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Fine-tuning Biointensive

 
Tyler Ludens
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I've been very inspired by the work of John Jeavons and Ecology Action and often reference their books and research. http://www.growbiointensive.org/ I think Bointensive-style vegetable growing can be a wonderful component of a permaculture system. But personally I've found the Biointensive method to be too much physical labor, so I've made some adjustments which work for me. In Biointensive, beds are double-dug, sometimes each year, and prepared compost is added. Too my way of thinking, that is too much disturbance and hard on soil organisms. In my climate, it has made more sense for me to dig my beds only once and put wood in the bottom of them, and cover with sifted soil. http://www.permies.com/t/52077/hugelkultur/Buried-Wood-Beds Ideally this soil would be improved with compost, but I've not had that much compost. For renewal of compost to the beds, rather than making compost by hand in the traditional piles, I want to try using the help of chickens to make or at least start compost heaps. http://geofflawton.com/videos/chicken-tractor-steroids/ My biggest complaint about Biointensive is that it is a vegan system, and I personally feel that food-growing systems are less complete if they don't include domestic animals. It's good that vegan methods of food growing are available, but most people aren't vegans, so most people's gardens and diets would probably benefit from the inclusion of small animals. Biointensive demands that a great deal of space be devoted to annual carbon crops which are also grains. In a permaculture system these annual crops could be replaced by perennials and trees. Biointensive crop beds are typically monocultures, but I grow most of my vegetables in polycultures. By combining the small-space ideas of Biointensive with the system thinking of permaculture, I'm finally being able to grow a decent amount of food in what has been for me a very challenging climate.
 
R Scott
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Jeavons developed the system to grow food in basically a third world homestead or first world suburban yard, places where land is a premium and animals are too expensive or not allowed. For that, it is AWESOME. But if you have more land or animals, you can reduce the labor requirements.
 
Tyler Ludens
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R Scott wrote: But if you have more land or animals, you can reduce the labor requirements.


Can you suggest some specific examples of how you're doing that?
 
R Scott
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Well...

My big one is my bed spacing. Mine is roughly half beds half walkway, 30" each. I compost in the path, then rake or shovel it back on top of the bed each spring. Some of my beds I can use the tractor to do that, using the bed former to throw the path on top of the beds. But by hand isn't hard. My path is mulched with sawdust and straw, then green clippings are added over the summer. You can run a tiller in the path if you really get behind on the weeding or need to speed up the composting, but usually the scuffle or wheel hoe is enough.

I tilled the beds ONCE when I made them. I only had 8" of topsoil in most places, so I tilled everything that deep then threw the path dirt into the row. Quick raised bed double dug. Oh, but first I ran a subsoiler down the rows as deep as I could go, so it was like it was dug about thirty inches deep when I was done.

A little manure or rich compost is added in the fall as they are put to bed for the winter. One free pickup load from a horse stable would do the job for a large garden, I just have to clean the goat barn.

I use tarps like SPIN farming, but I have vole and mice problems so they are not a long term thing for me. They do help kill weed seeds and get the earthworms to do the double digging when done correctly.

I am going to try using kraft paper instead of black plastic mulch this year. The hope is it will be enough of a weed barrier but compost in place. I hate throwing away plastic.

I don't have the growing season to push multiple crops from each bed reliably, so I use a lot lower intensity and then use a cover crop with a useful crop if the season is long enough but don't count on a harvest.


 
Tyler Ludens
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I find I don't have any weed problems because of the close spacing of the plants. Some volunteer plants come up along the edge of the beds, but most of these are edible so I don't consider them weeds - right now I have a lot of Henbit and Dock, which I add to salads and green soup.

 
Travis Schultz
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I build a couple compost piles each year only for my chickens. I do not build anywhere near the compost Jeavons suggest, nor do I do even half the work they want you to do... And I still get great results.

The reason they say not to go below 36" in bed width is because of micro climate. I am huge on expressing to people the importance of this micro climate within your bed.

Next time I set one of these up, I am going 4' wide and 25 feet long for my bed dimensions. I will keep the 2' pathways between beds, but want a path wide enough down the center to drive my truck. With my current space I went 4' wide for my center path and once everything is grown in its hard to even get a wheelbarrow up and down it.

 
Tyler Ludens
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Travis Schulert wrote: I am huge on expressing to people the importance of this micro climate within your bed.


This seems to be tremendously important in my climate. Plants sitting alone, even with the same amount of irrigation, never do as well for me as those snuggled up among other plants. There are some methods of gardening in difficult climates which advocate wide plant spacing, but I've not had success with that.
 
