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Posts from the ‘Gardening’ Category

27
May

Visiting Gardens – A Great Pasttime

Visiting gardens is a most interesting and a very popular pasttime. Wimpole Hall was the latest we visited end of May, 2012 where it was interesting to see the advanced growth of their onions, whereas ours were mere blips on the landscape by comparison!  We also noted the wild bee houses liberally sited throughout the gardens. A variegated horseradish was much admired by visitors and irises were in full bloom despite the lack of rain for the last week or so. Based in Hertfordshire we tend to spread out north and east, so for us a visit to the Langford village gardens in Oxfordshire on Sunday 17 June between 2 and 6 pm is not really on our agenda. However the gardens sound magnificent and if you are anywhere near do consider a visit.

Young villager, Isabella Potter, helping to prepare the garden of the late Sir Hardy Amies

Young villager, Isabella Potter, helping to prepare the garden of the late Sir Hardy Amies

There are 26 gardens to wander round, both large and small including one created by Hardy Amies, famous for dressing the Queen for more than 55 years. The Grange and Ansells Farm gardens are open for the first time and Lower Farm House, a garden at the medieval end of the village has been completely remodelled.

Garden visiting wouldn’t be the same without tea and homemade cakes and there will be two locations to choose from.

£4.50 per person on entry and children go free!

More information on website

Val Reynolds, Editor

21
May

Super Strength Cat Repellent

Florence, a 12 year old cat, fostered by Laura

Florence, a 12 year old cat, fostered by Laura

When I heard of a super strength cat repellent I was sceptical – I have tried so many products over the years. Cats wander through our garden at will and catch and kill birds visiting the garden. We feel responsible for the safety of birds visiting our garden as we encourage them by  providing a seed feeder and apples from our trees for a pair of song thrushes.

One year we had a great spotted woodpecker that visited regularly and brought its two young to eat the hazelnuts we put into a bough of a dead tree. To read that feature click here.

However, to our great delight the Neudorff Super Strength Cat Repellent has worked! We haven’t seen a cat since I scattered the granules where they appear over the fence, through the privet hedge and under the garden gate.

At £4.49  I thought it was a bit on the dear side. I also read on the instructions the granules will lose their strength if it rains, so another tub would be necessary after rain. But, in view of its complete success I won’t begrudge the cost.

The clay based mineral granules are grey in colour that hold plant based oils – garlic oil in fact. The long lasting odour is disliked by cats so the best places to scatter the granules is where the cats enter the garden and also where the birds are most active. In our garden this is where the bird feeders are, on seed beds and beside the pond.

Depending on the weather, the period of protection is 3-4 weeks.

The granules come in a 500 g can.

So would I buy more? A resounding yes! And I would have a couple of spares to make sure I can keep those pesky critters out of our garden forever, or is that tempting fate!

Super Strength Cat Repellent is £4.49 available from:

Blue Diamond centres, full range at Derby, Trentham and Le Friquet
Hilliers group
Haskins group
All good garden centres

Val Reynolds, Editor

20
May

Verbascum, Cottage garden hardy perennials

I can’t keep up with Thompson & Morgan! Verbascums, a favourite background filler for flowerbeds, have always been yellow! Then last year T&M brought out Clementine, a golden/bronze beauty. The plug plants I received grew strongly are now blooming rather well in May a year later.

Verbascum Clementine flowering in May 2012

Verbascum Clementine flowering in May 2012

Then a blue verbascum, Blue Lagoon, came on the market and I had to have some, especially to plant with Clementine as they would make a great contrast.

Verbascum Blue Lagoon

Verbascum Blue Lagoon

I have always loved delphiniums but like many other gardeners find my slugs love them even more and plants have always been decimated, always when my hopes were riding high for a fabulous display. So I ordered two plug plants £9.99 each or 2 for £17.99 to make up for my disappointing attempts to grow delphiniums. As they only arrived three weeks ago and won’t be anywhere near mature until next spring I will plant them in larger pots for the time being, making sure I use my outstandingly good labeller so they don’t become the pots that I wonder what’s in them!

Blue Lagoon has been developed using specialist micro-propagation techniques. It has the same characteristics as its fellow verbascums: low maintenance and well adapted to growing in poor, stony soils. It should grow to about 30 inches high and spread out for about 12 inches. Flowering from June through to September they like full sun. Although my garden loses it by 2 pm, Clementine is doing very well. Verbascums spread their leaves flat to the ground – a remarkably useful weed control feature.

