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So, just purchased some rural property...  RSS feed

 
Vincent Shelberry
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First of all, Hello everyone

It's only .36 acres, but it's all mine!

I won't be living on this land, so my goal is to turn the property into an off-grid garden that I can use to supply my own organic food, plus maybe sell a little at the farmers market to cover some of my overhead.

The Property:
USDA zone 8b (SE Texas)
Average rainfall is 49 in, so the climate is subtropical. We do usually get 2-3 freezes a year. Usually in Jan.
Current landscape is very heavily wooded with lots of brush.
Soil is mostly clay, but there is a thin loamy layer due to years of falling leaves and vegetation.
Property is on a mild slope, but it is steep enough for water to flow from one end to the other.
There seem to be rifts and valleys. I'm not sure how they formed but it appears to be from water flow.
The ground is very soft.

My Experience
I have a 20X30 plot in my backyard with (10) 3'X8' raised beds that I've been using mainly to supply myself with fresh organic greens.
I've been keeping fish all my life and recently have done a small aquaponic setup with a single IBC.


I'm trying to plan out the property for max production.
Any ideas?


Oh here's some pics of my "garden shed" with rain water collection(it's main purpose)
Like m design? I did it with mostly free materials.






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My current garden
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Property water pool. These are scattered throughout. Water collects in these for several days after a rain.
 
Galen Young
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Location: out in the woods of Maine
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Vincent Shelberry wrote:First of all, Hello everyone

It's only .36 acres, but it's all mine!


Congratulations.


 
Vincent Shelberry
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Galen Young wrote:
Vincent Shelberry wrote:First of all, Hello everyone

It's only .36 acres, but it's all mine!


Congratulations.




Thanks!
I guess right now I'm trying to decide what to grow and how to shape the landscape.
Should I cut down the current trees(mainly elm trees, a few tall pines and a few small oak), or leave them and grow shade crops?
My current thought process is to fence off a 40X40 foot area, clear it, haul in some compost and start from there...

I was also thinking of growing some things that naturally like the shade and my climate in other areas.
My thoughts were:
butternut squash
chayote squash(can I grow these two together without cross polination?)
Luffa
egyptian spinach/molokhia
katuk
okinawaan spinach/gynura bicolor
malabar spinach

Any other ideas for crops tolerant of shade that prefer a sub tropical environment?

I'm also planning on planting lots of moringa trees. There seems to be a local demand with little supply...
 
Galen Young
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Location: out in the woods of Maine
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0.36 acres = 15,680 sq foot. A 40 x 40 area is 1,600 sq foot, roughly 1/9th of your total space.

It sounds like you have a lot of trees.  You can grow shade crops, but they have their problems.

I would say to cut down the largest tree. One project to have the greatest effect. Deal with all the wood and debris from that, before you commit to cutting anything else. See how much additional light that provides and how it changes to look of the property. This season you can plant shade plants in shaded areas and maybe have some area with full sun.


 
Amit Enventres
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Congratulations.
 
Amit Enventres
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Hey, congrats! I'm up in zone 6. Best way to see what your dealing with for advice is an aerial photo, especially if you got some slope lines on that Photo too. Then, what's your predator situation? Deer? Squirrels? Etc? Then, 0.36 acres means you got neighbors close, right? Are they doing anything that would interfere? Any stream water flow into the property? How is your soil? How deep? pH? You got a well or other water source on site? How far is it from home base? Do you plan on going there weekly?

You got trees. I always think of those as a plus, and I don't cut unless I absolutely have to. They provide so much to a site and usually pruning can get you where you want to be.

FYI: I do garden design up here for low maintenance edibles.
 
Vincent Shelberry
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Amit Enventres wrote:Hey, congrats! I'm up in zone 6. Best way to see what your dealing with for advice is an aerial photo, especially if you got some slope lines on that Photo too. Then, what's your predator situation? Deer? Squirrels? Etc? Then, 0.36 acres means you got neighbors close, right? Are they doing anything that would interfere? Any stream water flow into the property? How is your soil? How deep? pH? You got a well or other water source on site? How far is it from home base? Do you plan on going there weekly?

You got trees. I always think of those as a plus, and I don't cut unless I absolutely have to. They provide so much to a site and usually pruning can get you where you want to be.

FYI: I do garden design up here for low maintenance edibles.


Hi Amit,
The best I could do for an aerial view right now is this:
google maps view

Even if I got a drone or something, right now you would just see tree canopy. It's pretty thick.
There are lots of deer in the area. I'd say another threat would be raccoons. I don't think rodents would be as much on an issue. There are lots of snakes around.

