a lot better than last year. We have harvested the first batch of russian comfrey leaves for making comfrey tea and the other leaves have grown big already so we will have enough fertilizer throughout the season. Below are pictures showing the amount of organic matter from last year, the mulched area, and the space covered with living plants, which has increased. A lot still has to be worked on, on the plant types to be planted at a given period and what we benefit from it, also things like crop rotation etc... For now I am just celebrating the increased area covered by plants before receiving the rains.

    One concept that was beneficial this year is of getting away from mono-cropping. Onions were added to chomolia beds and with the same resources and space, there has been more harvest. It is going to be one small step at a time and the great thing is we seem to be moving forward.
    IMG-20181106-WA0004.jpg
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    Mulching from last year
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    This year's mulched portion
    IMG-20181106-WA0008.jpg
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    Mum and her friend harvesting onions
     
    Rufaro Makamure
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    THE RAIN IS HERE!!! The other good news is we can finally afford a small booster pump. We intend to pump most of the overflow from the rainwater harvest tanks to the drip system storage tank to increase the volume of water available to the maize plants.
     
    Rufaro Makamure
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    We received rain only for a day since I last posted. This is unusual. Rain usually rains properly enough for crops to emerge by mid October. From the forecast it will not rain much and there are predictions the rain will have too much wind and likely to damage things. This is how the climate has changed from my side of the globe. I know some places in different areas globally can witness to the changes that are occurring. I always wonder where we will be in 30 years to come if things continue this way
     
    Rufaro Makamure
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    We are receiving showers again today since. I am hoping this time it will rain properly. We have been busy though and thanks to the drip which came right on time. Most of the fields only have prepared land, but few have any plants as the rain we have received so far, was not enough to get maize through emergence and the first few weeks of maize growth. I have seen only two other families who have healthy looking maize in their fields and they both have water sources other than the rain.
    There is more time this year to focus on other projects apart from the maize.
    No money is being lost through maize farming now (assuming we survive through this drought period). This means without changing diet, my mum will have enough of our staple food to last her the whole year, without depending on external help if she adopts the regenerative approach we have started, which is going to be good for her retirement period. I am now focusing on her chomolia beds, which will serve as an income generating project, (the intention is to have her get as much from it, to cover expenses for running her plot). We have been growing chomolia, without paying attention to how we can assure survival of suckers, or minimizing use of water in other ways just creating optimum conditions, without compromising our environment.  

    I have started looking at how best we can improve things, starting with the best way to grow suckers, especially in the scorching heat. We attempted mulching the suckers, watering intensively, but the suckers still not survive. About a week ago, we tried planting the suckers in the shade and the results were astounding. Now we are increasing the mulch in the main beds, so as to reduce evaporation, we did have mulch , but it was not thick enough, we discovered the mulch has to be thick and this is what I am working on. Then the input/ output accounting will also be included. The following images will show the major activities in the past weeks.  
    IMG-20181229-WA0004.jpg
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    The night before the expected rain, maize looks really good after the sun sets
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    cleaning tank for the drip
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    still have to demonstrate the advantages of mulch
    IMG-20181229-WA0010.jpg
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    chomolia suckers grown in the shade
     
    Rufaro Makamure
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    The ground is still wet from the rain we got two days ago, the sky is overcast and there are some tiny droplets of water now and again. This is really good for our field as it helps us manage the strain on the pump, which was getting out of hand. The vegetable beds were drying up and I could tell that it was going to be difficult to sustain the maize with the available pump output. I never thought the resilience of our system would be tested this soon, but I am proud of what we have so far, healthy maize and some time to focus on other projects. Some portion of the sandy soil was turning slightly yellow and I was lucky to find, a fairly new termite mount forming on a small heap of maize stalks we left two seasons ago,  as I was piling up all the dry matter that we have (housekeeping). Hopefully this will work, otherwise we will put chicken soup when we are certain it will not be washed away instantly, which is almost after 1 to 2 weeks from now. I will not lie that I am relaxed, its three years' work being put to test (I think this season is a serious drought, not yet official). The question to be answered is, "Are we going to maintain the targeted 10 bags this year under such conditions"
     
    Rufaro Makamure
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    We added chicken soup on the maize that was turning yellow. I think the termite mount is working also, because it is already getting healthier slowly.  The left side of the image is the sandy soil and the maize looks really good this year. We are putting manure on areas that look a little strained this season as opposed to just putting manure in the whole field because of limited time and the manure itself. We did not see a need to outsource compost making material this time because our soil is looking rich and most areas are proving us right. We did make another compost as well as Russian comfrey fertiliser, which we will apply as soon after maturity.

    I found an article online commenting on this year's rain and it is not good. They are actually advising cloud seeding I took an extract from the document.

    "“We expected a drought, but didn’t think it would be this serious, this early,” said Wonder Chabikwa, the president of the Zimbabwe Commercial Farmers’ Union. While it’s too early to estimate the effects on harvests, the government should start cloud seeding to “save the situation,” he said."

    the link is:

    http://www.msn.com/en-xl/middleeast/middleeast-top-stories/zimbabwes-farmers-urge-cloud-seeding-as-drought-withers-crops/ar-BBS0261?ocid=spartandhp
    IMG-20190108-WA0002.jpg
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    The maize that was turning yellow slowly getting greener
     
    pollinator
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    It has been very interesting following your story. Thank you posting this.
     