Pink Pixie 2012 Verbascum

Pink Pixie 2012 Verbascum

Then I heard of yet another new verbascum – Pink Pixie. Spoilt for choice! I’ve decided to get some to grow with the aquilegia Green Apples, again it will be a good contrast and I’m hoping the height difference will add to its impact. I’ll be sure to space the verbascum plants far enough apart so as not to smother the aquilegia.

All the verbascum cost £9.99 each or £17.99 for two plants that come in 7cm pots. See T&M webpages for more details 

Val Reynolds, Editor

14
May

Tutus in your Garden – Miss Huish – A Beautiful Aquilegia

Miss M I Huish, aquilegia vulgaris

Miss M I Huish, aquilegia vulgaris

Miss M I Huish, Aquilegia vulgaris, has a deep crimson flower like a Ballerina’s tutu. Perennials, aquilegias grow up to 2 feet tall and mix well with lighter foliage plants.

I found seed germinated well in May. Planted in the front and back garden around August 2011 about 2 feet apart, they are now flowering in May 2012 and expected to continue on until early June. Apparently they don’t last long as cut flowers, only 3-4 days, but they are very pretty so I’ll probably pick a few short stalks for a small table decoration.

Green Apples, aquilegia vulgaris

Green Apples, aquilegia vulgaris

I sowed seed of Green Apples, Aquilegia vulgaris, at the same time as Miss Huish which had a lower germination rate. They flower initially as white blossoms gradually turning to green.

Both these aquilegia resemble a double clematis but of course nowhere as large a flower. Aquilegias do well in full sun or partial shade, being a meadow and woodland plant. They will seed freely so I’m looking forward to them migrating all over the garden.

Thompson & Morgan offer a dual pack of seeds for £3.49, 70 seeds in total, or separate packs Green Apples £2.99 for 20 seeds, and Miss M I Huish 50 seeds for £1.99.

Val Reynolds, Editor

Link to our front garden website

26
Apr

Creating a Wildlife Friendly Garden

Frog tadpoles

Frog tadpoles

As a child I was fascinated by things that moved which included frogs and newts, to dragonflies, to ants and slugs, bees and butterflies. At one stage my sister aged four and I, a couple of years older, put together an outdoor ‘museum’ with our exhibits in boxes to show our parents. Our  ‘cunning plan’ to bump up our pocket money was to charge them a penny each for admission – it worked!

Then birds entered my world and both interests have continued throughout my life.

One year I wanted to photograph birds in the garden and did a bit of research to find out how it had been done by others. We visited the RSPB headquarters and watched the great tits, blue tits, finches and great spotted woodpeckers feed on the nut and seed containers. Incredibly I saw a sparrowhawk take a great tit feeding on the nuts. Unlucky for the great tit of course, but the speed of the sparrowhawk was breathtaking. I was stunned, hardly able to believe what I had seen. I can still picture the body of the great tit hanging from the claws of the sparrowhawk.

Waiting a turn

Waiting a turn

The first step to set up a photographic area was to establish a feeding station. Regular feeding will attract the birds from the local area and as they come to rely on them it is important to keep the supply going throughout the winter. We use a squirrel proof seed container with the RSPB no mess mixture. That sounds a bit ‘neat and tidy’ but switching from the usual mixture saved having to frequently clean up the empty husks of the sunflowers all over the patio. Photographing birds on the feeder is ok and can show how attractive tits find the nuts and seeds.

However Kevin Keatley, a wildlife photographer advocates screwing a clamp to a pole just below the feeder. The birds land on it just before they go on to the feeder. Adding a sprig of autumn berries, or spring blossom makes for a more natural shot. Kevin uses a hide and a feeder about three to four metres away. The advantage of using a hide is that you can move it with the changing light. If you keep the sun to one side it gives a bit more depth to your photos. The ideal light is around midmorning or midafternoon. He has used the hide in heavy snow, the snow or frost covered hide is just like an igloo, insulating him from the freezing wind. There was a time when his wellies froze to the ground – but he says it was worth it when the slides came back with fantastic close ups of pheasants in the snow. Kevin has a website where you can see the hide and chair he uses. His site is well worth a visit, it is full of fascinating information and likely to stimulate some unexpected wandering on the web – have a look at his links.

