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Hello Everyone,

I'm new to the forum, and new to the US as well (3 years this September) from the
uk.

I have 5 acres in South Central Idaho that was growing alfalfa several years ago, but has been left since then.

I'd love to get a small eco-friendly business of the ground here, and grow something organic or xeriscape, but do not know where to start.

An Organic market garden?  native plants for seed production?

I do not have a tractor, and although the land has grandfathered water rights, I'm not sure how I would get the water from the canal to here, or if I should just use drip hoses and water from the well?

I have compost worms (about 100lbs) and a big ol' vegetarian compost heap going. My budget is about $1000-$5,000....
Any ideas welcomed!
Nice to meet you all......strawdog

 
paul wheaton
master steward
Posts: 22340
Location: missoula, montana (zone 4)
bee chicken hugelkultur trees wofati woodworking
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Is the land just one big, flat field?

Any slope?

Any trees?

How much rainfall do you get there?

How long is the growing season?

How do you feel about pigs and chickens?
 
                    
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Hello Paul,

Yes it is just one big flat field, no slope. Currently there is alfalfa growing on it left over from several years ago. No trees, brush and not much weeds. ... annual snowfall is 14.5 inches and average rainfall per year is 8.4 inches. Winter humidity is 50%, summer is 23%. ...Frosts start around late Nov early Dec, and ends mid June. Zone 6,7.

I have been harvesting the alfalfa seed for sprouting!

I had 200,000 broilers evry 14 weeks in the 80's in Trinidad. Bad Karma! I have 6 fully free Rhode Isalnd Reds now, 4 hens and two cocks, about 4 months old and should start laying next month..Don't want to kill animals anymore!


Thanks for your reply

strawdog
 
Leah Sattler
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wow! I had no idea idaho was so dry. we average close to 40" of precip per year.

I would take a good look at what others are successfully growing and doing in the area and what kind of market there is for local products. Its easy to pick something to do that isn't really suited to the climate or soil. much easier to find something that works with what you have.
 
                    
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Hello Leah,

Thanks for the reply.

There are no market gardens around here, most small-holders raise a few goats, sheep and horses, otherwise they are all big farms and ranches. The crops are alfalfa, beans, potatoes, beet. There are a two large vinyards by the river, and one farm recently started growing mint (100's of acres). All these are crops use irrigation and most are by the river.

Your idea of working with what I have is exactly where I would like to go if possible.

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) donated about 4lbs of wildflower seed to me around January. I also bought about $100 of wildflower seed too. Nothing grew!

So far my ideas are:

Market garden: Because it would be ethical to grow organic food locally for people. It is harder work, more exspensive, and would require water, also composting and not using the land naturally.

Xeriscape plants for plants and seed: Such as Yucca, maybe even Prickly Pear!

Alfalfa: The alfalfa plants that are on the land have not been cared for, for 7 years. I'm not a plant specialised, but I think they may have hybridized to these harsh conditions.There are none growing wild, just mine. I know alfalfa has long taproots. I could specialise in organic, pathogen free alfalfa seed for sprouting, as I know they get a good price. Maybe I should just water the land a bit more in spring to get more established, as once established they come back every year.

OK, nuf said, lol....All ideas and advice welcome.

Thanks

strawdog.
 
paul wheaton
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Location: missoula, montana (zone 4)
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The alfalfa indicates that your soil has a ph of about 6.9 to 7.5. 

When you mention rainfall, you mentioned snowfall separate.  I would like to fully understand the total annual rainfall.

Also, I suspect the warmest zone in idaho would be zone 5 - zone 6 or 7?  How cold does it get there in winter? 

Trees .... my advice is going to feature a lot of trees right off.  Especially tap rooted trees ....

Any ideas on how deep your water table is? 

If you dig a hole, what do you find?

I suggest that you put "market garden" out of your mind for now.  First, focus on something like "how can I get 90% of my personal food from my own land" - the idea is that this sort of thinking helps you to think in terms of diversity which brings the food to you that eventually grows in excess which, at a later date, you could grow as a market garden.