I'd describe the neighbor situation as an unrestricted neighborhood with most properties in the .5-4 acre range. Most of them are  just using the lots as a home site and are leaving them wooded as opposed to a lawn.

There is no stream flow, but if you look on the google maps link, do you see the road that goes in a circle? All of that is up on a huge hill with the top of the hill being in the center of the circle. Since the property is slightly sloped(I'd say maybe 5-10 degrees, away from the road) there is some runoff when it rains, mainly coming from the dirt road. This is a private dead end road with very little traffic.
Just off my property there is a ditch/valley. Apparently that used to be a "lake" but it's always dry now because they dammed off the water source.
Basically my property is a slope that goes from the road to that "ditch"

As for the soil, I have to admit I'm not very knowledgeable when it comes to analysis.
Most local gardeners just use raised beds and bring in soil off site, because the native soil is generally clay/alkaline in this area(what I did in my backyard garden)...however, the soil on the property does seem to be of better quality than most local soils. It's very loose and has years and years worth of decomposing leaves, so while it's clay/mud, there is a nice thin layer of loamy stuff on top.
Talking to the neighbors, they say it's something like a foot of sand/loam, a foot or two of clay/mud, then more sand below that. The ground is very soft and gives when you walk on it if it has rained.
Maybe I should get some samples and send for analysis?
My plan was to go off the general local assumption that it is more clay/alkaline and just haul in lots of compost/peat, and call it a day...

THe property is about an hour from my house, in Houston.(btw our climate is more tropical here, unlike a lot of TX that's dry. We average 50 in of rain per year)
I plan to visit at least once a week, but can visit daily if needed.

I have a 10X20 roof that I am currently using to harvest rain water. There's no well.
 
Vincent Shelberry
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Galen Young wrote:0.36 acres = 15,680 sq foot. A 40 x 40 area is 1,600 sq foot, roughly 1/9th of your total space.



Right, the actual size of the property is about 100X145 rectangle. Since I'm unsure of whether or not I want to clear the trees, I wanted to start by only clearing 40X40. There's an area about that size in the center of the property that is almost all brush- I wouldn't be cutting down any trees with more than 3-4" diameter trunk.


I do like the idea of at least leaving the biggest trees. It gets very hot here in the summer and most exposed gardens need 50%-90% shade cloth to protect the plants. I'm thinking the trees would eliminate the need for this, but they definitely need thinning. It's too dark in there right now.


Edit: on the photo; the high side of the property is near the dirt road and the low side is near the "ditch side"...also the squiggly line on the right side is a walking path I cleared.
Again the slope is very gradual. Maybe 10 degrees or less. Just enough for water to flow in a stream like fashion during the torrential rains we get at times.

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graph of the property layout so far
 
Marco Banks
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Congrats.  How exciting.  It will be interesting to follow your progress --- please, post pictures as things progress.

Build out your site in order of greatest longevity.  Earthworks and swales need to go in first, before you start planting trees.  If there is a bit of a slope, then you'll most likely want to think through how to capture water and keep it on your property. 

Start first with a plan.  Get it down on paper and get a feel for the big picture before you start planting stuff.

The big picture:

1.  The movement of the sun across the property.  You'll want to plant tall stuff on the N and E side of the property, so that shorter stuff isn't in the shade.  Thus, you are capturing maximum energy.

2.  Capturing water.  Swales.  Banana circles.  Piles of biomass that soak up water before it runs off.  Walk the property about 100 times and get a sense for the natural flow of water.  The next time it rains hard, get out there and see how water naturally moves across your land.  Once you've figured out earthworks, then you'll be able to figure out where to plant your trees.

3.  Micro-climates.  Where is it hottest?  Coolest?  Wettest?  Driest?  Sunny or shady?  Where does the afternoon heat get captured so that you can plant things that enjoy the warmth late into the night (like almonds)?

4.  Natural movement across your property.  Where will you put your compost pile, so that those nutrients naturally flow down into your swales?  If you are planning on chickens or ducks, same thing . . . how do you capture the nutrients that will flow from the birds and keep those nutrients in the system.  Zones 1 - 3 (more than likely, you won't have zones 4 and 5 on such a small property:  Zone 1 should ideally be close to where you'll park your car and have immediate access.  Zone 3 will be your orchard and stuff you don't need to attend to regularly.  Where will your wide access path(s) be?  Where will your tool shed be?  Plan out the big pieces to fit into the greater system.

