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Hi  friends,

I'm new here. I wanted to share to you something I discovered after some learning with the teachers here, http://www.backyardaquaponics.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=31&t=29059&p=557853&hilit=bit+gardening#p557853. I was trying to learn aqua-phonics but started questioning the rationale of seemingly going against nature instead of "comprehend and copy nature". So the big question that comes " Why does the forest thrive without any care going for hundreds or even thousands of year without depleting the soil, then when man make food gardens the soil depletes after 2 seasons". Before I embark on prototyping I want to present it to the master gardeners for correction, collaboration and tips. I'm entirely new to gardening so please bear with some dumb questions.

MY discovery I named "BIT GARDENING" this is base on the following facts I learned from readings and experience teachers. "Soil comprise of almost all nutrients the plant needs in a form not absorbable by the plants" ; "soil biological ecosystem degrade the soil into a form absorbable by the plants"; " This ground bio organism feeds on plant carbo and sugar. The same way as the the biological ecosystem that feeds on plant above the soil it helps the plants to thrive and propagate"

My conclusions:

Soil ecosystem die off or is greatly reduce when plants are remove, therefore the soil processing (to make it absorbable to the plants) stops the moment man comes and clean up the forest for his envisioned garden.

Gardening should be done with the least disturbance to soil ecosystem.

My proposals:

clean up and plant the envisioned garden bit by bit, by rows or patch so the soil Eco system can heal quickly beginning from the edge of the undisturbed portion.
give time for the disturb part to heal before planting on the adjacent portion.
plant before harvest so the new plants takes over as soil ecosystem host before cutting old plants. no pulling should be done.
just as in the wilderness, there should be a rich diversity of plants

your proposals; comments and corrections please

julian


 
julian Gerona
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question: If I have to disturb the soil what should I add to it. My brother suggest to add indigenous micro organism, but would it thrive with out the plants. If so what should I add along with the IMO  particularly fungi so the soil ecosystem survives until new plant takes over?
 
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You should look at threads started by redhawk. He gives great detail on whats happening and what to do. I don't know how to post a link.
 
julian Gerona
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Thanks wayne  i started reading Redhawks threads.

i will note somethings that came to mind while reading for comments;

-choose the plants best suited to the soil instead of trying to amend the soil to suite the plants

-Plant seasonal plants along with perennials so the soil is always planted.

- Plant as close giving no space for weeds

There is a lot of reading to do I will keep posting my observations related to the topic until I am able to fine tune the plan.
My goal is towards more harvest per unit work. Plants need not be big.





 
julian Gerona
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Redhawk talks extensively of building soil microorganism. But my question remains why would I destroy soil ecosystem if there is a way to preserve it. another theory that comes to mind "any wild lush/dense vegetation has a commensurate dense ecosystem beneath the soil and it take as long o build the ecosystem as the vegetation". Another question coms to mind; " will adding inoculations not disrupt the existing ecosystem" . Redhawkon in one of hos post confirmed what I have learned "that almost all minerals is already in almost all kinds of soil in a form not absorbable by plants. But another theory that comes to mind is that most form of soils  favor certain kind of plants; and that the plants that survive on then are the right kinds for them. Or could it be the kind of microorganism in them that determines what plants is best suited. I hope Redhawk or anyone can enlighten me on this.
 
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Julian, I believe your approach may be a very good one.  However, in certain cases planting food crops very close to the edge of the remaining forest may be problematic (depending on positioning in relation to the sun’s daily path), since many desired food crops could be too shaded by the remaining natural trees.

But leaving that aside, I’ll just relate a little of my own experience.  I Iive in a portion of North America where most of the forests are coniferous, not broad-leaf.  I studied biology, general ecology, and forestry just a little at one time.  Back when I did that, foresters were teaching that in a conifer forest, most of the nutrients are not in the soil but in the trees themselves — until the tree dies, decays, and returns the nutrients to the soil’s biological processes.