    Rufaro Makamure
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    We received a good amount of rain. The field had no runoff water which means most of it percolated. Water would collect on top of the soil like in the other image and most of it would just flow out of the field, now even with the slight slope, as much water sinks.  
    IMG-20190110-WA0001.jpg
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    ipmroved percolation
    IMG-20190110-WA0004.jpg
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    runoff
     
    Rufaro Makamure
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    So, our filter has not been opening, for cleaning, in the past weeks, since after Christmas. We are supposed to clean it weekly and about a week and a half ago we could barely pass water through it because it was clogged. I was worried about the emitters, and the fact that we could  not use the drip. All people around, that I thought were strong tried opening the filter, but failed and there was no big enough tool we could use to assist. We had asked a man who helped with the pipe work to come and help, and he came yesterday. He opened with his bare hands in less than five minutes. It still puzzles me because we literally got the strongest men and they failed to open it. We are no longer closing the filter tightly.
    Now we can plan properly the pump use. Since it rained, the vegetables are not being watered. This means that the pump is completely available for the maize. The field is divided into three sections and we can safely water all the three sections alternately without damaging the pump. That way we can maintain the soil moisture at a high level since our job now is to replace the evaporated water. We are also able to utilize the harvested water and avoid any overflow (by the way we have not had any overflow from the water harvesting tanks this year, one, because of the low rainfall so far and secondly, we would pump the water to the drip system tank, and water even if it rained, so as to channel all excess water to the field).  When the rain goes, we can then share the pump between the vegetable beds and the maize field, without worrying too much about the inadequacy of water available for the maize.
     
    Rufaro Makamure
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    Fine looking field so far. I put Russian comfrey liquid on some of the plants on the sandy part and we treated the maize, from a worm. This is the first year we have had to spray our maize, the spray also seems to have gotten rid of some insects that were eating the bean leaves.  
    20190120_154717-1-.jpg
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    less work great results
    20190117_170650-1-.jpg
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    This year the sandy portion is cooperating
    20190117_170630-1-.jpg
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    dealing with pests
     
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    Thanks for your updates.
    What did you spray?
    In West Africa I met people who sprayed papaya leaves and neem against insect pests. They were mashing the leaves and let them soak overnight in water before straining and spraying them. Some added a few drops of dish washing liquid.
    It is way cheaper and safer than commercial pesticides.

    Do you know of the push-pull method?
    Here is a link to a newspaper article.
    http://www.push-pull.net/nation_media_2018.pdf
    Wikipedia also has quite a complete article about it.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Push%E2%80%93pull_agricultural_pest_management

    If you cannot open the link and have a question do not hesitate to ask.

     
    Rufaro Makamure
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    Regrettably I have had to use the conventional chemicals. I used some chemical which I found from our stored items. I can say I was "fortunate" as pest control was way out of my budget this season, even the natural way of going about it. I have no clue as to how to manage crop pests the natural way. Hopefully I will be in a position to work on this in the coming season.
     
    Nathanael Szobody
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    Hi Rufaro,

    One of the first ways to control pests is to rotate crops. If you've been growing corn on the same plot for a few years then it's no surprise you have to treat for pests.

    Try something different next year: beans, watermelon, okra, roselle, cucumbers and egusi melon, sesame seeds and bambura nuts or peanuts are all great African crops you could put in there instead of corn. I would stay away from corn for a few years now that you have a pest infestation.

    Peace, Nathanael
     
    gardener
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    Also diversity helps a lot. If you grow many different things, it protects you in a few ways, and makes it easier to go forward without poisons or conventional chemicals.

    1) In a diverse planted area, pests don't find a monocrop to multiply on. Monocrops are much more vulnerable to pest infestations.

    2) If you are growing many different things, you can accept damage to one crop this year, because next year that crop might do well, and a different crop may have trouble. But you'll always have plenty of things to harvest. Leaving the pests on the damaged plant seems like it could cause MORE of that pest the next year, and in some cases it does, but in many cases the ecosystem seems to balance out. Maybe predators rise to eat that pest, and the next year that particular pest drops back to its normal low levels. Pesticides (including some natural or organic ones) risk killing the predators along with the pests, so the ecosystem can't deal with it. In my experience, many years I have seen a new and unique pest causing a problem on just one or two types of plants, but the next year it recedes to the background.

    3) I think I remember from your previous posts, that you discovered that the monocropped maize was actually costing your family money to produce. It was being sold for less than the cost of production. Instead of growing a lot of maize for sale, a diverse variety of crops could replace more of your family's food purchases, not only cheaper but healthier because you know how you produced it. You might even be able to grow some items that someone in your family loves but finds too expensive to buy often.
     
    Rufaro Makamure
    Posts: 100
    Location: Zimbabwe
    38
    greening the desert
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    We have been talking about my mum joining the conversation on this forum, which will help in the continual adoption of permaculture even without my presence. I think this is the best opportunity for her as she is the one who has the final say as to what is to be planted, and through this forum she might get exposure that she wouldn't get anywhere else.  It will also help me as I can learn more about our progress, from discussions of her and other people who are interested in permaculture principles.

    I am crossing my fingers this works and she will enjoy sharing ideas.
     
    passwords must contain 14 characters, a number, punctuation, a small bird, a bit of cheese and a tiny ad.
    please help me create BB wiki pages, and other PEP pages
    https://permies.com/t/98467/create-BB-wiki-pages-PEP
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