If it is flat - any risk of floods?




 
                    
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Hello Paul,

Awesome! your advice sounds like exactly what I need, direction. I am so glad I found this site.

I am going to have to research to answer your questions, but two answers are: No flooding, we are not in the flood zone, but two blocks down is.
If I dig the soil in high summer (mid August) the soil gets moist after about 2-3ft. The soil is sandy and fine with about 40% pebbles in a shovelfull. It drains slowly in a couple of hours except in the winter when it will take a day.

I forgot to mention, my son dug a huge irregular round pond hole (40ftx30ft across and about 17ft deep) but we have not lined it or figured out how to get the water from the canal to the pond yet. A (unused for several years), sub-irrigation ditch that feeds of the main irrigation canal runs about 25ft from the pond. The pond and irrigation ditch are at the far end of the five acres.

Thanks for replying,

strawdog
 
Joel Hollingsworth
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strawdog wrote:

Market garden: Because it would be ethical to grow organic food locally for people. It is harder work, more exspensive, and would require water, also composting and not using the land naturally.



Emilia Hazelip has developed a fairly comprehensive system for no-till market gardens, called "synergistic gardenting". 

http://fukuokafarmingol.info/faemilia.html

It is probably compatible with Paul's favorite form of raised bed, hugelkultur. 

You might find something that goes far enough to minimize irrigation, hard work, and unnatural land use.

  *  *  *  *

It seems as though you have enough organic matter around to seal your pond using gley.

  *  *  *  *

It might be an interesting experiment to mow a small swath and sow a water-frugal grain (Millet?) at a carefully-chosen time of year.  It sounds like you have abundant N and organic matter.
 
paul wheaton
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Location: missoula, montana (zone 4)
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How did you dig the pond?

we are not in the flood zone, but two blocks down is.


Does that mean that there is a slight (almost imperceptable) slope to your land?

If I dig the soil in high summer (mid August) the soil gets moist after about 2-3ft.


You are exceptionally fortunate.  Half the perennials you plant will take advantage of that.  And they will then share their water with their neighbors.  The alfalfa is surely already tapping into that. 

You need trees, and lots of them.

 
Brenda Groth
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is your property considered high desert? I have a friend in the Midvale area of Idaho and she is considered high desert..above her is mountains and there is also a river nearby..but she has been battling dry dry dry this summer and doing a lot of irrigation.

Anyway, she found that she needed a lot of shade (this is a new area this year to her so a lot of experimenting as well)

So ...i would suggest that you get to planting any shade that you may need as soon as possible..such as to shade your home or any crops that might require some shade..

As you are unlikely to flood, you might need to put in a good butyl liner in your pond..and fill it from the canal or hope for a good rain..hope is the key here.


you probably had some rain this week..but it probably drained off and was dry enough to require watering later in the day.
 
                    
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Hi all,

I am sorry I have not been able to reply. Things here have been pretty hectic.

Whew! We have a household of 11 visiting from many parts of the world this week. I am the matriarch of this clutch, but it has been very enjoyable.

I am also doing an online degree, and as I am taking it seriously, my degree commands a lot of my attention right now also.

The information I need is with my son, and he got hit over the head with a cue stick, and is not feeling well enough right now to question.

I have been researching 'Greening the desert', and many other awesome sites since visiting here.

I have always been interested in creating a better future. I was one of the first 'New Age travellers' in the UK, and when I got a computer, I watched 'iggers and Dreamers', 'Wwoofers', and 'permaculture' grow their first roots.
I think here it is right to mention 'Rainbow Warrior', and 'GreenPeace'. I don't know what they are up to now, but they were a guiding light in a confused world back then, and I guess you guys have picked up the torch, and are carrying on!

I hope to be in contact with you soon. Time has a different dimesion here in the back-woods (except there arn't any...wooods! except up in the mountains, which on our door-step!)