On the practical side, some of  the land I acquired is mildly hilly, but some is benched.  It was cleared of trees (except for about 30%) about thirty years before I moved onto it.  Since the trees were removed and sold as saw logs, the accumulated nutrients were exported. Previous owners had established two main plots of organically cultivated garden on the flat main bench, and these gardens had the reputation of being pretty productive.  The hilly area had been planted to a pasture mix for a cow and calf.

My partner and I continued to amend the soil with mulch, rotted manure, compost, rock powders, etc.  We saw a respectable amount of earthworms in the soil.  When I did some soil testing, the occasional deficiencies were mainly in phosphorous and magnesium.  But our yields were good, and when we addressed the deficiencies they got even better.  We established these practices before I’d learned anything about Permaculture.

The natural confer forest soil in our region is pretty acidic.  But in the years after clearing, while other landowners had cultivated the soil, it had gradually gone to near neutral (averaging about 6.8 pH).

The perennial woody food plant that we’ve established that gave us the biggest challenge is blueberries.  We wanted cultivar varieties that would produce larger berries than the wild berry plants that are scattered in our forested region.  We planted a dozen plants in a patch of soil that we needed to re-acidify.  Part of what we did was to add sawdust and wood chips to the upper layer.  Keeping this soil acid enough has been something we have to be deliberate about.  Over the years, at least half our original blueberry plants died, and we had to replace them in order to settle on the proper varieties for our climate.  But the soil blueberry  patch itself has shown a good natural development of fungal mycorrhizae.

This berry patch might have benefited from the approach you’re describing.  Probably would have.  The same might be true for our raspberries, although they are a far less finicky plant.  In our experience, they’ve done reasonably well with organic soil cultivation and quite distant from the surrounding forest.

Because we started here on land where the trees had been cleared off decades before, and gardens had been cultivated organically, we were not in a position to easily try a “bit gardening” method.  Hopefully, some people here will have had experience with doing their own forest clearing and gradual garden development on the forest edge.
 
julian Gerona
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Thank you so much for sharing your experience.

"Back when I did that, foresters were teaching that in a conifer forest, most of the nutrients are not in the soil but in the trees themselves — until the tree dies, decays, and returns the nutrients to the soil’s biological processes."

I have some problem believing in this teaching. If its true the mountain tops and ridges and inclined surfaces should be barren or nutrient deficient from thousand of years of nutrients wash off. But as we can observe they are as lush as horizontal surfaces. In many cases/fields I have discovered that official teachings are false. Most probably business interest and dubious agendas. You see studies and researchers are funded by big business interest for their own good.

I will be glad if someone or better else many people try bit gardening approach so we can have a collaborative effort and share notes. I now realize that maybe people are not commenting on this because they do not have experience I believe its an original concept of me following questioning and learning. Sorry that I ask so much question I dont normally jump into something unless I understand the rationale sufficiently. I agree with much of what you have said they are the same problems i am trying to solve with this approach. If there are big trees and you are going to plant small plants then tress should definitely go, gradually though like trimming the branches first until there is sufficient plants to take its place ideally planting should mimic how nature create forest. Like if there is a barren land, normally small grass comes first then tall ones and herbs each smaller species acting as a host to bigger baby plant species until they overwhelm small species and so on until a forest with big tress are created. At least thats how I see natures process. I mean instead of clearing the land why not plant corns densely in the midst of medium size grass. allowing the baby corns to hide in the shade of the grass while their roots has not reach the wet soil deep down. Just when the roots becomes capable of getting enough water the corns will be taller than the grass and deprive the grass of sunlight eventually killing the grass and taking over as host for the soil ecosystem. Nice transition at least in my mind
 
Joel Bercardin
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Julian, I agree with you.  I'd like more Permies members to post here and bring in their knowledge and experience.

julian Gerona wrote:I mean instead of clearing the land why not plant corns densely in the midst of medium size grass. allowing the baby corns to hide in the shade of the grass while their roots has not reach the wet soil deep down. Just when the roots becomes capable of getting enough water the corns will be taller than the grass and deprive the grass of sunlight eventually killing the grass and taking over as host for the soil ecosystem. Nice transition at least in my mind



Two points on the above.  First, in many regions (such as my own) the land was originally cleared of trees by the first farmers not only because they wanted garden and pasture space, but because they had limited financial means and needed to sell the logs in order to pay for the land and for materials for homes, outbuildings, and other necessities.  At the time, the range of jobs in the region was limited, so their financial considerations were very real for them.

