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My Progress Gleying a Pond With Pigs

 
Michael Newby
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I've been very interested in the technique of gleying a pond with animals ever since I first read about it a couple years ago here. My problem was first the lack of property and then, when we did start purchasing 14 acres, the natural depression I identified as a potential pond was really just a bottomless gravel/rock pit. There's not really any clay on my property either, just varying sizes of volcanic rock from car sized down to micron size.

We were getting pigs no matter what so I figured I might as well give it a try and see what happened. The first two pigs were brought in mid March and the second two were brought in 3 weeks later. There's a .5-1 GPM water supply that overflows, initially pretty much straight down the hill but in the past couple weeks I've made a swale that wraps it almost completely around the pond before it makes it to the bottom.

It took over a week for the overflow to even reach the bottom of the depression and a month or so in with all 4 pigs and there still didn't seem to be any type of sealing happening. While doing all this I had been becoming pretty familiar with our pigs (did I mention I'd never had any experience with pigs before?) and realized that while they loved scratching on the large rocks in the pen as far as wallowing goes they searched out any remotely damp mud-like substance they could find. So I went to the bottom of the depression and raked out all the 1" and larger stones then dumped two 5 gallon buckets of the finer dirt from above down right where the trickle disappeared into the gravel.

Two weeks later I had this: all the dirt was gone but there was a 1'-2' little puddle there all the time now.
Early Pig Pond.jpg
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Michael Cox
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Doesn't glorying depend on there being some clay soil already present? They can't create a waterproof seal frame nothing, but work the material that is already present, adding their manure and the physical action of their feet and rooting around. I'd look to import a dumper load of clay soil.
 
Cris Bessette
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yeah, the clay content is your problem- gleying without clay is like pancakes without eggs.
 
Michael Newby
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Now about 3 months later the pond has grown considerably. I've made it a habit of when I go in to feed the pigs I try to haul out one or two buckets of rocks that I've raked out of the lower area. I've also put another 5 or 6 buckets of the finer dirt into the water early on when it first started pooling. Now the pigs love their little swimming hole, especially on really hot days. It's only about 18" deep but I seem to have hit a tipping point in anaerobes in the lower soil because the pond is constantly adding depth, even if it's only a few mm at a time.
Pig Pond 2014-07.jpg
[Thumbnail for Pig Pond 2014-07.jpg]
 
Michael Newby
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Cris Bessette wrote:yeah, the clay content is your problem- gleying without clay is like pancakes without eggs.


I'd have to say the proof is in the pudding! I really wasn't expecting much sealing to happen at all, let alone this quickly. It was really a let's see what happens kind of thing because the depression was already the best spot on my property to keep the pigs in and the pigs need a steady supply of fresh water as well as a place to wallow.

From what I understand about the technique is that it's not always compacted clay that does the sealing but the the biological "slime" layer that is created by the anaerobes acting in the wet oxygen deprived soil below the collected water. If you notice in the second photo I have re-routed the water with a swale so that it flows across a very shallow slope where I feed the pigs just before it enters the pond. This way it picks up a lot of the spilled feed as well as lots of manure and deposits it in the pond giving the microbes plenty to feed on. All this organic matter breaks down and some of it breaks down to the size of clay, increasing sealing ability as long as there's active biology present to keep it from just washing out of the dirt.
 
Michael Cox
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Without the clay in the mix won't the biological seal break down once the pigs are gone?
 
Michael Newby
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Michael Cox wrote:Without the clay in the mix won't the biological seal break down once the pigs are gone?


I think that as long as I can maintain a healthy pond the microbe population in the soil should remain high enough maintain the seal. With no inputs of my own I have already seen two different aquatic bugs in the water - paddle bugs/water boatman and an unidentified maggot/grub that I've caught glimpses of in the mud. I plan on getting some muck from a nearby natural pond and putting it in my fledgling pond to help kickstart the biological diversity, as well as get some edge plants going now that I have the swale along the rim to allow me to keep them irrigated while the pond is low. The hope is that these, coupled with inputs from runoff directed through swales to the pond should be enough to keep it going. We'll see, though, it's all new experimentation for me.
 
