Thursday, July 29, 2010

Cilantro (Coriander) and Parsley Going to Seed

We have herbs going to seed!


Our cilantro bolted almost as soon as the seeds germinated in mid April.  I think it was just too hot for them this spring.  Three and a half very long months later, we finally have some seeds that are turning brown

Parsley - still mostly green flower heads

Parsley - these are brown, probably almost harvest-ready?

We had both curly and flat leaf parsley planted next to each other, and now I can't tell which flower heads are from which plants.  I've read that they readily cross-pollinate with each other, so I guess these seeds will give me some sort of hybrid curly-flat leaf parsley next year.

For those of you who have harvested herb seeds before, how do you know when they are ready to be picked?  Are they ready as soon as they turn brown?  I don't want to run the risk of them not being "ripe" enough by harvesting too early, but I'm also worried that they might all fall off one day while I'm not looking.

Monday, July 26, 2010

7/26/10 Harvest and Indoor Grow Box Update

Presenting, our very first tomato!  The variety is Early Girl, and the tomato plants were grown from seedlings bought from a garden store before we figured out how to start our own seeds.  As far as the taste is concerned, I would say that this one tasted slightly sweeter than an average store-bought tomato, with that good wholesome home-grown flavor.  I'm sure there are many other tomato varieties with better flavors, and I hope to grow more varieties from seed next year.

We also harvested a few more green beans, but I think we're done with these bean plants for the season.  They have been under some sort of a beetle attack - I think cucumber beetles, but there may be other bugs involved as well - and the leaves are getting rather lacy and ratty-looking.

Cucumbers are continuing to produce.  We harvested four more this week for more cucumber salad, and the vines promise many more in the upcoming weeks.

Indoor Grow Box Update

Our homemade indoor grow box has been performing beautifully, and we harvested some baby lettuce from our first trial run.  Three weeks ago, we planted a variety of lettuce seeds in a Jiffy mini greenhouse and a re-purposed container (one of those clear plastic containers that hold supermarket strawberries).  They started germinating after 2-3 days, and three weeks later, we already have some edible baby greens.

Encouraged by our success, we constructed a few more lettuce "beds" from doubled-up aluminum lasagna pans.  The bottom pan was filled with a layer of pea gravel to hold up the top pan.  We poked some drainage holes in the top pan and filled it with Mel's mix (equal parts peat moss, vermiculite and compost).  Now we'll be able to grow cut-and-come-again lettuce all year long indoors without worrying about them bolting in the heat or freezing in the cold outside.

The few seedlings in the pictures below were transplanted from the Jiffy mini greenhouse into one of the new lettuce beds after some of the bigger leaves were cut for our first lettuce harvest.

At the same time that we started our lettuce seeds (three weeks ago), we also started some jelly bean tomato and cayenne pepper seeds in the Jiffy mini greenhouse.  I know that's too late to start tomato and pepper seeds, but we wanted to experiment and see how seeds would germinate and seedlings would grow in our indoor grow box.  There's also a transplanted basil growing in there, too. So far, everything seems to be growing pretty well.  The tomato and pepper seedlings were transplanted into separate containers last week.

Inside of the grow box before the first lettuce harvest

If you haven't yet, do you want to see how we built this indoor grow box ourselves three weeks ago?

Check out Daphne's Harvest Monday for everyone else's harvests!

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Growing SUPERmarket Cantaloupe

Out of sheer curiosity, I planted seeds from a generic cantaloupe from the grocery store.

Before I started my Great Cantaloupe Experiment, I did some reading on the internet and came away with the following information:
  • Many store-bought melons are hybrids, unless marked otherwise.
  • Some hybrid melons are sterile.
  • Some sterile hybrid melons have seeds that won't germinate; others will grow into plants that will never bear fruit.
  • Some hybrid melons will bear fruit that will not resemble the parent melon.
After reading all this, I HAD to try this out for myself, even if I didn't get any melons out of it.

I bought a cantaloupe from a local Kroger in Texas.  It sported a sticker bearing the "Majesty" brand name, which I think is some mega corporation, giving me a near-certainty that I was dealing with a hybrid melon.  I harvested about 10 seeds by picking them out from the slimy inside seed cluster and and patting them dry with a napkin.

The seeds traveled back to Indiana with me in a small zip-loc bag.  They were planted in my square foot gardening beds on June 26, 2010.  To my surprise, ALL of the seeds germinated within days.  On Day 7, I transplanted two seedlings into two separate containers.

Take a look at their progress below:

July 3, 2010 (Day 7)
Two of these seedlings were transplanted into separate containers after this picture was taken.

July 10, 2010 (Day 14)

July 11, 2010 (Day 15)

July 17, 2010 (Day 21)

July 24, 2010 (Day 28)

July 24, 2010 (Day 28 Transplanting)

July 24, 2010 (Day 28 - transplanted into a new bucket)

As you can see, one of the two transplanted seedlings just took off and is growing like mad every day.  Keith has dubbed it the SUPERmarket cantaloupe.  It's even flowering, although I've spotted only male flowers so far. 
 July 25, 2010 (Day 30)

Next step: cross my fingers and hope that this plant ends up with some female flowers and bears some viable melons. 