Second thing:  The grasses that can come in after ground is cleared may be readily replaced by the taller plants that you cultivate, but not always.  For instance, what occurs very often in my region is Elymus repens (quack grass, or couch grass), which spreads rapidly by a complex lacework of rhizomes.  Very tenacious, and it robs nutrients from intended crops.
 
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One option to establish a new garden while minimizing the disturbance to existing soil life would be to apply mulch directly on top of the existing vegetation. This would work best for areas covered by grass and other types of non-woody plants. If you put down cardboard (remove the tape) and then place organic mulch (woodchips, untreated straw, leafs, leaf-mold, etc.) on top the existing vegetation will break down and feed the soil life. You could do cardboard, a layer of compost/soil, and then the mulch too which would give you a medium to plant into. If you don't want to use cardboard make sure to have a thick layer of mulch 8 inches or more to make sure the existing vegetation does not push through.

An advantage of this system would be that you would build soil and the decaying vegetation and mulch would feed much of the soil life. But you are still changing the system so you will see a change in the soil life community. Some critters will like the new system better than others.

A disadvantage would be the time it would take for the system to get established. You would need to wait for the existing vegetation to breakdown before planting. Adding a layer of compost/soil to the mix would let you plant sooner since you would have something to plant into.

I would recommend doing the prep work in the summer (placing the cardboard and mulch down) since a lot of the vegetation would be dormant due to the heat depending on your climate. Then let it all sit over fall and winter and then plant in the spring (you could potentially plant a cover crop late summer / early fall). The first year I would plant things like carrots, potatoes, squash, peas and beans. They should do fine even if the old vegetation is not fully broken down. By the following year you should be ready to plant anything you wanted.

If you do this you will see a change in the soil life but not a die off. Anything we do will change the soil life - I read a research paper as part of my masters program that talked about taking a soil sample and just by analyzing the soil life they could tell you the age, diversity and structure of the plants growing at the site without anything other than the soil sample. So if you take any area and add new plants to it, or start walking on it, etc. you will change the soil life. I think the key is not to avoid change but to avoid a loss of diversity and total population of soil life.

If your site has woody plants than just placing mulch down might not be enough to transition the site. But you can cut down some of the woody plants where you are trying to start a garden and then use the resulting woody debris for mulch or to build a hugelkultur bed (buried wood beds that once established need very little to no supplemental water. Mimics a nurse log except that by burying the wood decomposition is sped up). This would again change the soil life but would create rich habitat for fungal systems and other soil life and would lower water needs.

Once your garden beds are established I would recommend using fallen logs and large branches as borders along the beds. You could also use rocks and ideally mix it up a bit. The reason is that the wood/rocks will create edge around your beds that will support and shelter soil life and other critters. In my area we have garter snakes that eat slugs - so by placing rocks I can create habitat for them so they hangout and eat the slugs where I need them. When you work your garden you will naturally avoid the rocks and logs which creates nice little sheltered areas. I also place logs around the edges of all my trails/paths for this purpose - it also looks nice.

I'm also planting native plants around and in every one of my beds - sometimes this might just be a few lupines or something small but since plants influence the makeup of the soil life I like to always have some native plants to better promote native soil life. This also creates small no disturbance areas in each of my beds and can go well with rock piles and woody debris.

I'm also planning for my new garden to build a mostly native and perennial bed in my garden for every 2 or 3 "normal" garden beds that focus on annuals. These "wild" beds will provide habitat for beneficial insects and other critters. Plus they will be good for soil life. Then along the borders of my garden I will be establishing hedgerows to help with water retention and also provide habitat for critters both above ground and below.