Dave Burton
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The pigs are helpers in the process of sealing the pond but the pond will not disappear without them. I think this thread's discussion on gleying might be useful.
 
wayne fajkus
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My non scientific thought- if I put a running water hose into a depression in the ground, I would have more standing water in 3 months than I had in 3 weeks.

I'm not discrediting what is happening, just wondering if the same results would have happened regardless if pigs were introduced. A constant water flow is a BIG variable from what you started with.
 
Michael Newby
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wayne fajkus wrote:My non scientific thought- if I put a running water hose into a depression in the ground, I would have more standing water in 3 months than I had in 3 weeks.


Not necessarily true - all soil is going to have a certain rate that it will seep water and if your inflow doesn't exceed the amount that seeps away, you'll never get standing water. Here's an example: Lets say my undisturbed soil can seep ~5 gallons of water a minute per sq ft of soil surface. To get a ten sq ft puddle to form in this soil I'd have to have ~50 gpm flowing in to maintain that puddle, and that's not taking into account evaporation, which is pretty high here in the summer. The more surface area the pond covers, the more seepage you get so you'll get standing water at the point where your seepage and evaporation match your inflow. Without additional inputs such as mechanical agitation, living organisms, added organic material or clay, etc. it will take a very long time for the soil begin to seal itself.

All natural ponds lose some water to seepage and evaporation, it's just a matter of making sure that the amount lost is less than or equal to your inflow if you don't want to lose water level. It's easy if you have 100 gpm to dump constantly, a little harder with just a few gpm, much harder without regular water input.


edited for clarity
 
Cj Sloane
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Cris Bessette wrote:yeah, the clay content is your problem- gleying without clay is like pancakes without eggs.


I thought gleying was about green matter turning into goo. Did you throw any grass clipping in there? That will probably go a long way towards mitigating the lack of clay.
 
Victor Johanson
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One of the attractions of gleying is that it's not supposed to depend on the clay content of the soil, enabling ponds to be constructed in otherwise unsuitable locations. One account describes how ponds were built on a porous coral atoll in the tropics. The seal is purportedly achieved through anaerobic decomposition of organic matter creating an impermeable biofilm. There's plenty of talk online about gley, but precious few concrete examples, so this is pretty awesome. There's no clay where I live either, and I've been searching for some years to see successful examples of the technique. This may or may not qualify as gleying; sepp holzer talks about sealing ponds with pigs, and it is speculated that his technique relies on the "Brazil nut effect," where smaller particles settle down into larger crevices in a progressive way until all the pores are blocked. Either way, finding a method that works in porous soils is huge.

There is an interesting paper on manure lagoons self-sealing at http://www.csbe-scgab.ca/docs/journal/29/29_2_99_raw.pdf .
I also have a copy of http://www.researchgate.net/publication/240410495_Sealing_pond_bottoms_with_muddy_water ; if anyone's interested PM me and I'll share it.

Please keep us posted on the progress!
 
Michael Newby
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Cj Verde wrote:
I thought gleying was about green matter turning into goo. Did you throw any grass clipping in there? That will probably go a long way towards mitigating the lack of clay.


There seems to be some debate on what it really means to gley a pond but according to Merriam Webster the definition of gley is "a sticky clay soil or soil layer formed under the surface of some waterlogged soils" - the only thing that this definition seems to care about is the condition of the soil, not how it got to that condition.

From everything that I've been able to research on the matter the key seems to be having a layer of consistently waterlogged soil with the proper conditions to produce an anaerobic environment which supports the populations of anaerobic microbes which produce the (mostly) watertight bioslime.

Following this line of thought the key points are keeping the soil waterlogged, getting the soil anaerobic, getting the anaerobic microbes to populate the waterlogged oxygen depleted soil and keeping those microbes alive and healthy enough to maintain that bioslime.
 
Michael Newby
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So here's an updated picture, a little less than 3 weeks after the last photo. There's been a pretty significant algae bloom in the last week or so and I'm hoping that as this goes through its life cycle it'll be a good source of labor free green material added to the bottom of the pond. I've noticed that when the pigs really splash around waves will push a few inches up the shore and deposit a small layer of the algae and fine muck from the bottom along the shore, which then gets stomped into the ground by the pigs.