Something is shifting, a vision is appearing, I need your help to make it happen...

Luv's ya'll

strawdog
X X X
Thanxs for all your help to date, it has gone a long way, and I am on information overload right now....; )
 
Brenda Groth
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my friend in Idao is on the doorstep to the mountains in the high desert area too..i've been watching her struggle this year with the"no rain then too much rain" problem..

She sheet mulches her gardens by starting out with cardboard and then she lays lots of mulch and compost over top..

Her biggest problem has been no shade on her property..so the more shade she can grow the better..but right now she is doing mornign glories and sunflowers and lilacs to provide a small amount of shade to her vegetable crops...and it has helped a lot

so i guess when you plan your property planning on that shade is # one in your area...even if it is just trellis shade..or temp shade.


wishing you the best
 
Dave Miller
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Rather than thinking about your land, how about if you start by thinking about your customers?

Here is the method I like to use:

1. Decide whom you want for customers.  "The entire world" is not an acceptable answer.  Make sure the people you select have something that you want, e.g. money, ability to make the world better, etc.

2. Become a student of them, "live" among them, understand them.  Know them better than anyone else.  Think: Jane Goodall when she was studying chimpanzees.  Companies/organizations are most successful when 1) they know their customers better than anyone else, 2) they are able to identify customer needs/desires before anyone else (maybe even before the customers themselves), and 3) they develop and deliver products/services/solutions/experiences that delight their customers. i.e. what you provide does not meet their expectations, it exceeds them.

3. Hang out with futurists, and do research to develop your "future sense".  You'll know you have achieved this when people use the word "visionary" to describe you.  Your presence and questions in this forum are part of this.

4. In your study of your customers and the future, you will identify or sense opportunities and problems that your customers are experiencing or will soon experience.  Write them all down.  When you do this, try not to think about your current business - your focus should be on your customers, not you (this is where many, many companies fail - they focus too much on themselves and their perspective on the world).   Don't fret over the likelihood that the biggest opportunities appear to have nothing to do with your current business - just write them down.

5. Looking at your list of opportunities and problems, are there any that jump out at you?  Begin to focus on those - hopefully a short list.  Don't worry if they seem really big.  Do a bit more research on them to make sure you really understand them.

6. For each opportunity on your short list, write a very clear problem statement, which includes nothing about potential solutions.  Make sure you focus on the problem - this usually takes some digging.

7. Looking at your short list, put them into buckets something like the following:
  7.1 We don't have much expertise or interest there. 
        Set those aside.  Consider bringing those to people who have the right expertise/interest.  If it is well researched, they will be happy to get it and may even pay you for it.
  7.2 We are interested in this area and should be able to come up with some good ideas.

8.  Prioritize the problem statements from 7.2.  This can be tough, and is where I struggle the most.

9. Bring together your best inventive minds, and have them brainstorm solutions to the problem statements from 7.2 above, in priority order.  (This forum can help you with this step)

10. Research your 1 or 2 best ideas.  Some will get thrown out because they contain "magic", would be too expensive, etc.  Hopefully they don't all get thrown out.

11. Figure out your path forward with the idea, keeping in mind that the goal is to delight customers.

12. Go to step 1.  Your customers (and you) have probably changed by now.  If nothing else, you have both gotten older.
 
                    
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Paul, Brenda, Adunca

Hello all,

The advice I am recieving is amazing, and just the confidence boost I need to help get this project going!

Paul:
A detailed list of 'bare bones' on the land is at the bottom. Using the confidence gained from this site, I have managed to get a few people interested. The hardest was my son. This morning my son (who is a civil engineer) took time out with me to survey the land. I have copied the results, and there is a slope. More in the 'report' below.