Our feeders were hung from the pergola, about ten feet from the conservatory windows. I fixed a bed sheet across the open window and down to the ground, cut a slit in the sheet and poked the camera lens through. The camera was mounted on a tripod. I was happy with the bird shots I was getting and then one day a woodpecker came to the peanuts and I had to think about how to have it feeding away from the peanut container which didn’t look very natural. So I asked a friend to let me have a fallen branch from one of his trees.

Male great spotted woodpecker

Male great spotted woodpecker

We drilled big holes to hold the unshelled hazel nuts and almond nuts and placed the branch between two posts of the pergola. The nuts started to disappear although we didn’t get a glimpse of a woodpecker. Then one morning we did – it was very excited, making that distinctive, sharp ‘pic’ call. From then on we were adding nuts every three or four hours. Then may be two weeks later, two fledged young ones visited with their father. You can imagine how excited we were at the prospect of photographing them. That was easier said than done. As there was no regularity to the visits, the window was nearly always shut at the most exciting times!

I took some pictures through the double glazed window of the parent feeding the young but they were not sharp. Eventually only one young one came with its parent, and it took to hanging around the garden waiting for its parent, making desultory attempts at breaking open the nuts.

Young great spotted woodpecker

Young great spotted woodpecker

Once it found how to successfully eat the peanuts it lost interest in the hazelnuts. Then we witnessed the inevitable, the parent actually attacked the young one quite fiercely in response to its crying for food and we never saw them together again. They visit separately now. We expect them to continue to visit in the colder months and will have a big stock of nuts waiting for them! Strangely we haven’t had any problem with squirrels taking the hazelnuts. We did have problems with the peanuts until we bought the strong wire version that can’t be unhooked.

So progress? We are going to drill out bigger holes and put in walnuts – a tip from a very successful woodpecker attractor! We’re going to put a dead branch parallel to the ground about three feet up near to the feeders – I missed some really good shots of a great tit feeding its young – they were partially hidden by greenery on the cherry tree and I’m hoping with careful pruning and branch placement I’ll get the pictures I want!

Hoverflies eating pollen on a poppy

Hoverflies eating pollen on a poppy

Other steps I have taken to make the garden friendly to both insects and birds are to flowering plants that attract insects. The poppies, all varieties, attract hoverflies in droves. The nettles – kept in a pot – have ladybird larvae all over the leaves that hoover up aphids on neighbouring plants at an enormous rate. I let most plants go to seed – the evening primrose was a huge success with goldfinches. I had problems with keeping the seed from setting the next year, but the hoe is a wonderful tool!

Tiny midges hovering over cabbage flowers

Tiny midges hovering over cabbage flowers

I let some cabbage go to seed and had clouds of tiny black insects hovering over them. An expert told us it was their mating pattern.

In the spring plum blossom attracted a range of bees, from solitaries that live for six weeks, to big queen bumbles. I’ve found foxgloves, onion flowers and blackberries attract the most bumblebees. I like lots of colour in the garden and through trial and error have marigolds, escholtzia, oregano, poppies, evening primrose, foxgloves, nasturtiums, nigella growing unchecked. I’m trying lots of others – herbs, beans, roses, clematis, vines and hops.

Song thrush bathing

Song thrush bathing

The latest attraction is the bird bath perched on the patio wall. We’ve seen everything drinking and bathing there, from wrens to a pigeon that just flopped in and sloshed around to keep cool, and of course our woodpeckers.

What’s next? We’ll be putting up some nest boxes. It’s absolutely essential to have reliably waterproof and well designed boxes. The RSPB’s most popular boxes are for the tits and the open fronted box – suitable for robins, pied wagtails, and more excitingly, spotted flycatchers which are much more common than you might imagine.

The worst type of nest box lets in the rain – the young die from cold and damp, or the exit hole is too low and the young ones emerge underdeveloped and can‘t fly strongly. Result: they flop to the ground and are easy prey for jays, magpies, cats, rats. So if you are serious about making your own please, please, please get a copy of the British Trust for Ornithology booklet Nestboxes, written by Chris de Feu. It’s a gem, with designs for all kinds of birds including owls and house martins and a fascinating read.