John Polk
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Next time I set one of these up, I am going 4' wide

This seems to be an ideal width for most people.
It allows you to reach into any part of the bed, from one side or the other.

For path width, I think it is ideal if it is wide enough to comfortably kneel down without having to contort yourself. You should also have enough space for your transplanting trays, harvest boxes/baskets, etc. to be put down. Quite often, you need to use both hands (without having to juggle equipment).
 
Roberto pokachinni
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I really like the way Tyler started this thread. It showed the way a person took the ideas presented in biointensive and adapted them to a particular climate/yard. Fine tuning. The work that Tyler has done in order to create household food in a pretty hostile climate is definitely worth paying attention to, because it works. Many would fail in the same climate trying to grow food gardens. But the important thing to note is that this is fine tuning, for a particular set of needs, and that takes observation, experimentation, and failures, and some work... but the rewards are the results. The thing to not take from it is that Tyler's fine tuning should be your fine tuning. Perhaps you have a place that is very similar to Tyler's and then it might actually be perfect for you. Some of it might, some of it not so much. All of that said, I bet that almost anybody can find something or many things in Tyler's garden that they could use in theirs... ...it's just that what I get from this thread, is that fine tuning is all about personal needs and climate needs, and yard specific needs, and everyone is going to be different.

Case in point:

Next time I set one of these up, I am going 4' wide

This seems to be an ideal width for most people.
It allows you to reach into any part of the bed, from one side or the other.


The reason they say not to go below 36" in bed width is because of micro climate. I am huge on expressing to people the importance of this micro climate within your bed.


Perhaps this works for you two, but for me this is not the case. I find that I am somewhat prone to weeding a little past halfway in a bed to get a weed that is on this side of a plant that is near the center of the bed (if that makes sense) that I might miss seeing from the other side when I get there. If my beds are too wide, then I don't have this option without back ache, because my upper body is short and my arms are too. I find that a bed closer to 3 or 3.5 feet wide is much, much better for me, but like I said I'm short, and my parent's arms are shorter than mine (and it's important to not only accommodate that but also to consider that they don't bend as well as they used to as Dad is now mid 70's) , and I think that what is ideal for some people is not ideal for others, and so such standards are not necessary. Because my parents will be involved in my home and garden plans... probably until they either become too hard for me to take care of, or they pass away, I need to be sure that they can be happy in the garden (and they do love it). My dad's only suggestions were: slightly narrower beds, and an occasional stepping place so that he can cross over without walking the length of the row just to go to the next row. I'm willing to accommodate him.

I appreciate the microclimate aspect, and try my best to allow as many weeds into the garden space/paths as my anal retention can allow (these are a choice selection of helpful volunteers), as well as mulching my paths and bed sides so that there is no variation/difference between any place in my garden, thus there is a climate that is my garden, and microclimates around each plant or group of plants or bed. There is no edge to the bed besides the obvious height differences between them and the paths. This may change as I get into wood chips and other mulches for the paths. I tend to throw cardboard down in the paths and then put straw, hay, woodchips, leaves, or whatever on top. The cardboard distributes the impact of feet a bit for a while and worms thrive underneath it.

I compost in the path, then rake or shovel it back on top of the bed each spring.
I like this idea. It's amazing what can happen biologically underfoot! My plan is to take the path mulch this year (two year's accumulation), and put it on the beds, and re-mulch the paths with wood chips instead of hay.

On the subject of paths, I have a large deluxe wheelbarrow and it has to be able to run down the paths comfy and I have to be able to sit or kneel in a variety of positions, so the minimum is two feet.

I tilled the beds ONCE when I made them. I only had 8" of topsoil in most places, so I tilled everything that deep then threw the path dirt into the row. Quick raised bed double dug.
this was my method as well. I would have done it Jeavons' style, or build up lasagna style without tilling but I don't think that it would have been able to tackle the perennial grasses in my feral meadow the way a rotovator did and to quickly get into the garden right away in the spring. I hated the idea of killing the worms and shattering the microbial habitat and soil structures, but it worked, and I have no intention of plowing or digging them again, and the population is growing fast. The only time my beds are dug at all, is when I get a fork in them for spuds or garlic or something. I try to minimize what I break up when I do this. When I'm about to harvest a storage crop, I remove the mulch then I harvest about a six foot section, then I rebuild the bed right away to it's basic shape, then I re-mulch it, then I carry on repeating the process. This minimizes water loss which is an essential component to my own method of microbial farming. (warm and moist is what I need to have---up to half of my year can be frozen solid). To me, veggies are amazing and a part of the focus, but the primary focus has to be microbial stability, and building systems that catch water, and sunshine.