Brenda:
We are on the doorstep of the mountains, and in high desert too! That was great advice. I am hoping Paul will advise me on what trees to plant, but in the meantime, Sunflowers, and other high plants would do great. Thanks for replying to my post. It would be great if you keep me informed of your friends progress, as I will keep all posted of mine. I think it may be a long haul, but it seems logical that as your friend and I are in the same area (in many ways) we could help each other a lot. Thanks again!


adunca:
What incredible insight, and wisdom. Of course without customers there is no business! My priority is to promote nature and let her bring her healthy bounty to feed us by working with her. I think this is what permaculture is all about. My daughter is convinced people will not come from this town to 'pick-your-own' which is what I had in mind eventually. Your post was a timely reminder. Currently I am taking Pauls advice and will be planning to grow for just the family next year, I understand what he means, because I have done this before with agarden in England, and the bounty exceeds expectations, but there is also a learning curve in there that is manadatory for growing for a living. Thanks for replying, your post 'hit the nail on the head', and already I am coming up with creative solutions (I think a market has to be created here, because the concept is new here) research into the box schemes in Boise would be a good place to start, also school meals are in consideration....research, research..and creativity. Thanks loads!

Paul: I am going to put the info in a new post because this may be getting too long!

Thanks for all the help and advice, keep it comming!

strawdog
 
                    
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'Bare bones of the land and environment'

Rainfall: 8.8' average per year: 50% between February and June. Driest month: July

Snowfall: 13.6' average per year: Between November and April (January being the snowiest)

Growing Season: 290 days average sunshine. (Hot summers, Cold winters)

Winter Temps: Average Low 19f

Summer Temps: Average high 92f

Water Table: Our well is 325 feet down. (Big crop farmers go 600+)

Sea level: 3146 above sea level

High winds around June (not good for fruit blossons without windbreaks)

The land is 5 acres, out of the flood area and rectangular in shape.

The long sides of the rectangle face North, South, the short sides face East, West.

There is a 3.5 foot slope from the North West corner, down to the South East corner.

The pond is in the North West corner.

I will try to attach a picture of our survey this morning.

Thanks for all your help. It is truly appreciated.

strawdog

unable to attach image.

PS: Once a week most folks in town bag their grass cuttings, tree trimmings and weedings in large brown sacks and leave them outside for the refuse people to take. I think if I saw brown bags and knocked on doors to ask to have them they will let me. I don't think I would get in trouble with the city either. I will check this out, because it is an extremely convenient way of getting compost. Just picking it up in brown paper bags!
 
Brenda Groth
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your town may compost those bags and you might be able to go there and get compost free..

i agree with those that say ..if you are planning on a cash crop find what people want to buy and what will grow well for you that isn't readily avail in stores..that is why i'm doing the raspberries and blackberries and blueberries here..as they don't transport well and people aren't really selling them..but people do want them..and will pay a premium price for them.

another thing is to consider the product of the food rather than just the food itself..a lot of people prefer not to preserve or cook...so if you can do the work for them they'll pay you..such as selling things like pies, jellies and jams, preserves and pickles, breads and rolls, etc.

you are not really saying if for sure you want a commercial adventure or if you are looking for a homestead with some commercial value on the side..and how much $ and work you are willing to invest..will you be working at another job or will this be your sole sourch of income? that kind of thing should be taken into account.

 
Leah Sattler
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brenda has a super idea with the pies and jams etc.... here at our puny local farmers market in an area where not many people have disposable income to spend on fancy food the amish table had a line of people waiting to buy their cakes, pies, homemade noodles etc.......the monotonous stands selling greens and new potatoes sat mostly empty.
 
Brenda Groth
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my friend from Idaho read your post and she responded to me in an email with this info:

quote:
I went to his post and  there are a couple of things to note you might post to him. I do not want to join the group.Looks like a good group but..(commet deleted)

One is sunshine days do not have much to do with growing days. Not sure where he got that idea. Here we can have bright sun in 10 degree weather. Nothing is going to grow in that. LOL I am sure you know that too. I do not know where he really lives. He is a higher elevation then we are here. So is Boise. I bet he is somewhere down there or even Pocatello or Twinfalls. I would guess his zone is closer to 4 or 5 not 6 or 7. I doubt there is a 6 or 7 in Idaho.