PigPond082014.jpg
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Michael Newby
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Victor Johanson wrote: This may or may not qualify as gleying; Sepp Holzer talks about sealing ponds with pigs, and it is speculated that his technique relies on the "Brazil nut effect," where smaller particles settle down into larger crevices in a progressive way until all the pores are blocked


Sepp was definitely on of the major inspirations for trying this little experiment. I have been going through and raking out the larger stones (1"+) partially to help encourage the Brazil nut effect, but I mainly continue to do it because I've noticed the pigs prefer to wallow where it isn't so gravelly. My feeling on the matter is that it's probably a combination of the two that creates a well sealed pond - The Brazil nut effect gets you close to sealed up and sets up the anaerobic conditions, the pig manure/green material populates the soil with microbes, the microbes finish sealing by creating a gley layer.
 
Devon Olsen
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Victor Johanson
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Looks encouraging; that's some gravelly looking soil. Hail to the pigs! I've been researching more, and discovered that the Brazil Nut effect is called colmation:

"Colmation is a process which occurs when fine particles, transported by groundwater, are dammed in gaps of skeleton. These particles produce less porosity and permeability of porous medium while the density of the material sedimentation increases.The basic understanding of the mechanical process is that colmation is the inverseprocess of suffusion. It is also necessary to understand the term depth filtration which describes the transport and retention of fine inorganic and detrital particles. There are processes of internal, external and contact colmation and for each of them it is typical that firstly the bigger particles lodge in the pores in this way forming the'bottle necks' where even finer particles can also can also become entrapped."

The colmation layer is sometimes referred to as the clogging layer, and studies have been done on the process, often in relation to manure lagoons or sewer leaks.

 
Cj Sloane
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Michael Newby wrote:
There seems to be some debate on what it really means to gley a pond but according to Merriam Webster the definition of gley is "a sticky clay soil or soil layer formed under the surface of some waterlogged soils" - the only thing that this definition seems to care about is the condition of the soil, not how it got to that condition.


Permaculture words tend to have slightly or not so slightly different definitions then conventional meanings. Type 1 errors in permaculture, for example, doesn't mean the what it means in scientific circles.
 
Julia Winter
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Yes, my scientific background messes me up with this: what does "Type 1 error" mean in terms of permaculture?

(Ooops, sorry to sidetrack. I think this pond project is awesome. Thanks so much for posting the photos! I can see it in the future surrounded by trees and loveliness, all from the hard work of some pigs (and people). . .
 
Cj Sloane
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Julia Winter wrote: what does "Type 1 error" mean in terms of permaculture?


A massive mistake. Like when I'm driving in Vermont and I see someone has put a garage on the southern side of their house blocking precious sun which could be heating their house. A type 1 error.
 
Michael Newby
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Here's a couple of pictures updating the pond's progress filling. The first one the pond had just covered the little mini swale I made a little lower in the pond and the second one shows that the pond had just made it to the little shade lean-to and I had to take it down. Now that it's cooled down a little it seems to be filling quite a bit faster probably due to less evaporation.
Pig Pond 08-23.jpg
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08/23
Pig Pond 09-01.jpg
[Thumbnail for Pig Pond 09-01.jpg]
09/01
 
Dave Burton
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That is so awesome Michael! Are you making even more ponds than this one with the pigs? It is quite amazing seeing what the pigs are capable of. Thank you for posting these photos, Michael. I look forward to seeing your development and the pigs' of the landscape.
 
Devon Olsen
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i really love this thread, thank you for sharing Michael
 
Victor Johanson
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Looks like it's working pretty good!
 
Michael Newby
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Dave: I do have 3 more sites planned already, maybe 4. It's going to be a little of a scramble to get the next pond area ready, I didn't expect things to go this well even in my wildest dreams.

Devon and Victor: Thanks! I'm still blown away by how well it's going, I can't wait to see it overflowing into my next pond.
 
Michael Newby
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I am officially calling this experiment a total success! I cannot believe how well this has been working out. We have had out first real rain in 4 months and the pond is now about 8" from overflow which means it is about 8' deep! In just 5 months of keeping these pigs I've managed to go from a pit in rocks and rock dust to an 8' deep roughly 35' diameter pond. Even without the major water catchment earthworks in place the pond has collected a noticeable amount of water from the ~1" of rain that we've gotten in the past 18 hours. One thing that I've done is run over and move a good number of larger rocks/boulders to the overflow so that if/when it does breach I won't have a major erosion event.
Pig Pond 09-25.jpg
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Pig Pond 09-25 view 2.jpg
[Thumbnail for Pig Pond 09-25 view 2.jpg]
 
Ce Rice
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Cris Bessette wrote:yeah, the clay content is your problem- gleying without clay is like pancakes without eggs.