For a month by month guide to attracting birds Stephen Moss has written The Bird-friendly Garden, published by Collins and gives lots of advice on how to make your garden a haven for birds. He gives advice on predators and pests, for instance for cats he recommends a machine that emits a high pitched whilst, inaudible to human ear but intolerable to cats. Gardens are the one place where we all can make a difference to wildlife … we felt enormously privileged to play a part in the upbringing of the two great spotted woodpeckers this year. We hope we’ll be doing the same next year.

Last year we attracted some bees to our bee nest box and are hoping for more this year. We brought the box indoors and kept it in a cool area of the house until early spring when the bees emerge. We bought our bee nest boxes from the now defunct Oxford Bee Company.  Read our recent feature about the Neudorff Insect Hotel here. By the way we now have another Neudorff Insect Hotel to giveaway! All details on the feature.

Val Reynolds, Editor

22
Apr

Successful Watering with Seeper Hose System

Diverter on downpipe and hose to seeper at ground level

Diverter on downpipe and hose to seeper at ground level

Last year I ran the bath water on the front garden via a hose connected to seeper hose but it took a long time for the water to filter through. So I finally got round to organising a watering system for the front and back garden using rain water from the roof and what a difference it has made. All my plants made much better growth than in any previous years.

I don’t have the patience to stand watering the garden with a hosepipe and have never had a spray system, if I had I’m sure I would have left it on by mistake and racked up a terrific water bill – we are on a meter, so a seeper hose system was the obvious answer. It was reassuring to read a typical drip irrigation system uses up to 92% less water than a hosepipe and is a far more efficient way of watering the garden – www.the-hta.org.uk/water.

The system I devised for the back garden, after a lot of head scratching and frustrated thought, was to put in place rain diverters on the downpipes from the roof, attach a hose to that which led to the seeper hose system. When that overflowed the rain was diverted back to the downpipe and on to another diverter that was connected to a water butt. When that overflowed the water then feed back into the downpipe to the main drainage system.

Hose over pergola and down wooden post to seeper hose at ground level - note control tap

Hose over pergola and down wooden post to seeper hose at ground level - note control tap

The roof on a house collects about 85,000 litres of rain each year in the UK which runs straight into the sewers.  This could fill 450 water butts which can be used to water garden lawns, vegetable patches and house plants.

Altogether I used 6 x 15 metres of hose and linked up some small supplementary hose to water the pots on the patio via a separate water butt which made a huge difference to those plants.

Then in times of drought the water butts are linked up to the seeper hose. I generally leave them on for about 4 hours when needed. Now you may feel this sounds all rather complicated and at the time I thought so too, but it in reality it works and is very simple in action. The key is to make sure the water flows in at a slightly greater height than the ground you are watering.

At the moment although there is a hosepipe ban, seeper hose systems are exempt where we are, so when the water butts are empty, I can link the outdoor tap to the seeper hose system and to the water butts. Check the website of the water company in your district to be sure.

Not all parts of the garden need to be watered, for instance the peripheral areas with the wild flowers – bluebells, muscari, oxalis – that look after themselves, so I inserted sections of ordinary hose to bypass those areas. It meant adding connectors which increased costs.

What is important to remember is to cover the hose with mulch or set it into the ground and cover with earth and then mulch – by far the most efficient arrangement, it keeps the moisture in the ground which evaporates very slowly.

Overall, when it rains the garden gets about third extra which is all stored under the mulch. Another important point is to water at night, again to reduce evaporation.

So what plants are important? Fruit trees, crops like peas, climbing beans and broad beans, broccoli, cabbages, spinach, carrots, beetroot, onions, tomatoes, salads, kale. All these came good last year even when we had extended periods of drought. This spring I have noticed the fruit trees all have much more blossom than in previous years.

Honey bee collecting pollen on apple blossom

Honey bee collecting pollen on apple blossom

I have been really interested to see that plants grow slowly but steadily through the winter. I think it might be because the thick layer of mulch keeps the cold off the roots. I try, but seldom succeed, in putting at least a depth of 8-9 inches of mulch/compost/manure, which by spring time has been processed to some extent by the worms which means the ground is very easy to prepare for seedlings and plant plugs.

I sow annuals in with my vegetables to make it look less like an allotment. Nasturiums look really good, loving the extra moisture.