THEN . . . start planting your trees.  Space them out generously.  Most of us have made the mistake of underestimating how much space a tree will ultimately need.  Give them room to grow and mature.

Best of luck.
 
Bryant RedHawk
garden master
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Location: Vilonia, Arkansas - Zone 7B/8A stoney, sandy loam soil pH 6.5
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hau Vincent, I will second Marco's assessment of how to proceed. He has given a good order of progression so you get the most from your property.

Congratulations on being a land owner and heading in the sustainable, earth saving methodology. Howah!

Redhawk
 
Amit Enventres
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Great! Yeah, most people say a soil test is a good place to start. Unless you know how to do one yourself, out can see deficiencies in the vegetation.

Seeing how thick the vegetation is, I'd say find where the sun can come in and open it up. This may mean cutting things down. If you do, you can mulch or hugelkultur, or use it for heat. I'd leave trees in your wind direction, and as some shade. I'd also make sure you have 2 ways out of the mountains if this is a fire-prone area, as a safety precaution. You might have to talk with neighbors about this.

As you remove vegetation, put others back to reduce the amount of disturbing you actually do. If you cut a bunch of trees, then there's a big rain, you might end up with a lot of still loss.

I like creating equator facing vegetation walls, in a suit of heat-collecting U-shape. So, from North to south (northern hemisphere):  tall trees (40ft+) for wood/nuts/syrup/wildlife/windbreak, then medium trees (30ft-ish) (standard apple, mulberry, pawpaw, etc.), Then small trees/large shrubs (20-10 ft) (semi-dwarf fruit trees, alamancheir, elderberry, etc.), Then medium/small shrubs 10-5ft (blueberry,  pruned small trees/large shrubs, bush cherries). Then short shrubs/tall perennial veg(5-2 ft) (lavender, horseradish, rhubarb, raspberries, asparagus, bee balm), then short ground covers (2-0ft) (thyme, some sages, oregano, chives, garlic, strawberries), then my annuals. This gets (in my humble opinion) the most production per sun area. And, by keeping the large perennials at a distance from the annuals you keep down some of that root competition.

As for water, as suggested, rocks, swales, etc. To keep it on site.

Good luck!
 
Vincent Shelberry
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Just brought in some "compost"...

It's horse manure mixed with pine shavings. What are your thoughts on this? Looks like wood chips to me. Mix with some of the native clay and let it sit?
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This is my first hugelkultur bed attempt. Should I mix in some soil? The instructions were to put a layer of compost on top, but this stuff is more like wood chips..
 
Vincent Shelberry
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I'm going to post up some more pics I took over the weekend. Since I am finished with the outer part of my "shed" and am now collecting water. I'm moving on to landscaping.

This tree looks as if it's been struck by lightning. It's starting to rot and is leaning ominously toward the shack I just built. Should have cut it down first I suppose lol

It's hard to see in the top two pics, but I'm showing you where water flow has created rifts and valleys. Notice the trees I've cut off are growing up on the rifts while nothing is growing in the valleys.
Since I don't have any heavy equipment, my plan is to build hugelkultur beds on top of the "rifts" so I can cover up the tree stumps(since I have no equipment to rip them out with) and then maky my walk ways in between the beds where the "valleys" are.
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Vincent Shelberry
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more
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Some thing's I've pnated on the side of the path I cleared. bananna trees, Katuk, egyptian spinach, lengevity spinach, collards, a tomato plant.
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Here's the driveway I cleared. It was very thick. Took about two days.
 
Bryant RedHawk
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It's hard to see in the top two pics, but I'm showing you where water flow has created rifts and valleys. Notice the trees I've cut off are growing up on the rifts while nothing is growing in the valleys.
Since I don't have any heavy equipment, my plan is to build hugelkultur beds on top of the "rifts" so I can cover up the tree stumps(since I have no equipment to rip them out with) and then maky my walk ways in between the beds where the "valleys" are.


First off, you want to do water control, without heavy equipment, you use pick and shovel (same as I do) to create swales to stop water's down hill movement and spread it along the land.
Those rifts you mention are actually gullies forming, very bad, that is erosion of your soils. 

Observe your land during a rain event, the water will show you where you want to start (the key point and main line), it will be where the water starts to gather before creating the gully.
The other way to do this is to trace back to the point of origin of the gully, that will be the key point for that spot. (you may have more than one).