Finally, the other thing I would recommend is to not have isolated islands of fertility. What I mean is that often I see people create a garden, mulch it, fence it, and then do nothing with the land around it. They might then have a few fruit trees in another area that are also isolated in their own little islands of fertility. If you can instead connect each area that you are gardening, growing perennials, etc. you can provide pathways for fungal systems, other soil life, and above ground critters. Fungal systems can extend for thousands of feet and help transport nutrients and water from one area to the next. I think providing corridors for this sort of thing is very beneficial.

julian Gerona wrote:

Joel Bercardin wrote:Back when I did that, foresters were teaching that in a conifer forest, most of the nutrients are not in the soil but in the trees themselves — until the tree dies, decays, and returns the nutrients to the soil’s biological processes.



I have some problem believing in this teaching. If its true the mountain tops and ridges and inclined surfaces should be barren or nutrient deficient from thousand of years of nutrients wash off. But as we can observe they are as lush as horizontal surfaces. In many cases/fields I have discovered that official teachings are false. Most probably business interest and dubious agendas. You see studies and researchers are funded by big business interest for their own good.



To add to this part of the conversation... My understanding as a restoration ecologist is that overtime a forest (at least here in the Pacific Northwest) does retain much of the nutrients in the trees. But this was most evident back when our forests were all old growth forests. The natural succession back then was for a huge old growth tree to fall, open up an area to light, release nutrients, and feed the next generation. This next generation would start with trees like red alders, shrubs such as ceanothus, and other early succession plants. These light loving plants would rebuild the soil and make room for more shade tolerant plants such as red cedar, grand fir and western hemlock. Overtime, these shade tolerant plants would close the canopy and return the forest to its prior state and the cycle would repeat with the next large tree fall.

If you look at the size of the old growth trees - just one of those falling would open up a huge area. Plus the research I'm familiar with indicate that these old growth trees would take several hundred years to decompose once they had fallen. The same research has also shown that these fallen trees contain more living biomass than the same tree would have contained when it was living.

Of course I'm talking about the wet forests here in Western Washington. In the drier areas you would have fires come through and clear areas of trees but also leave a lot standing. This would create open areas, lots of down woody debris, and a similar process would happen as with one falling old growth tree except on a larger scale. In fact ceanothus seeds germinate much better after a fire.

My understanding is that the forests we have today are actively being starved of nutrients because this cycle is being blocked. Early succession plants are often killed off to favor the timber trees and no woody debris is left on the site to return nutrients. It is the same process that happens when we remove a crop without returning anything on farmland. Some research indicate that here in the Pacific Northwest by mid-century much of our current forest lands may not be capable of growing trees for timber because of the loss of nutrients.

A healthy forest in my area has tons of down woody debris. So even on a slope the nutrients don't wash away because every down log captures nutrients and also there is so much soil life and organic material  in a healthy forest floor that the water is absorbed and does not cause erosion. But these forests also did not historically have earthworms and since they were introduced the breakdown of the forest floor has sped up which has caused some issues though it seems like the logging practices are causing far more issues in regard to depleting the forest floor.

That being said there are plenty of areas in the mountains around here that are more "barren". These areas such as avalanche shoots don't grow large trees but other plants such as Sitka alder do grow in these areas and protect the soil and also help rebuild it after a disturbance. Much or our mountain tops and ridges are naturally more bare or I should say only support low growing plants - these areas tend to be harsh and exposed to the elements. You get high enough around here and you get above the tree line and then you find alpine meadows but with climate change these meadows are starting to see trees push in and replace them.

So my thought is that the nutrient cycle is part of a normal forest with old growth trees holding a large portion of the nutrients and then releasing those nutrients when they die. This does not favor big business - since by logging and removing the trees they are also removing the nutrients from the land. If anything understanding this nutrient cycle is an argument for keeping dead trees on the land and not removing them for processing. If the nutrients were not being stored in the trees then you could haul them off through logging as much as you wanted to with no impact to the soil. Its the same process that happens with industrial farming.
 
