Get a Great Seed Catalog

It’s the most wonderful time of the year! Well, besides Christmas (which I love) it is also seed catalog season. That means gardeners everywhere are anticipating the arrival of piles and piles of seed catalogs. We’ve been dreaming about our spring gardens ever since we put the trowel up back in the fall…and now we can get started in planning our spring and summer gardens for 2014!

My favorite catalog, the Heirloom Solutions 2014 Seed Catalog, will be hitting mailboxes very soon. We anticipate them arriving to you by early to mid January.

Need information on how to get a catalog if you’re not already on our mailing list? Click here for more details – and find out how to get $10 added to your Heirloom Solutions account!

Until your catalog arrives, you can dream about your spring garden. Decide what heirloom varieties you want to try this year in the garden. Pick a few trusted favorites and try something new, too.

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Leave Your Leaves Alone!

Stop! Wait before you rake those leaves this year.

It is now officially fall here where I live and the leaves are starting to tumble down to the ground. However, I don’t do much raking, despite being an avid gardener. This year, do what I do – let your mower do the hard work for you instead of spending hours upon hours raking leaves (that somehow seem to blow right back to their original spots, anyhow…)

Instead, remove leaves the easy way.

Each year, leaves fall and winter rain and snow will compact them into a dense and soggy mat. This can kill your grass over time by smothering out oxygen, denying proper air circulation, and encouraging fungus and disease to grow. Even if the weather is dry this fall and winter, a thick layer of leaves left on grassy lawns during these months will cause problems. And, well, a yard covered in leaves often just looks unsightly.

So, you have to rake them up, right? Wrong.

Using your mower, you can shred your leaves into tiny little pieces that will actually help your lawn and not cause harm. And you won’t have to lift a rake! Use a mulching mower if possible. If not, use a standard side-discharge mower, and mow to allow your leaves to blow toward the center of your lawn.

Set your blade to a height of 3 inches and remove the bagger, if you have one. Then get to mowing. The leaves will chop up into tiny pieces that can stay right on your lawn without causing harm. The finely shredded leaves will decompose all fall and winter long, releasing healthy and organic micronutrients into your soil. This will actually help feed your lawn and will act as a natural fertilizer.

You may need to repeat the process a few times over the fall season, especially if you have lots of trees. If a thick layer of shredded leaves still covers the lawn too thickly, you will need to make one or two more passes over the lawn. You may want to attach your bagger for the second pass. You can also collect these shredded leaves to add to your compost pile, or use them as homemade mulch for your gardening and flower beds.

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Fertilizing Your Roses With ProtoGrow

Want to have roses that bloom again and again and again? If so, you should fertilize them approximately every four to six weeks, with an all-natural liquid fertilizer like ProtoGrow. There are a few exceptions to this 4-6 week rule, but it is a good general rule of thumb for most roses. Here are some general rules for fertilizing your rose plants:

1.  Spring bloomers. Roses that bloom only in the spring will not need feeding as much as repeat blooming roses. Instead, fertilize these roses once in early spring and then again in 4-6 weeks. If your blooms are lackluster and the plant does not look green and healthy, offer the rose more fertilizer during the off-blooming period (late summer and fall) and see what happens.

2.  Good hydration is essential. If your rose plant is stressed by lack of water, it is more likely to get “burned” by any fertilizer. Natural fertilizers like ProtoGrow will not naturally burn any plant, however a plant under stress may not respond as well to any fertilizer. So make sure you keep your roses well hydrated so that the fertilizer can do it’s job well.

3.  Make your first yearly application approximately 4-6 weeks before growth begins in the spring. This will get your rose blooming season off to a bang! In areas where it is very cold, this feeding time would happen about the time you remove winter protection from your rose plants. Keep feeding your roses ProtoGrow every 4-6 weeks and like we reviewed above, keep them well hydrated for best results.

4.  Keep your soil pH regulated. No fertilizer can help your roses too much if the pH is too out-of-whack.  So test your soil regularly and adjust accordingly. Signs of a pH problem would be struggling roses, stunted growth patterns, off-color blooms, and lackluster, yellowish plant growth.