This year I have seeds of african marigold, red cornflowers, calendula, nigella and poppy to scatter through the garden. Attracting beneficial insects makes a difference to the life of the garden, they attract birds, making the garden more alive. Better than just putting out nut and seed feeders.

This year I interplanted self sown garlic plants found all over the garden with Malwinnie strawberries as they help the berries to fight disease. I had tasted these at the 2011 Thompson & Morgan Press Event and they were dribblingly good! Will have to think of some surefire way of keeping away the mice, birds and other creatures that know a good strawberry when they taste one!

Carrot, beets, kohlrabi, brassicas, dill, lettuce and tomatoes all do well when interplanted with the onion family.

A water saving tips poster and up to date information on the current water restrictions can be found at www.the-hta.org.uk/water

We have a website where we write specifically about our front garden, read more here.
Val Reynolds, Editor
All photography © Pintail Media
21
Apr

Growing Sweet Peas using a reliable support device

I have never had any success with germinating sweet pea seeds so having a sister who can grow most things was useful. I sent her the packets of sweet peas from Thompson & Morgan, see below, and hey presto, I have some seedlings in my little greenhouse, growing well, even after I cruelly pinched out their central shoots so as they grow they will throw out lateral shoots to give more flowers.

Sweet pea seedlings

Sweet pea seedlings

Now I wait for the roots to show through the bottom of the pots before planting them out. The key to lots of sweet peas is to keep picking the flowers to prevent them from developing seed pods, so I’m looking forward to having a house full of sweet scent. Must remember to cut the plants off at ground level when they are finished so the little nodules of nitrogen are left in the ground to feed the next crop or group of plants. This could be called the lazy gardener’s way of improving the soil!

I have erected a Haxnicks Maypole Plant Support in readiness. Simplicity itself to erect, made from black powder coated steel with rot proof strings and galvanised pegs, it’s a feature in its own right. Designed for any kind of climbing plant, annual or perennial, at 6ft in height it will show off anything you plant. I’ll be getting a couple more for next year to add a clematis in the centre of a bed, and for the most successful climbing bean I’ve ever grown Cobra from Thompson & Morgan. Delicious! Other planting ideas are nasturtiums, a vine, french beans – could even experiment with climbing strawberries.

Haxnicks Maypole plant support

Haxnicks Maypole plant support

Growing Sweet Peas –  Thompson & Morgan

Wiltshire Ripple

Wiltshire Ripple

Val Reynolds, Editor

29
Mar

Attracting wild bees to your garden – Result!

Insect Hotel

Insect Hotel

I put the Neudorff Insect Hotel on 26 March and today, 29 March I saw a tiny bee crawling into one of the holes!

Bee crawling into hole

Bee crawling into hole

We have a welcome guest. How good is that! Little did I expect such a fast response.

You can read our article about attracting Mason and other bees here.

We have an Insect Hotel to give away – details on the same webpage.

Val Reynolds, Editor

28
Mar

Attract Wild Bees in your Garden with an Insect Hotel

It is time of year when I reinstall the bee nest boxes kept in our dry cool garage since last autumn, into the garden. I bought my nest kits some years ago from the Oxford Bee Company, which sadly is now defunct.

7 cm bee nest

7 cm bee nest

The Oxford Bee nests I have are two sizes: 7 cm and 12 cm

12 cm bee nest

12 cm bee nest

As the tubes the bees use to lay their eggs degrade over time and sometimes fall out and get wet, or birds pecking at the tubes make them fall out – some folk have trouble with woodpeckers – I had to search around for a website where I could get replacement tubes.

Red Mason bees use the tubes to lay their eggs and the most curious fact is that the first egg they lay emerges last? How can that be? Evolution I know – perhaps there’s some kind of chemical difference in the nectar moistened pollen used that delays development. Honey bees feed their queens 100% on what is known as royal jelly, a high protein secretion the worker bees produce from their heads, a somewhat less amount is fed to the drones, and even less to the workers.

7 cm bee nest with red mason bee

7 cm bee nest with red mason bee

This year I transferred most of the tubes from the smaller pipe to replace those gaps and degraded tubes in the larger pipe. So I decided to add some dried stalks of fennel and hollyhock that I left standing for insects to overwinter. Here is the result, a bit raggedy but useable. Another of my cunning plans – code for hopeful experiment! I use a pipe support for the pipes to rest on and then use wire to keep them in place.