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julian Gerona wrote:Redhawk talks extensively of building soil microorganism. But my question remains why would I destroy soil ecosystem if there is a way to preserve it. another theory that comes to mind "any wild lush/dense vegetation has a commensurate dense ecosystem beneath the soil and it take as long o build the ecosystem as the vegetation". Another question coms to mind; " will adding inoculations not disrupt the existing ecosystem" . Redhawkon in one of hos post confirmed what I have learned "that almost all minerals is already in almost all kinds of soil in a form not absorbable by plants. But another theory that comes to mind is that most form of soils  favor certain kind of plants; and that the plants that survive on then are the right kinds for them. Or could it be the kind of microorganism in them that determines what plants is best suited. I hope Redhawk or anyone can enlighten me on this.



Hau Julian, pleased to see your marvelous brain at work.  I would like to give you the context of my soil threads and answer your questions as best I can, perhaps doing this will ease your concerns or give you new ones.

The whole of my soil threads are based on restoring previously depleted lands, not walking into a pristine section of woods to start something different (that, as you bring up quite well, would be absolutely wrong to do in my mind at least).
Therefore, we are not talking about destroying something already working as it should but rather taking that acreage that was clear cut of all trees and bringing it back to the life it had prior to the destruction.

Inoculations are not destructive, they are additive, you don't disrupt an ecosystem by spraying microorganisms over the surface or even injecting them under the surface. Lightening does more damage to soil than any ten inoculations of microorganisms could possibly do.
Soil is a living entity, so at the worst we would be adding diversity (the corner stone of mother nature at work) without need of disruption (tilling, or other wise changing the horizons of the soil).
Certain soils may at any given time support plants other than what humans would like growing there, this is usually from the natural path of succession, in succession, each series of plants makes the soil better so the next pioneers can come and thrive.
Lichens and mosses are usually the true pioneers, these guys can turn bare rock into sand, these are followed by grasses and so on up the plant ladder until we reach trees, each step along the way organic matter is added and rock is pulverized until it reaches the super fine clay particle size.
For those of us who want to be able to stop having to buy foods that are nutrient poor, along with other undesirable characteristics like being gene spliced specimens, at the grocery stores, it is imperative that we understand what makes dirt turn into soil as well as what makes soil turn into dirt.
Only when we have a good grasp of what those are can we make sure we don't simply continue the destruction of the current commercial farming mind set.

Example, Any of the denuded areas that used to be rainforest but are now exposed, eroding clay banks. When the rainforest trees were there, the forest floor was full of tree litter (organic matter) all the plants that occupied those areas were very healthy and grew well, producing lots of nourishing food for the indigenous people. Then the trees were cut down, leaving the "rich soil" barren and farmers came in to plant their crops and harvest. These farmers used up the nutrients of the soil and rains leached the rest into the rivers, two years of farming the used to be rainforest floor and the soil was used up, dead, turned to dirt.
The farmers cut down more forest so they could repeat their rape and pillage style of farming. Today there are well over ten million acres of this type of land, unless we humans do something to help these pieces of earth, they will stay as they are now, barren clay, unable to even grow weeds (pioneer plants).

Soil can be as rich as any human could want it to be, but we also want to make sure the diversity is there. If we look at forest floor soils, they are (in one forest) in a state of constant change what today doesn't have a wide diversity of bacteria and fungi, will be found to have improved when we look at that same soil next year.
If it doesn't then we can observe and determine what type of disturbance occurred while we were not present to sample it. If you were to install through inoculation, all 300 million good bacteria strains and 50 thousand fungal strains then install every vegetable you want to eat, by the time you came back to harvest the last of those vegetables the soil would have changed around each type of vegetable so that the soil was best suited to support those plants, 1 foot away the soil might be very different in microorganism counts because a different vegetable was growing there.

Hope that clears things up some for you and I look forward to becoming friends.