5.  Once a year, apply epsom salts to your roses for a super-boost. Epsom salts help replace magnesium in the soil, which roses use heavily. Even with fertilizing routines, many rose gardeners like to water in 1⁄4 to 1⁄2 cup of epsom salts per plant once or twice a year. I do this once per year before the blooming season begins, and sometimes again in the fall before the plant “rests” all winter long. ProtoGrow is plenty enough fertilizer for your soil, but the epsom salts will give the blooms a nice boost and will help roses, especially.

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Make Your Own Mulch

Tired of buying overpriced bags of mulch, only to find that a few bags won’t cover the entire area you need? STOP. Just stop. Quit buying mulch and start making your own mulch at home. Homemade mulch is easy to make and is much healthier for your plants and garden than the store bought mess anyhow.

Why even use mulch?

Mulch is used for lots of reasons, besides making your flower and gardening beds look pretty. Mulch helps you save water, control weeds, and combat erosion. Organic mulch is made from natural ingredients, whereas inorganic mulches are made from rocks or landscaping fabric, and so on. Organic mulches are better choices for most gardens as they can add nutrients into your soil. Using a good quality organic mulch on your garden will actually help feed your plants the natural way.

Got trees or grass? You’re in business.

Do you have leaves, pine needles, or grass clippings? If so, you’ve got what it takes to make your own rich and healthy, organic mulch.

Leaf Mulch

Fall is the perfect time to make your own mulch as leaves begin to fall. Collect leaves as they fall to the ground for your mulch. Fresh leaves should be ground or shredded. This encourages decomposition and will help add nutrients to your soil, and will keep your leaf mulch from matting up and becoming clump-like. If you have an older leaf pile to use, these leaves will not need to be shredded as much as they will already have begun the decomposition process.

You can also collect leaves and place them in a compost bin or area enclosed with chicken wire. Leave them until springtime, when they will be ready to be used as mulch. Don’t store your leaves in plastic bags as the heat during the decomposition process can actually melt the plastic into your mulch. You can add other organic matter to your leaf-mulch pile, such as bark, small stems, and grass. These organic items will add more nutrients to your leaf pile and will decompose along with the leaves.

Pine Needle Mulch

Pine needles are a popular mulch with many gardeners. They can be gathered in the spring and then spread immediately over your beds and garden. You can mix pine needles with your leaf or grass mulch, or use the pine needles alone. Plants that do well in acidic soil, like blueberries and hydrangeas, prefer a pine mulch as they offer a richer, more acidic mulch.

Grass Clipping Mulch

It is recommended that you allow grass clippings to decompose in a compost bin or other enclosure for a at least 6 to 8 weeks before you use them as mulch. Make sure you only use untreated grass clippings in your homemade mulch. If you spray your lawn or grass with any chemicals, other than natural fertilizer, do not use the clippings as organic mulch. Grass that is not fully decomposed will actually pull nitrogen out of your soil. Allowing the grass time to decompose will take care of this problem and will make your mulch nice and rich. Grass clippings can be mixed with leaf compost or even pine needle compost. The choice of mixture is entirely up to you. 

Turn Your Mulch

While your mulch sits in a compost bin or other enclosure to decompose, you should turn it at least once a month. This allows for an even decomposition of materials and proper air circulation. Simply use a pitchfork or shovel to move the compost around – almost like “stirring” it. We call this turning the mulch.

Each month as you stir your mulch, you can start to take a little bit out and begin using it around the yard. By spring, the entire pile will be ready to go! Each year you just repeat the process, and you can gather items for the pile all year long.

You’ll never have to buy another bag of expensive commercial mulch ever again! (That feels mighty good.)

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Houseplant TLC: Feeding Your Houseplants & More

Houseplants are great because they don’t require tons of expert care, lots of fancy gardening equipment, or too much fuss. Houseplants help us decorate our homes, infuse our indoor air with healthy oxygen, and are just nice ways to bring a touch of the outdoors inside.

Even still, your houseplants need some routine care and maintenance every now and then. As fall approaches, it is the perfect time to give your houseplants a little TLC so they will look good and help you feel good all winter long.