If you don't do the water control first, you will have to remove plantings to get it done later on.  I have come to prefer doing this work by hand since I can really see what the land is telling me and I can save trees and plants that are already where they should be.
Machinery sometimes is only faster instead of better.

Redhawk
 
Nick Kitchener
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If you decide to drop the elm or oaks, remember that you can inoculate the logs with mushroom spawn and stack them in a shady corner. They won't go to waste
 
Casie Becker
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Not on your list, but in the same vein as the butternut squash are Seminole pumpkins. I grew them in the shade from my pecan tree last year and they survived the squash vine borers long enough to produce a crop and never got powdery mildew. I'm a little drier than you, but those are the two biggest challenges for squashes in my garden.

I'm also always pointing out to people that kale can survive the summer if it's grown in the shade. It produces much better in the winter, but the plant does live.
 
Roberto pokachinni
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Sweet Place!

I like most of the suggestions, above.   I'm not sure why Marco suggested leaving taller stuff on the East.  He probably has good reason, but I differ in my thinking on that one.  In my mind the morning light is almost as important as the South light.  By the time west light is coming in, the plants are done with light for the day, have shut down photosynthesis. and are wanting it cooler.

In general, keep as many trees as possible.  The trees provide the basic foundation for the fungal network for the whole landscape which is the immune system and information system for the plant community.  The more you keep this intact, the stronger your system can be.   Haul additional trees/logs/debris to the property for hugulkultur.  Leave a sign by your gate for such things to be dropped off by neighbors who are clearing out stuff. Be specific on the sign that you don't want paint/chemicals/creosote on the woody stuff.

If you walk the road that is above your property on the slope, you should be able to see where the water enters your property.  Treat this (or these) as a intermittent creek(s).  Walk the 'creek(s)' into your property, mapping out, and considering the possibilities for water capture, be they swales, ponds, or divergent drainage ditches to swales or ponds.  You should be able to walk those erosion gullies back to the source inlets by the road.  Do that too.

If you have clay, you have good nutrient retention, so any organic matter is not easily lost once you have the erosion issues dealt with.  If your soil is full of loamy dead leaves then you are in really good shape.  You can add gypsum to clay which will loosen if further, but will also alkalize it.  With clay, ponds will be relatively easy to build.  I suggest many small ponds.  

It looks like, in one of the pics you broke your shovel.  Crap.

The tool of choice is likely a mattock, or a grub hoe.  Something with an adze like chop that you can build quick little earthworks with that will channel water. 

Next big storm, leave home and head out there, and play with chasing the water around, bring ribbons and a small saw or machete.  Cut a bunch of shortish sticks and place them in the ground as stakes and tie ribbons on them where you want to do work, when it's dry.  Build yourself an easy A frame level and go to work on the weekend with the grub hoe or mattock.

Save the manure/chips for when you are planting your trees.  Cover it, or build a composting humanure toilet over it.   Looks like you have plenty of leaves/duff, that you can compost if you get some good nitrogen stuff to mix with it.  Try to get a good load of fresh straight up manure and build a big hot compost.  You could do this on top of those chips to get them rocking. 

Any other chance of getting more chips, or quality organic material... don't pass it up.

Good luck.  Looks like a great score.

   
 
Vincent Shelberry
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Nick Kitchener wrote:If you decide to drop the elm or oaks, remember that you can inoculate the logs with mushroom spawn and stack them in a shady corner. They won't go to waste


Man you read my mind! I actually have a bit of experience growing mushrooms on straw with wild bird seed innoculation. Had the whole setup with the XXL pressure cooker, glove box(home made) and everything... I just put in an order for 1000 pearl oyster plugs. I already have some white oak limbs that are the perfect 3-4"L 4-8" diameter size that I cut down in late december of last year.(hopefully not too old. I was reading that they can be up to 6 months old)
Plenty of shade on the property so mushroom cultivation is something I think I could def. scale up on that land if I'm successful. Also no shortage of suitable trees to use.
 
Vincent Shelberry
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Roberto pokachinni wrote:Sweet Place!

I like most of the suggestions, above.   I'm not sure why Marco suggested leaving taller stuff on the East.  He probably has good reason, but I differ in my thinking on that one.  In my mind the morning light is almost as important as the South light.  By the time west light is coming in, the plants are done with light for the day, have shut down photosynthesis. and are wanting it cooler.   

I could see where maybe if you lived in a cool climate it might extend your season a little? I have the opposite problem so I am looking to keep things cool for as long as possible.