Alfalfa left  more then a few years to grow in a field runs out. Farmers have to replant it at least every three years and you can not replant alfalfa where alfalfa has been grown with out some other crop between  the alfalfa crops. There is something in the root system that will kill the newly planted crop off. There is a name for it but I do not remember what. also the field needs to be deeply plowed.

Usually there is a ditch system to get the water from canal or you pump it from the canal to your land. He mentions water rights but he also has to have rights to cross others property if the canal is not bordering his own property. When we bordered the river and had water rights from the river we put in a pumping system and used an old fire hose from pump to  faucet and from there the garden hoses. Sounds like he has the ditch just needs to buy the pump. And get electric to the site or gas pump.

Wonder why his wild flower seeds did not grow? Too old maybe.

The reason I had to shade things is because I am growing in containers. I am sure if it was in the ground it would be fine. But my ground is not good enough for that. Also where my garden is is between the house and shop and that holds in more heat. Maybe a good thing in the spring but in the heat of summer it is hard on things. Next year I hope to have larger containers that hold the moisture better. I do think a little shade is good but if he is going to grow some sort of crop farmers almost always cut down all of the trees.

Hehehe..................... said he should grow Pot. Seems to be a big crop in Idaho but do NOT put that in a post to him. I really do not know what the guy could grow. There are many small vegetable and fruit stands around

I left the pot remark in for the humor of it..being from your area of Idaho it might give you a good laugh
 
paul wheaton
master steward
Posts: 22340
Location: missoula, montana (zone 4)
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As if this isn't confusing enough, I would offer advice that is the opposite of some other advice offered:  Learning about how to supply your market is wise from a standard business approach.  But!  From a permaculture perspective, consider this alternative mission:  feed yourself first.  Your primary mission is to have 90% of the food you eat come from your own land.  Then sell the excess. 

This direction will encourage diversity of markets and plant diversity. 

Rainfall: 8.8' average per year: 50% between February and June. Driest month: July

Snowfall: 13.6' average per year: Between November and April (January being the snowiest)


First, the single quote denotes "feet" and I think you mean to say "inches", right? 

Second, some snow is fluffier than others which is why "annual rainfall" is figured as rain + melted snow. 

What I need to know is the total annual rainfall.  Which includes the snow.

Growing Season: 290 days average sunshine. (Hot summers, Cold winters)


The growing season is how many frost free days in a row you have.  You can have a sunny day complete with frost. 

So 290 is not the right answer. 

I know that the answer for Missoula is 90:  June 1 to sep 1.

What happened so you cannot attach image?

Can you find your property on google maps satellite images?


 
Brenda Groth
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i totally agree withi Paul and with the friend I have in Idaho..you are not seeing the overall growing situation correctly in Idaho..honestly..other than having mountains and high desert it is very much like My growing season here in Michigan and trust me..you are lucky to get 90 days here..and heavy droughts in midsummer.

i also think you are wrong about the amount of rainfall..but hey we got 141" of snow in a few months this past winter..so hey i'll allow exaggerations..

you need to talk to the locals..and find out exactly when to expect fall frosts and last spring frosts and then guess between them how many growing days you have..add a greenhouse and you can extend that by a month wihtout heat and longer with heat.

also remember in high desert you have a LOT of sun..esp in the summer and some days will be well into the 100's..which means..a lot of things we can grow here with an average summer temp of 70's ..will not grow there with your average summer temp of 90's..
 