1. Check the Light

If your houseplants are growing poorly, look yellow, or a bit sick, odds are they aren’t getting enough indoor light. Try a new location or perhaps install some grow lights inside where your plants can get a boost of “sunlight” they need to thrive.

2. Check Your Watering Routines

Another reason houseplants perform poorly is either from lack of water or having too much water. Believe it or not, too much water is often the case. Don’t overwater your houseplants. They are not subjected to the same kinds of hot conditions as outdoor plants. Instead of watering your plants on a routine, say every Saturday, check them instead. Insert your finger into the soil of the plant. If it is dry, water lightly. If it is wet or moist at all, wait.

3.  Feed Your Houseplants

ProtoGrow works wonders on your houseplants. The all-natural liquid fertilizer will give your houseplants a boost of nutrients they need to thrive. You can get away with fertilizing your houseplants a little less than outdoor plants, because their soil nutrients aren’t depleted as quickly as outdoor plants. I fertilize my houseplants with ProtoGrow at the beginning of fall and then again at the beginning of spring. That’s only twice a year, but it makes a HUGE difference in how they grow. They are greener, more lush, and just overall healthier plants.

4.  Re-pot Your Houseplants as Necessary

Too often we leave our houseplants in the same old pot, year after year. This will ultimately kill a growing plant as the rootball chokes out the soil and is left with very little soil to grow in or take nutrients up from. As your houseplants grow and get bigger, you will need to re-evaluate when they need a bigger pot. But don’t go too big too quickly when choosing a new pot. Move up your pot size gradually and one step at a time. You want your plant’s roots to be cozy – but not too cozy!

A decorative pot  is a an inexpensive way to really enhance your home’s decor. When choosing a pot, make sure you choose one that drains well…and has a saucer to catch the excess water! You may even want to place an inch or so of gravel or stones in the bottom of the pot to aid in water drainage. When you water your houseplant, the water goes into the plant, through the soil, and excess water drains into the saucer. This water evaporates around your plant, creating a little humid atmosphere which is actually really helpful to your plant, especially in wintertime. (Just follow your watering guidelines – only water when the plant truly needs it.)

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Grow Garlic This Year

Garlic is one of my favorite things to grow in the garden. It’s easy to grow, requires little maintenance, and rewards you with delicious flavor for months on end after its harvest. Garlic is also wildly versatile – the delicious taste gives it many culinary uses and it’s medicinal properties can’t be missed either. You just can’t ever have too much garlic on hand! Each year I plant enough garlic to last our family almost an entire year; until the next growing and harvesting season.

Garlic Basics

Garlic likes full sun, but can still grow in partial shade. It requires well-drained soil…and the richer the soil, the better. If you can add organic compost to your garlic beds, do it. The better the soil, the healthier and more robust your garlic will be. Raised beds are ideal for growing garlic in most climates. Apartment and patio gardeners have great success with growing garlic in containers, just as long as they are kept well hydrated and the pots easily drain away excess moisture.

Start with a clove.

To grow garlic, you simply plant the cloves (the small sections of the garlic bulb). Each clove will grow into a new garlic bulb. Larger cloves do tend to give larger bulbs, and likewise with smaller cloves.

While you can technically grow garlic from a bulb of garlic you purchase at the grocery store, it is best to use “seed garlic” or bulbs that are raised for starting new beds of garlic. The grocery store varieties may or may not grow, depending on their qualities, if they are hybrids and so on. That’s why we recommend always ordering heirloom garlic from a trusted grower. This will give you better success rates…and better garlic, too. Then, you can save a few bulbs for re-planting the next season, or order new “seed garlic” again.

It is recommended to soak your garlic in a jar of water for a few hours before planting. This will help protect your crop from fungal diseases. Some wives tales say to add a tablespoon of baking soda to the water mixture while you soak, but personally I’ve always had great success with just soaking in plain water. (But I might give the baking soda a try, just for fun!)

Garlic should be planted in the fall as temperatures begin to cool down. For most of us, that is somewhere between September and November. Just don’t wait too long – make sure to get it in the ground before the first hard freeze.

How to Plant

When you plant your garlic, plant it with the flat end down, and the pointed end up. You will want to plant it about 2 inches below the soil line. Your cloves should be spaced about 6-8 inches apart.