Mmmmmm I love Pancakes without eggs!
 
Ce Rice
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Awesome thread/experiment/progress!!!
So, where are the pigs?

Great that you documented this for us! Keep the reports/photos coming. A full year or two of the situation of the pond would make for a great proof of experiment.

Can you do one thing for me? Outside of the pond area, in one or two places, like the surface nearby, but also in a depression(4-8 feet down) collect a 2/3 jar full of dirt and small pebbles. Fill jar with water and really shake it up(no big rocks or might break glass). Then let it settle out. when the layers form see if you have a thin layer of clay. It is possible your gravel has a decent clay content that has just been dry and useless until you did your amazing work with the pigs.
But this little test will provide some additional scientific material for future reference.
 
Zach Muller
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Michael, this is great stuff! Thanks for posting the pictures. It's nice that the rocks you dug out found a useful place nearby.
Do you plan to divert the water overflow away from the pond now, or keep it where it was?
Also I don't know much about pig breeds do yours swim in the pond now?
 
Michael Newby
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Ce Rice wrote:Awesome thread/experiment/progress!!!
So, where are the pigs?

Great that you documented this for us! Keep the reports/photos coming. A full year or two of the situation of the pond would make for a great proof of experiment.

Can you do one thing for me? Outside of the pond area, in one or two places, like the surface nearby, but also in a depression(4-8 feet down) collect a 2/3 jar full of dirt and small pebbles. Fill jar with water and really shake it up(no big rocks or might break glass). Then let it settle out. when the layers form see if you have a thin layer of clay. It is possible your gravel has a decent clay content that has just been dry and useless until you did your amazing work with the pigs.
But this little test will provide some additional scientific material for future reference.


Thanks! The pigs really don't seem to like the rain all that much and have been huddled in their shelter.

I'm sure that there's still going to be an additional amount of sealing over the next few years until everything reaches an equilibrium and seepage is reduced to it's minimum.

I've done the soil test in a mason jar for the area and the results are a little misleading - for one, when you remove all the rocks >1" then you have removed about 60% of the material, and secondly you end up with about a 20-30% layer of fines that you would think is clay but it is actually just rock dust/powder. The difference being that rock dust is made from the physical grinding of larger stones, usually from glacier activity but also from rock slides, volcanic activity and physical freeze-thaw cycles, whereas clay is formed from different forms of weathering which all require the presence of water in order to produce actual clay as a byproduct. The rock dust doesn't have the tetrahedral/octrahedral sheet shape with a negative charge that is characteristic of clay and responsible for many of clay's unique properties.
 
Michael Newby
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Zach Muller wrote:Michael, this is great stuff! Thanks for posting the pictures. It's nice that the rocks you dug out found a useful place nearby.
Do you plan to divert the water overflow away from the pond now, or keep it where it was?
Also I don't know much about pig breeds do yours swim in the pond now?


My plans for the overflow is to divert it into a swale that when full will overflow into another area that I plan to gley with more pigs next year, which will hopefully overflow into another swale then pond which would overflow to a proposed pasture area.

Right now we have 2 red wattles and a Berkshire/Big Black/Hampshire cross and a Yorkshire/Hampshire cross. I can't say that I've seen them fully swim but they will wade to the point that they can barely keep their heads out of the water. They really like to wallow and lay in the shallow water along the edges of the pond.
 
Cj Sloane
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I've watched my pigs take a running dive/belly flop into my pond and then swim doggy paddle back to shore.
 
M Johnson
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I had a pond that would disappear until I put pigs in there too. It lasted a long time after the pigs were gone but finally dried up after 8 months of no pigs. I'm curious to see how yours does, mine never was as deep as yours is. Hope it stays! Awesome thread
 
Victor Johanson
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Impressive! sepp holzer wrote about this technique, but this is the first online documentation I've found showing how well it works. I hope it proves stable over time, but it looks like the prospects for that are excellent. This appears to be the cheapest and easiest way to do a pond on porous ground. Our soils are schist overlaid with loess containing very little clay, and clay is very scarce in these parts. I've been searching for feasible ways to seal ponds under these circumstances, so your results are very encouraging.
 