A mix of ready made tubes and dry plant stalks

A mix of ready made tubes and dry plant stalks

When I need more I’ll make them from plastic water piping. One end would have to be blocked off to mimic the Oxford design.

In my search for replacement tubes I came across the Schwegler bee nesting box which has fascinating see-through tubes, the eggs and pollen can be clearly seen. And I found this really interesting website about bees – the drawings are delightful.

Here’s a link to info about Red Mason Bees http://www.hedging.co.uk/acatalog/Mason_Bee_FAQ.html

Here is a Google page with lots of references to Red Mason Bees.

Neudorff Insect Hotel

Neudorff Insect Hotel

Our Neudorff Insect Hotel is now erected. We have placed it near the greengage tree and look forward to watching the insects inspecting it!

Helping insects find a safe haven in your garden for nesting and hibernation isn’t just good for the environment – it helps your garden, too. Ladybirds and lacewings munch greenfly and blackfly, while mason bees pollinate fruit blossoms as do lacewings.

Neudorff’s new insect hotel offers a stylish way of greening your garden. Designed to attract ladybirds, lacewings, mason bees, digger wasps, wild bees and hibernating butterflies like Peacocks, Brimstones, Small Tortoiseshells and Red Admirals, its wooden structure features different rooms to suit insects’ varying needs, such as hollowed out wood for mason bees and a central space for butterflies to seek shelter.

It’s also a great educational and instructive device that fascinates young children from age of three upwards. Great for school projects too!

For more information, visit the Neudorff site.

GIVEAWAY

UPDATE: We now have TWO Neudorff Insect Hotels to give away to In Balance readers. All you have to do to enter the draw is send an email to:

editorinbalance@me.com

With Neudorff Insect Hotel in the Subject box and your contact details including telephone number in the text box

Only one entry per household will be accepted and must have a UK or Forces postal address.

Last date for entries has been extended to 10 June 2012.

Val Reynolds, Editor

22
Feb

My Gardening Gurus – Anna, Sepp and Phil

Growing Food Anna Pavord

One of winter’s best features is having the excuse to sit down with a good book. And Anna Pavord, my favourite gardening guru, published Growing Food last year and it is always going to be on the bookshelf to dip into from time to time.

Anna describes different planting plans, one such is the Exuberant Potager, where she mixes flowering plants to complement the vegetables. Here she advocates areas with different plant mixes:

  • nasturtiums, beans and squash
  • lettuce, onions with eschscholtzia
  • carrots, beetroot with marigolds, among others

In fact, a bit like my planting which is very mixed, but not so well thought out. I’m working on a plan to incorporate her ideas.

Other plans include a formal herb garden, a Mediterranean garden, a city larder for a small balcony, cottage garden, salad and herb plot, a vegetable patchwork, traditional kitchen garden, an alcholic hedge (!), and a formal fruit garden. All the plans illustrated with delightful drawings, much in the style of the Dorothy Hartley books of yesteryear. The plans are easily adapted to suitable most plots, with a bit of artistic licence. Anna is such a respected gardener, she has had a hellebore named after her, Anna’s Red.

The ‘cunning plan’ of last November was to clear all the plants from most of the beds in the back garden and cover with leaves and horse manure. The leaves to provide an airy protective covering and eventually be taken down into the earth by the worms, with the manure holding the leaves down so they don’t fly around the garden. This mulching also ensures the bluebells, that have grown in large patches and grow between and through plants, come through the leaves and can be seen and easily dug up. Well as I said, that was the plan and it has worked reasonably well, although I think some bluebells have been missed, again, so probably next year will see me digging more up. We replanted them on the periphery of the garden and down a grassy drive beside our house.

Mulching is big in Sepp Holzer’s activities in his property in Austria. Famous for his permaculture philosophy and practices, Sepp is so down to earth and practical, it is a joy to read his book. There are web pages you can read and also videos. He writes about using pigs to clear ground before planting – so similar to Phil Drabble‘s experiences I read about many years ago.

Phil Drabble's bookBoth inspirational men. I would love to meet Sepp and talk gardens, sadly Phil died in 2007 at the age of 93.

Val Reynolds Brown, Editor

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