Garlic does not compete well with weeds, therefore you should mulch your garlic bed with about 6 inches of organic mulch: straw, dried grass clippings, or leaves.

Shoots will begin to grow right through your layer of mulch within 4-8 weeks, depending on the climate where you live. Don’t worry if the garlic seems to quit growing in the cold winter months. It will go dormant for a few months, and will start up growing again in the spring.

Care and Maintenance

Like most plants, garlic needs about an inch of water each week during its growth periods (fall and spring). You won’t have to fuss with it much in the winter as it goes through the dormant stage, but don’t let the beds get bone-dry. During the winter, I tend to let Mother Nature water my garlic and I pretty much leave it alone.

Around June 1st, you will want to stop watering your garlic by hand (and let Mother Nature take over again). This will help your bulbs firm themselves up before harvest time, which won’t be too far away.

Fertilize your garlic with an organic, liquid fertilizer like ProtoGrow every 2-3 weeks in the spring. I start around March 1 and fertilize my garlic every 3 weeks until the end of May.

Scapes 

Around June, again depending on your climate, your garlic will start to send up a flowery top. This is called a scape. They can be long and spikey, or curly. You should remove these stalks to allow your garlic to keep growing into mature, large bulbs. But don’t throw the scape away! They are delicious and savory and make wonderful additions to soups, dips, and other recipes.

Harvesting

Around late June to early July, your garlic will be ready to harvest. When your leaves begin to turn yellowish-brown and dry up and look like they are withering away, it’s time to harvest. Carefully dig up your bulbs. Yanking or pulling can break the stalk away from the bulb and this may cause the entire bulb to rot and become a loss.

After harvesting, remove your garlic from the sun. Tie them into bundles of 5-10 bulbs, depending on size, and hang them up to dry and cure for about 6 weeks in a dark and dry area. I use my garage to do this – but it does leave my garage smelling very garlicky. You may prefer a drafty area that allows for more air circulation.

Once the garlic is thoroughly dry, you can cut back the stalk and trim off the roots. Leave about 1-2 inches of stalk above the bulb, especially if you plan to keep the garlic in containers or bags. You can leave the stem and braid your garlic into traditional garlic braids, if you so desire. I just cut them and store in a container that I keep in a cool, dry area in my kitchen.

 

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Kill Ants in the Garden – Naturally & Frugally

Having a garden can also mean having pests to deal with, once in awhile. This summer we’ve been dealing with ants around the house and garden. Those tiny little guys can quickly become a problem as they march from outdoors into the house.

Before you reach for some toxic ant spray, try these more natural remedies first.

1.  Sugar and Borax Combo

This combo has a dual purpose. The sugar will attract the ants in, while the borax acts as a killer. The ants will consume the mixture, and they will take it back to other members of the ant colony, including their queen. The borax will get in their stomach and dry them out.

Mix your borax and sugar in a simple 1:3 ratio. For example, mix up 1 cup of borax to 3 cups of sugar and place in saucers where ants are a problem.

One note of caution – because the borax is a drying agent, keep it away from your pets, backyard animals such as chickens, and small children. It could cause coughing and respiratory distress if ingested.

2. Diatomaceous Earth

Diatomaceous Earth will dry out an insect, much like the borax and sugar combo described above. It is a natural way of taking care of all sorts of garden pests – from ants to fleas and everything in between.

You simply “dust” the problem areas with diatomaceous earth (using a paintbrush is a good way to do this) and wait for the pests to ingest or absorb it, when they will wither up and dry out and die.

As with the borax and sugar combo, you will need to keep the mixture away from pets, small children, and people with respiratory problems. The drying action can cause respiratory distress.

3.  Vinegar Water

Spray ants (and other pests) with a strong vinegar and water mixture. I mix my vinegar to water in a 3:1 ratio (3 cups of vinegar for every 1 cup of water). Place in a spray bottle and squirt as necessary when you see the little pests marching

4.  Cornmeal, Grits, Flour….

Try sprinkling cornmeal around the garden or in other problem areas where ants live. The ants will take it back to their nests and consume it. They cannot digest it, and it will kill them by expanding in their stomach and bursting. You can also try grits and flour, but I’ve found cornmeal works best.