Seth Peterson
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Phenomenal Newby! It IS fantastic to see this system work over time, thank you!

Shooting for the moon: Does anyone have any experience with other animals, goats maybe? I have better acces to goats than pigs in my urban environment. But then I could use a good excuse to get me some pigs. And another urban homesteadder friend of mine says his ducks seemed to have sealed off their brick patio rather well.

Seth P
 
Aljaz Plankl
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If water level go down anyhow, put pigs back.
Ponds in this way were created with cattle a lot in our country.
I saw many of them in regions of Slovenia on very porous sandy clay soil.
Cattle came back to the pond all the time to drink.
Many of this ponds are still there, full, even if cattle is not around for many many years.

Pigs did amzaing job with their manure, and even more with their trampling.

Amazing presentation and updates!
Thank you!
 
Kevin Searcy
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Great job! Thanks for this, look forward to seeing the rest of the ponds evolve.
 
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So here's a quick update on the pond:

It's been 2 months since we slaughtered the pigs and turned the water off and the lowest it's gotten is ~10 inches from overflow. We've had 3 decent rain events in the past month or so (probably around 6-7 inches total) that filled it to within 1 or 2 inches from overflow with the second biggest rain (3.5 inches total in 18 hours) causing it to overflow for the last 4 hours of the storm. All that filling and there's really only 20 feet of hastily dug swale feeding the pond, the rest is just direct runoff. My eventual plan will have this pond being fed by about 600' of swale with 400' or so collecting runoff from a long driveway that collects a lot of water any time there's a halfway decent rain event.

From what I can tell it seems like the upper foot or so of pond sides aren't really sealed that well. Water level drops to 8-10 inches from overflow pretty quickly (1 or 2 weeks depending on the weather) but then drops much more slowly after that, probably less than an inch a week. This would make sense because the upper sides of the pond saw the least activity from the pigs so probably had the least amount of physical puddling done coupled with the fact that the upper edges get the least amount of time with anaerobic conditions.

My goal in the spring is to introduce a small flock of ducks to the pond with hopes that their fine manure will help with getting an even better seal. I also need to decide what plants I want to introduce to the pond and pond edges but I have the winter to ponder that.

Sorry about the quality of the picture, I'm pretty sure that the camera lens got fogged up from my steaming hands. It hadn't rained for a couple weeks and it's been rather warm and sunny for the past few days so the pond was around the lowest I've seen it since shutting off the water.
IMG_20141224_091428_722-small.jpg
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Victor Johanson
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I wonder if the leakage will slow once the hydrology matures and the surrounding soil becomes more saturated and creates an equilibrium. I understand that one of the chief benefits of having an unsealed pond is the hydrating effect it has on the immediate envioronment. You have totally inspired me; I'm going to give this a try once I get moved out onto the homestead. The soil there is real schisty, with a negligible amount of clay, but yours looks to be far more porous, so that gives me hope.
 
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Victor Johanson wrote:I wonder if the leakage will slow once the hydrology matures and the surrounding soil becomes more saturated and creates an equilibrium. I understand that one of the chief benefits of having an unsealed pond is the hydrating effect it has on the immediate envioronment. You have totally inspired me; I'm going to give this a try once I get moved out onto the homestead. The soil there is real schisty, with a negligible amount of clay, but yours looks to be far more porous, so that gives me hope.


I'd love to see others do more start-to-finish documentation of creating a pond with pigs, it's funny how many people can't wrap their head around it when I try to explain what I've been doing. It's going to be real interesting to watch the surrounding area as the seasons pass and see what the true long term effects of the pond end up being.

For now this whole venture has convinced me it's the most economical, least labor intensive way to make a medium size pond in my soil and I have 10 pigs reserved for this coming march. I still haven't made up my mind whether I want to split the pigs between two potential pond sites or have them all in one, kind of leaning toward having them all free range in an area that I can turn into two different ponds. I'm also looking into if I can afford a good batch of low-growing bamboo to cover at least the dam wall, maybe some of the slopes directly above the ponds where erosion is the most likely.
 
I agree. Here's the link: http://richsoil.com/email
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