I hope to get my shit together this year to figure out photos on the computer from my phone and get some up for you folks to see what I'm up to. I shot some video too!

Anyway, my beds are dug on a slope (not super steep), and the paths/beds are mostly on the contour (used a home made A frame level-with a 4' carpenters level taped to it instead of a plumb bob), the paths are below grade and the beds raised. My slope happens to mostly be angled South, so these beds also catch the sun. I do have some photos of the South side of these beds being some of the first snow free parts of my field at the end of last winter.

I have vole and mice problems
This is a serious problem in my garden, probably because of my propensity for deep hay mulch. There are some good ideas in This Permies Thread
 
Tyler Ludens
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The way I determined the width of my beds was to crouch on the ground and place a marker (rock) a comfortable reach in front of me, marked where my feet were, then went around to the other side of the rock, made a comfortable reach for it, and marked my foot location. My beds are probably around 3 feet wide, but I haven't measured them. Some are wider, some narrower. My garden has a round shape, with curving beds.

 
piet vastie
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I grow also bio intensive, i never dig my beds, except when i dig up a path and throw that on the bed.
i started from grassland, killed that by covering it with plastic that a neighbour farmer wanted to throw away, i did put pumpkinplants in bags on the plastic in such a way that their roots could grow into the soil underneath the plastic. in october after the harvest of the pumpkins i move the plastic to the next part and i seed rye, after the rye harvest in july i seeded a last harvest and in spring i have nice clean place to grow veggies.

some beds are 1m20 (4 feet?) wide and covered with nylon, some are 2m (6 feet) wide. the paths are 50 cm. i think that : "you shouldn't walk on your beds" is bullshit, i do walk on them (not when they're really wet).
mostly i seed/plant with the gertrud frank system (worth looking up). sometimes i do broadcasting, and my greenhouse is total chaos because i really want to fill every spot so i seed quiet a lot and everywhere.

i have a lot of work with weeding because i want to change the balance of the amount of weedseeds and amount of vegetableseeds in favor of the vegetableseeds.
i let a lot of vegetable plants go to seed, to get more vegetable seeds in the soil and to get organic matter to throw on the paths.

you can get some pictures on my blog www.hetvlierveld.blogspot.com to get an idea, the text is in dutch but i think pictures say more than text.
 
John Polk
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i let a lot of vegetable plants go to seed, to get more vegetable seeds in the soil and to get organic matter to throw on the paths.

Another benefit of letting some plants go to flower/seed, is that at that stage, they are attracting beneficial insects, including pollinators. Attracting these beneficial insects later in the season greatly improves the odds that they will nest in/around your gardens. This brings long term benefit to the entire ecosystem. Many of these beneficial insects are predators of the pest insects. This helps assure a more favorable population of insects within your system.
 
Roberto pokachinni
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Another benefit of letting some plants go to flower/seed, is that at that stage, they are attracting beneficial insects, including pollinators. Attracting these beneficial insects later in the season greatly improves the odds that they will nest in/around your gardens.


I totally agree.

Here are two examples from my own experiences in recent years:

1.) I let some broccoli go to flower in my first season, and last year the dead stalks were on the bed. I was moving the stalks a bit, , weeding and adding mulch to prep the beds last spring, when all of the sudden, coming out of a hole in the hollow stalk of the old broccoli, a flood of tiny lady bugs poured out! There must have been between 30 and 40 of them. I ran to get my phone and got a picture, but at that point the majority were hiding. I try to have a lot of plants going to flower and seed for this purpose.

2.) A few years ago, I was growing out some parsnips (which is a biennial [meaning it takes two years to produce seed]). We just left 3 parsnip roots in the ground in the fall. Instead of harvesting them we just cut of the greens and left them for the winter. [A person can also pull up the root, store it, and then replant it in the spring]. In the spring the roots begin to grow again; they form a more woody solid core, and stabilizing roots, and the three plants shoot up tall and outwards turned basically into a shrub that was over 5 feet tall and nearly as wide! We put up some stakes and run a rope around them so the wind doesn't knock the plant over. What was remarkable was the incredible diversity of spiders, centipedes, beetles, flies, wasps, and other insects that created habitat in this refuge.

I had an entire bed of brassicas that I was letting go to seed for this reason, but my dad-totally innocently not knowing my plans-hacked them all down, and proudly told me how he used them as mulch on the spot! The deer went in and annihilated the whole patch anyway, so it might not have amounted to much.
 
Roberto pokachinni
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mostly i seed/plant with the gertrud frank system (worth looking up).
Here's the Gertrud Franck link
 
Roberto pokachinni
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I have started reading the Franck link that I posted and I am already thinking that this is a very good addition, again with the caveat that a person needs to adapt the ideas to their location/climate/project.
 