Best of all, this solution is completely non-toxic and will not harm pets or children. However, it will wash away quickly with rain, so you’ll have to keep applying it to problem areas.

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Your Fall Fertilizing Guide – The Natural Way!

Fall is here and it’s time to do some fertilizing around the yard. Taking the time to apply a liquid, natural fertilizer, such as ProtoGrow, in the fall will help strengthen the roots of your plants, giving them a strong start come next spring. Stronger roots mean more beautiful and lush plants with healthy, prolific blooms.

And when do those strong roots develop? In the “off” season when the weather is cool. So now really is the perfect time to do some ProtoGrow feeding around your yard.

Perennials

At this point in the year, your perennials are starting to fade and die back. However, a feeding of ProtoGrow at this time will benefit them even into next spring. Feeding them a little ProtoGrow now will mean they are stronger plants that give you more flowers next growing season.

Most perennials are hardy, but some are more tender than others. That’s why it is best to apply your ProtoGrow as a side-dressing to your perennials. If you don’t know what this means, let me explain – a side-dressing means you literally apply the fertilizer on the side of the plant, not directly at the base. This allows the plant to take up the nutrients in the fertilized soil a bit more indirectly.

Another great reason to fertilize your perennials NOW is to allow the nutrients from ProtoGrow to soak into the soil, feeding both the plant and at the same time, also enhancing your soil that’s gotten a bit tired during the growing season. (Perennials, veggies, and annuals can really “suck” the nutrients out of the soil during peak season.)

Shrubs and Trees

Fall is a wonderful time to fertilize all of your shrubs and trees. Give your shrubs and trees a feeding of ProtoGrow in late September or early October to promote healthy root growth over the fall and winter. The nutrients will stay in the soil for the cool season, and will still be present come spring when your shrubs and trees take off growing again. Because most shrubs and trees are extra hardy, a side-dressing application isn’t necessary. Just apply your ProtoGrow directly to the base of your shrub or tree and that’s it!

FYI: Feeding your Holly bushes now will mean extra-beautiful, bright red berries this holiday season.

Fall Bulbs

One of my favorite chores in the fall garden is to plant beautiful bulbs for spring. I can’t get enough daffodils and tulips at my house!

Yes…you can even fertilize these newly planted bulbs with ProtoGrow. A feeding of fertilizer at planting time will promote root growth and will help your flowers “Grow Like Crazy” next spring. I prefer ProtoGrow over bone meal. It’s actually healthier for your bulbs and will not attract rodents such as moles and voles that might like to make a snack out of your bulbs. (Bone meal can actually attract these rodents…but not ProtoGrow.)

Veggies – One Final Push

Have green tomatoes still on the vine, and weather getting cooler? Go ahead and give them one last feeding of ProtoGrow to help speed up the ripening process. It will help you get one final push from your garden and hopefully one last BIG harvest!

And don’t forget your fall veggies that are just now going into the garden. They will need ProtoGrow, too.

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Cleaning Up Your Summer Garden – A Season Finale of Chores

For some reason, we don’t give our garden the same amount of TLC at the end of the summer when fall is approaching that we were so eager to give back in the early spring. I’m guessing it has something to do with gardening burnout and perhaps from being dog-tired from all the hard work outside in the heat of summer…but what do I know?

Cleaning up the garden NOW will save you plenty of time later on, and even better, will leave your soil in good condition for next spring’s planting. While you may be tempted to leave the mountains of dried-up and done squash plants, corn, tomatoes, and weeds to just die back and wither away in the late summer sun, you really should do a little bit of end-of-season clean up once the harvest is over.

Spring gardening begins…in September? Perform these chores now to ready your garden for next year.

1.  Clean up the garden area in general. Remove anyd forgotten and/or rotten veggies and fruit from the garden. If they are not disease infested or insect-ridden, you can throw them in the compost pile. Then, pull and rake up your dead leaves and any old or dead plant debris. This will keep diseases like powdery mildew as well as insects from overwintering in the “mess.” When you clean up the garden, you give them fewer places where they can hide out.