Roberto pokachinni wrote:In general, keep as many trees as possible.  The trees provide the basic foundation for the fungal network for the whole landscape which is the immune system and information system for the plant community.  The more you keep this intact, the stronger your system can be.   Haul additional trees/logs/debris to the property for hugulkultur.  Leave a sign by your gate for such things to be dropped off by neighbors who are clearing out stuff. Be specific on the sign that you don't want paint/chemicals/creosote on the woody stuff.
Great advice. Part of the my "keeping it cool" strategy is to avoid cutting too many down. I was thinking about maybe doing a bunch of small openings instead of one big open  area. What do you think?

Roberto pokachinni wrote:If you walk the road that is above your property on the slope, you should be able to see where the water enters your property.  Treat this (or these) as a intermittent creek(s).  Walk the 'creek(s)' into your property, mapping out, and considering the possibilities for water capture, be they swales, ponds, or divergent drainage ditches to swales or ponds.  You should be able to walk those erosion gullies back to the source inlets by the road.  Do that too.

It's actually fairly easy to see this after reading some of the advice you kind folks have given. The is a natural "drainage ditch" that has been formed on the side of the road. You can see where this shallow "ditch" gets overwhelmed and sheds water out of the ditch, down the slope and onto my land. It sort of sheds it out over the entire length of the ditch, which seems to form little gully's every 4-12'. Should I just put one big swale across the entire property every 20-30ft?



Roberto pokachinni wrote: If you have clay, you have good nutrient retention, so any organic matter is not easily lost once you have the erosion issues dealt with.  If your soil is full of loamy dead leaves then you are in really good shape.  You can add gypsum to clay which will loosen if further, but will also alkalize it.  With clay, ponds will be relatively easy to build.  I suggest many small ponds.  

It's definitely clay dominated, definitely alkaline already and definitely full of dead leaves. The leaf layer is several inches thick in some areas. Normally our local soil is a gray/orange color on the surface, but when you clear the leaves it's actually dark brown/black on this property.
I think it generally just needs to be loosened and the PH neutralized. I'm assuming between the leaf cover, runoff and clay, that it's already got a fair amount of nutrients. I'm banking on being able to mix in a little compost, maybe some trace minerals and calling it a day. If I need additional fertilizer I've had really good luck with this stuff called microlife, which has fungal spores added.


Roberto pokachinni wrote:It looks like, in one of the pics you broke your shovel.  Crap.
That's been broken for a while, the duct tape just happened to give way lol...it's 1/3 shovels. That's what I get for buying a cheap tool.


Roberto pokachinni wrote:Next big storm, leave home and head out there, and play with chasing the water around, bring ribbons and a small saw or machete.  Cut a bunch of shortish sticks and place them in the ground as stakes and tie ribbons on them where you want to do work, when it's dry.  Build yourself an easy A frame level and go to work on the weekend with the grub hoe or mattock.

Man so many missed opportunities there...my 275 gallon rain catch is already full in less than two weeks and I've been using it too. Hopefully I'll be able to make it out there for the next good storm.
What's this a-frame level you speak of? I'll have to look it up.

Roberto pokachinni wrote:Save the manure/chips for when you are planting your trees.  Cover it, or build a composting humanure toilet over it.   Looks like you have plenty of leaves/duff, that you can compost if you get some good nitrogen stuff to mix with it.  Try to get a good load of fresh straight up manure and build a big hot compost.  You could do this on top of those chips to get them rocking. 

Humanure...good idea since I have no septic! Obviously there's some legal issues with that on my 1/3 acre lol...I'll need to think of a creative way to disguise it.

Roberto pokachinni wrote:Any other chance of getting more chips, or quality organic material... don't pass it up.

Here in TX there seems to be NO shortage of wood chips/manure mixture. It is mainly pine shavings mixed in. People generally want money for the pure poop.
The stuff with wood chips mixed in is available in a seemingly unlimited supply as long as I arrange pick up...


 
Vincent Shelberry
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How's everyone been?

I've cleared a 20 X 40 area and have used the things I cleared to make a hugelkulter bed.
Now all I need is some decent soil/ compost. Problem is I have one of either lol.

The native soil is alkaline clay. I was thinking of mixing some peat moss with that and putting on a layer of that, then topping with some big box store bagged compost. Thoughts?
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Here
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Here you can see how I did the wood before covering with leaves
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Here's some moon and stars watermelons planted in compost.
 
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