Travis Schultz
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Awesome link. Love some of the free material on the internet.
 
Dan alan
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I pasted over yhsiy by accident I will repost.
IMG_20140604_125139.jpg
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Exame before nitrogen trees, everything is edible
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Sunchokes, grains, greens ect
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1 year lecueana trees, tarped Carrot planting area
 
Dan alan
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In climates of Texas and South most of the gardening data and books is just not quite right for our soils and climates. Grow biointensive is no different. Making Compost piles and hauling it all over the place is just not necessarily best. Also, even Johns people add alfalfa meal and other fertilizer. Which is really cheating by mining much larger areas to maintain performance.

Here is my adaptation of grow biointensive for texas where most decomposition happens fall through late spring. Summer brings a second dormant season for soil life when using conventional bare weeded soil. I will start from the beginning of the process even though it took me some years to develop the process and only now do I have the process working in order and running like a top.

1)
Subsoil rip, or broadfork hard soil deep. Dig out rocks and bolders.

2)
Drive in sticks to form 25 feet long 4 or 5 foot wide beds. Make 2.5 foot thick/deep beds by alternating thin layers of ground leaves, any green manure and scraps what so ever including weeds, 1 inch of local soil or subsoil in our case. Let set over fall and winter. It's ready to plant the next year and will be perhaps 4 to 6 inches deep.

3)
Plant out intensively using seedlings started in flats to give them the advantage. Apply urine by schedule(approved by the W.H.O.) Broadcast local wild edible seeds like dandelion, dock, persalane, thisel ect.

4)
Weeds, grass etc starts to come through. It takes about 1 hour every week or two to tare off weeds and grass, which are applied as gree manure/mulch. The goal is to disadvantage them not pull them out! This constant source of nitrogen and organic matter eventually suppresses grass. I am convinced that this thick growth actually draws soil moisture up and increases productivity. Irrigation is need for the first years and in drought. It buds soil. From this point onward the soil is never bare. The year round live roots feed sugars to soil life which will see to the crops needs.

5)
Fall cover crops are broadcast after harvest and everything ripped or cut down low after seeding. Always try to have 8 or more species growing. Something amazing happens. Fall garden seedlings are set out. Zucchini, for example, planted in September will bare through January or later if covered each night. They grow slower, but produce large squash without bug pressures. Our Winters are typically above freezing during the day and hard consistent freezes only happen for a couple weeks most winters.

6)
Nitrogen trees are planted at 2 foot spacing down the side of every two beds on establishment. Limbs can just touch by end of summer. Leaves are stripped, after trees are established, three or more times during growing season and applied as mulch. Then in the fall the trees are coppiced above head level and all matter is chopped and applied to the beds. Fall through spring is when soil biological activity will break this down completely. This also releases a nitrogen flush for the fall garden. No additional fertility is needed over winter.

7)
Keeping live plants in soil over winter draws up and holds nitrogen and nutrients so that fall & spring rains don't leach them away. Very important for poor southern soils.

Trees, let me go back over this point. I cant explain how much improvement they bring! They vertically produce much more mulch, nitrogen, and carbon than the 60% carbon crops and you can still grow grains in your cover crops if you wish, but it's not necessary. Mimosa and such trees do not shade out the garden, but grow with it yearly. We believe in them so much we are starting to sell trees for this purpose. I heard John in an interview illude to the fact that trees are where he wants to go next.

Fertility and animals. I run ducks through once in a while to clean out snails, bugs ect, and I'm sure their poo helps. They must be watchex because they will eat at the garden once the candy is gone. They do surprisingly little damage. However, I'm the primary animal in the system, adding 40 gallons if Urine to 1000 square feet over the year. A sprinkle of kelp or sea salt returns trace minerals every few years, and I don't see it as mining because most trace minerals run into the sea to begin with. Urine provides an almost ideal biologically available fertilizer.

In summary, The beds are established lazaunga style after deep ripping. I greatly increase the orgainc matter yearly through growing place weed mulch and nitrogen fixing tree mulch which are cut off yearly. The living cover pulls up moisture and cools the soil so that soil life does not go dormant over summer. Both I and the garden are fed each year; organic matter increasing yearly. Outside inputs are limited to rare trace mineral inputs from the sea where the eventually return to anyway. Fertility is held in plants over winter. Soil life is always fed. Labor is greatly reduced! 1 hour a week.

Here is the Urine schedule I use more or less. As the trees grow it's looking like it will not be necessary in a few years.



Average person produces .5 liters per day.