If you have gardening beds or square-foot gardening boxes, go ahead and edge around the sides and deal with intruding weeds now so you don’t have an overgrown mess later. Remember, many weeds go to seed at this time of year or in early fall, so you really are performing a big chore that will save you headaches later!

At our house, we actually mow down part of our garden. This may sound a little strange, but it works, and helps make the clean up chore a little easier. Just make sure you aren’t mowing large woody stems, or any other types of plants that may damage your mower’s blade.

2.  Mulch! After you’ve cleaned up the general garden area, finish it off by covering the ground with a good quality mulch – such as unsprayed grass clippings, leaves, and straw. This will help maintain soil quality over the fall and winter.

3.  Consider planting an off-season cover crop. This can help correct soil compaction, and will also revitalize your soil with the needed minerals that some crops take away after a heavy growing season.

4.  Clean out your annuals before the seeds drop on the ground – unless, of course, that’s your plan and you want the plant to reseed itself for next year.

5.  Keep composing! You will want to keep adding fresh leaves, grass clippings, and organic waste to your compost until spring.

Performing just these five simple steps will save you lots of headaches come spring. Work a little harder for just a bit longer, and you’ll be ready to kick back and enjoy the cooler days very soon.

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September Gardening Chores

Fall is coming! Depending on where you live, September can still feel like summer, or it can have a dramatic cool down. Either way, there is plenty of gardening chores to be done.

1.  Plant something for fall. Like colorful mums. A pot of fall mums on the porch with a few pumpkins makes any home look appealing.

2.  Nursery stock will be discounted this time of year. Perhaps buy something you’ve been wanting at a fraction of the cost. You can plant trees and shrubs now as the ground cools, but keep them well watered until the frost. Container plants and perennials may successfully overwinter in the house or basement or garage if you can’t plant them outdoors right now.

3.  Make notes in your gardening notebook about what worked well this summer growing season and what did not. You’ll appreciate the task next year as you make gardening plans all over again.

4.  Clean up beds where fall bulbs will reside.

5.  Keep the new trees and shrubs you planted this past year watered – they will be entering into a dormant period as frost comes and will need to be well hydrated.

6.  Don’t feed your woody plants (except by Mother Nature) – they will need to be hardened off until spring.

7.  Pull up your vegetable plants, annual flowers as they finish, fade, and die. This will help you keep things nicely cleaned up.

8.  Are you vegetable gardening this fall and growing things like kale and Brussels sprouts? If so, keep things going out in the garden!

9.  Consider sowing cover crops where your veggies grow. This will help improve your soil and soil fertility.

10.  Bring in your favorite herbs, like parsley and chives for indoor offseason use. If you leave them outside, give them some protection to overwinter outdoors.

11.  Clean up, till and prepare soil for early spring plants like asparagus and strawberries. Keep these beds cleaned out and ready to go so you won’t be stressed later.

12.  Order your garlic, if you haven’t already. You’ll be ready to plant in the next month or two, depending on where you live. (About a month before frost is in the ground).

13.  Dig and divide your Daylilies as blooms are finished and the cycle is completed. This chore can be done all fall long.

14.  Allow perennials, biennials, and annuals to go to seed if you wish to let some self-sow for next year, of if you’d like to collect the seed for saving. If not, you will want to deadhead them.

15.  Many of your popular annuals can be overwintered if you have good light indoors and keep them pinched. Take new root cuttings now if you want to do this.

16.  Order new “for spring” bulbs now and plant them this fall.

17.  Re-edge and clean up your flower beds. Use cardboard, newspaper, or grass clippings to smother out grass and weeds in new beds.

18.  Give your houseplants a feeding of ProtoGrow, the all-natural liquid fertilizer I love to use.

19.  Repot any houseplants that need it; especially those you will bring inside later this month or in early fall.

20.  If you have a lawn, think about fall re-seeding needs. Don’t bag or rake your grass clippings from the last few mowings. Let them stay on the lawn to return nitrogen to the soil.

21.  Keep working your compost – all through the fall and winter. Don’t allow it to dry out too much or it will not cook. Turn it often. You’ll appreciate the work come spring!

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