Joel Hollingsworth
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It sounds like your soil type might make autotoxicity less of a problem:


Soil EffectsSoil Effects

The role that soil texture plays in the dissipation of the autotoxic chemical has only recently been studied. In our research, extracts made from alfalfa topgrowth containing the autotoxic chemical passed more rapidly through leaching columns of sandy soil than through columns containing silty clay loam (Jennings and Nelson, 199. Fractions of the leachate that passed through the columns were collected and added to petri dishes containing alfalfa seeds. Percent germination and root growth were measured after three days. Approximately fifty percent more water was required to move the extracts through the silty clay loam compared to the sandy soil. The autotoxic effect on root growth was stronger (reduced root growth more) in the sandy soil, but persisted longer for the silty clay loam.

This suggests that in the short term autotoxicity may be more severe in sandy soils, however, with irrigation the autotoxic factor may be leached out of the root zone more easily in sandy soils than in soils of heavier texture. This practice has been used successfully in Kansas and Nebraska where sandy fields are irrigated heavily after killing the old alfalfa, but before planting the new stand  (J. Schafer, 1991, personal communication; B.A. Anderson, 1995, personal communication). Further research is needed to determine the amount of rainfall or irrigation needed for different soil textures to allow shortened rotation intervals.


Source: http://www.uwex.edu/ces/forage/wfc/proceedings2001/understanding_autotoxicity_in_alfalfa.htm

It's an interesting article in general.

I also have to wonder what is pollinating your alfalfa.  It might be worth finding out before you change much.
 
Mandy Miller
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***UPDATE*** I'm the Original Poster (OP) had to re-register...

South Central Idaho (Cold/Dry/Windy/Dry/Hot). In one word TOUGH.

Wow, what a learning curve. Three years later we have a grant for; a 20' x 200' high tunnel, a four row windbreak around the five acres, and drip irrigation for the windbreak and two production acres.

My sole income for the last three years has been from seed sales.

What I have learned, and what we have done:

The alfalfa is still with us and thriving without any help which we are grateful for (Ph 7).

Growing for market is rocket science and hard work... "Know what your customers want and provide it".

Voles!!! They love masses of vegetation, drip irrigation lines, and something to grind their teeth on... Mow and weed round precious plants, keep a 15' clear perimeter from any future vole entry points, and a hosepie down the holes with a mouse catching dog can win those vole battles... Castor oil works for a short while and is expensive. Take action as soon as vole habitation is present.

Comfrey, Nettle, and Borage are great fertilizers.

French Tarragon and Alfalfa are the toughest plants I have grown naturally (without irrigation or care). Sage, Thyme, and Oregano come in second, and then Lactuca virosa (which I have stands for production... amazing medicinal plant) Other plants growing well here with some water are; Kale, Collards, Brusell's Sprouts, Upland Cress, Radishes, Carrots, SPINACH, Serviceberry, Chokecherry, Goosberry, Rasberry, Austrian Pine, Blue Flax, Yarrow, Mexican Hat, Coneflower, Cherry, Pears,.... and others.

The Chinese Elm is invasive in the places I water but I have decided to let it grow because it wants to so much (almost impossible to catch it in time to pull it up from the roots) and then when it inhibits growing space and outgrows its shade use I mercilesly cut it down and used it as wood chippings for mulch.

This project is challenging but extremely rewarding.

My intention is to grow as many edible and beneficial plants as possible with the least amount of input possible. If it wants to grow I let it. Careful watching and noting what likes to grow where, and what impact it has, gives me a good idea of what to plant when and where. Creating micro climates with plants, and planting specific species at specific times, in specific places can work wonders. The practice seems best starting at micro levels and working out to bigger areas because I do not have enough knowledge of swales and heavy earth moving to do a thorough groundwork right now... I can see in the future, years of hard work will have to be bulldozed to create the right pockets but for now just learning is enough. But at my age 56 and looking 20 years into the future, I just hope all this hard thinking has a positive and beneficial impact for future generations.

Still on the learning roller coaster!!!

Best share what we learn.

Oh, and for small, impossible patches of clay... a bag of dried beet fodder for cattle or horses dumped in a pile and left to winter will bring in enzymes, beneficial microbial beings, and start a wonderful break-down recovery, as will potatoes left in...

 
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