(approx 1.5 litres of urine/
m2, corresponding to 40-110 kg N/ha) and cropping
season can be used as a rule of thumb. (17.4 liters per 125 SqFt garden bed) 4.5 gallons. 40 gallons per year.

(6 1/3 cups per 10.7 SqFt or .6 cups per square foot. Or, 4.7-8 ounces per square foot.) Apply in 2 applications.

Mix 1:3 with 3 parts water.

NPK 2.8 - .43 - 1.3

Apply Diluted or not, around drip line.
Days (weeks)

after planting
or emergence

.5 liters = 2 cups
.6 liters = 2.5 cups
1 liter = 4 cups

Eggplant: 14 days, 0.5
Liters/plant
35 days .5 Liters/plant
56 days .5 Liters/plant

Tomato: 14 days, .4 liters/plant w/flowers
28 days, .4 per plant

Onion/carrot;
21 days, 1 litre of urine per m2
(50 plants/m2 w/1:1 water)
42 days, 1 liter/SqMeter

Lettuce
14 days, 1 liter/SqMeter
(20 plants, 1:1)
27 days, 1 liter/SqMeter, 1:1

Pepper
14 days, .5 liters/Plant
28 days, .6 liters/Plant
42 days, .5 liter/Plant

Sor-ghum/millet
.5 liters/Plant before seeding
35 days, .5/liters/plant
Corn
14 Days .6 Liters/Plant
35 Days .6 Liters/Day/plant

Potatoes
14 days, 2.5 Liters/SqMeter
3-4weeks after first 2.5L/sqmtr

Melon
14 days .5L/Plant
35 days 1L/Plant
56 days .5L/Plant

Cucumber
14 days .5L/Plant
35 days .7L/Plant
56 days .3L/Plant

Cabbage
14 days 2L/SqMeter
35 days 2L/SqMeter
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PolyCulture beds before trees
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Lecueana trees 1 year old
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Alternative to alley cropping. Row cropping. Shade improves southern productivity, but only limited amounts
 
Alex Heffron
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Hi Tyler

I don't know a huge amount about market gardening but am currently learning. I don't know anything of John jeavons' work so can't comment on that precisely. But I have been spending time studying Jean-Martin Fortier's approach and that is described as bio intensive but isn't double dig. You dig in the beds to begin and from then on only lightly till and broadfork it. Like you to my mind double digging doesn't make sense from a soil fertility point of view (though of course I could be wrong, just my initial reaction having never really read into it). I too would like to trial Geoff Lawson's chicken tractor on steroids, to generate compost but then I will have the space to do so. Important in the approach Fortier takes is the use of cover crops and green manures as well.
 
Rue Barbie
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Great thread. I first voraciously read Jeavons book (as well as a Rodale book - something like 'getting the most from your garden') maybe 20 years ago - about the time I was putting in a new garden where a large swimming pool and decking had been. This was going to be my main garden area and I wanted to make the most of it. When I told the workers I wanted 4 feet of topsoil brought in to fill the pool area, they thought I was nuts. At the time I was gathering in as much organic matter I could find for making compost. I would cut weeds on vacant fields, rake leaves from under trees in green areas (When the police stopped and asked me what I was doing, they didn't quite understand, lol. But they were nice, humored, and went on their way.) Anyway, it was fun building up all that organic matter and putting it into the soil.

As for 'fine-tuning Biointensive', I have a couple considerations. On-going drought, and being old and short, so my beds tend to be not much more than 3 feet wide. They are also scattered all over the property now, and width/length can depend on where I can squeeze another in. As for double digging, 20 years ago, part way through my first double dug bed, I just knew that. was. not. going. to. happen... And now after reading/watching all manner of information about 'no till', I would not want to do that anyway for the sake of soil health. So I mulch and occasionally use my version of a broadfork to lightly 'fluff' the soil. (Pitchfork with 12 inch tines - works in soil with no rocks).

Biggest problem here is lack of water over the long dry summers. I use grey water and collect rain, though storage and evaporation is an issue. I also mulch deeply with free city mulch, and have soaker hoses beneath that. We conserve water almost to the ultimate in the house so I can produce food outside. We still use less than most people.

I've begun experimenting with cover crops and in addition to buckwheat, grocery lentils etc, and extra garden seeds, I'm leaning towards selecting endemic weeds which are very adapted to this location and adding their seeds to my mix. I've read that a cover crop with many varieties can help shade the soil and enhance moisture, but right now I don't have the courage to try that and perhaps risk this years' summer veggie production. So I have decided to rely on deep mulch again this summer after the last of the c.crops have been chopped and dropped. Maybe next year.

 
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