Redhawk
 
julian Gerona
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wow what a wealth of knowledge from you guys densely condense . You just confirmed what I fear; "its not as simple as I think" I will need to reread maybe a number of times to fully digest and incorporate what you have just generously shared. Maybe more question coming

thanks
 
Bryant RedHawk
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hau Julian, I look forward to your questions and will answer them to the best of my ability.

Redhawk
 
julian Gerona
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Hey Bryan thanks for your eagerness to discuss this I am as well looking forward to discussing this but I was away home for while and writing isn't that good



unless we humans do something to help these pieces of earth, they will stay as they are now, barren clay, unable to even grow weeds (pioneer plants).



I dont know in your place but here in our place any barren land if left undisturbed will become a young forest in ten years. And if you cut the same forest after ten years and leave it undisturbed for another ten and you can repeat the process as many as you can, the barren land will always turn into forest in just ten years with out mans intervention.

this I guess proves to the fact that "ultimately nutrients comes from the soil and not from the plants. And while plants holds nutrients, just like the soil they need the organism to sped up decomposition.

I stayed with a family that cut young tress for firewood for a leaving. They said they been doing it of at least fifteen years. That was six years ago I visited them 3 times last year and they are still doing it. They stayed in that place for that duration and they are unable to turn fertile lands into barren. and they are in the same village with many people. What they do is cut small trees from unattended lands leave the land for 3 to 5 years while they cut other portions and then go back. Big portions of course will take longer to regenerate but I think it will, even deserts heal slowly from the edges (depending on the availability of water) no different from my example of soil ecosystem. smaller faster bigger slower.


 
julian Gerona
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Hey Darron  thanks for the very informative post. I will incorporate "cardboard and mulch system" in my bit gardening experiment. I think its the missing piece for my bit gardening concept. Change the soil ecosystem to match the plants.
 
Bryant RedHawk
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That quote was about the Brazilian Rain Forest, there is actually nothing but clay in that area, all the soil is detritus from the forest canopy laying and decaying on the clay.
When they cut all the trees in this rain forest so they can farm the land, they get two years of crops, from that point on, the there is only dirt, well, actually clay and it does not support pioneer plants, it is much like the loess area of China was before they started the restoration work there.

In the USA land left alone (abandoned) will revert to what it was before humans intervened and that takes a total of 100 years to get back to how it was when the first ships from Europe arrived here.

Redhawk
 
julian Gerona
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Bryant RedHawk wrote:,

actually clay and it does not support pioneer plants



Redhawk



What exactly are pioneer plants to you? Do you use them for land restoration? I have observe some pioneer plants that normally comes first on disturb soils but this little guy with photos below takes the cake. They can grow on car parks or even cracks of concrete pavements where car run over them and people trample. really tough and hard to kill whats interesting however is that they slowly perish once some kind of plant, even smaller than them grows next to them. It appears to me that they have the capacity to degrade the soil on their own and without help from any organism. You see when you are making food and some guy eats portion of that without making their own then your gonna be exhausted from the task of feeding multitudes. This weed is especial to me because it save my health probably my life also. And I have help many people afflicted with modern diseases ranging from gout/arthritis, high blood pressure, diabetes, heart ailment and cancer with my herb protocol with this weed as the first salvo for cleansing. Do they secret enzyme that degrade minerals? Does the enzyme clears calcified arteries along with years of sodium benzoate deposits and other toxic chemicals? I read somewhere that sheep sorrel can help cure cancer what is interesting is that they are also regarded as true pioneer.
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julian Gerona
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By the way, It took a hundred years to restore your forest to its original state because it was totally bare and covers a huge land area. The firewood gatherer I describe cut only small trees and leave the bushes and grass alone in an area no more than two hectare sometimes only half depending on the size of the property they ask permission to go into. . That is why it takes a short while to recover. This is the core of my bit gardening concept " leave the landscape something to start with so it can recover quickly ".

While it is a noble thing to do to take a totally barren land to your care and restore it I dont think changing the forest landscape to support humans as well will hurt.

"I think the key is not to avoid change but to avoid a loss of diversity and total population of soil life."
 
Have you seen Paul's rant on CFLs?
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