Has anyone else here tried to grow any store-bought melons from seed?  Do you want guess how many melons, if any, I'll get out of this plant?

Friday, July 23, 2010

Cucumber Beetle on My Beans?

I didn't know what this little yellow insect was when I made Keith hold still so I could snap a picture, but thanks to Google image search, I have now identified it as a cucumber beetle.  A spotted cucumber beetle, to be exact. 

According to the experts, cucumber beetles got their name from their tendency to be found on cucurbit leaves and flowers.  The last time I checked, green beans were not part of the cucurbit family.  So what was this bug doing on my bean flower?  I suppose it's possible that it was just enjoying a rest stop en route to cucurbitsville - I do have cucumbers and squash in my garden - but it was crawling around the bean flowers for a while and it didn't look like it had any plans to leave the bean area anytime soon. 

Could cucumber beetles have done this to my bean plants, or is this masterpiece a courtesy of some other unsavory garden pest?  Do any of you readers know if cucumber beetles are exclusive to cucurbits, or if they sometimes venture out to other plants like beans?

Oh, and in case anyone's wondering, I made sure to get rid of this particular cucumber beetle by relocating it to the concrete patio and stepping on it mercilessly.  I know you can get the job done easier by simply dropping the bug in soapy water, but it was more satisfying this way.  Much more.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Naughty Talk

Some couples indulge in phone sex - or sexting, if they are hip and young - when they are apart.  Not us.  We discuss our vegetables.
"My co-worker gave me another cucumber today."
"Another big one?"
"Almost as big around as last time, but this one's less than half as long.  She thinks that it hung down too low, hit the ground, and couldn't grow anymore."
"Ours don't hit the ground."
"That's good!  That means our vertical trellis is working."
"We can get it up and keep it up?"
"Oh yeah."

Monday, July 19, 2010

7/19/10 Harvest - First Cucumber

Happy Harvest Monday!

Following last week's first zucchini, we're continuing with our garden "firsts."  Making its grand debut this week is our very first home-grown cucumber.  The variety is Burpee's Sugar Crunch Hybrid.  Our cucumber was not as "fat" as the model cucumbers photographed on the seed packet, but it looked to be about the right length, so we picked one for a test run.  It tasted great - sweet and crunchy.  Here it is, presented with the rest of this week's harvest.

We harvested some yellow onions that haven't sized up to what I think should be their full size potential.  We planted these onion sets pretty late in the season (mid-May) so I don't know if the bulbs will grow anymore.  We'll probably pull a couple every week and see if they get any bigger.

The green beans seem to be slowing down, and some bugs are starting to get to them, too.  If you click on the picture to enlarge it, you can see the blemishes on the beans better.  We definitely need to plant more beans next year.

The red pepper is cayenne, and it was gifted to us from our next door neighbor.  It was his first pepper.  We cooked with it tonight, but the heat just wasn't there.  I thought cayenne peppers were supposed to be super spicy?

We also harvested about 4.5 oz of basil to make pesto.  We ran out of pine nuts, so we used some walnuts and almonds instead.  The pesto still came out tasting really good.

Our first cucumber was sliced along with my TSA-inspected cucumber from Texas and our not-quite-big-enough yellow onions for a refreshing cucumber salad marinated in vinegar/sugar goodness.  It was sweet, tangy, and crunchy with just the right amount of kick from onions - absolutely perfect.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Flying With A Large Cucumber

"Ma'am, we're going to have to do a manual inspection of your bag."


"Is there anything dangerous that could poke me in your bag?"

"Just a cucumber."

The TSA inspector narrowed his eyes at me, like he thought I was kidding.  What, like he hasn't seen someone fly with a cucumber before?

Yesterday, one of my co-workers brought in these cucumbers that she grew in her home garden in Denton, Texas. I've seen cucumbers bigger than these in length before, but certainly not ones with such... girth.  I guess it's true that everything is bigger in Texas.  I won't get into the details about all the vegetable porn references that were insinuated during our group excitement of measuring and photographing.  Totally workplace inappropriate.

12-inch ruler and pad of paper for size comparison 

Another co-worker took the bigger one and I got to keep the smaller one.  The smaller one is about 10.5 inches long, 9 inches around, and weighs in at just under 2 lbs.

Every Friday after work, I fly back home to Indiana, so this cucumber had to fly home with me.  Since I didn't check any luggage, I stuffed this cucumber in my travel purse.  And they flagged me for manual screening because "something" didn't look quite right on the airport security X-ray machine.  I suppose they couldn't tell that it was a large cucumber in the bottom of my purse.  Maybe it looked like something else. Like... a large zucchini?

Anyway, the TSA inspector carefully took everything out of my purse, one by one, and finally got to the cucumber.

"I told you I had a cucumber in there."

"Um... yep.  That's a cucumber alright."

"Is it okay if I fly with it?"

"You sure can.  You're all clear, ma'am.  Have a safe flight."

So I traveled home safely with my TSA-approved cucumber.

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Thursday, July 15, 2010

How We Compost - Is It All Wrong?

After reading EG's post about composting this morning, I felt deflated, like we were a textbook case of how NOT to compost.  Is our beginner's composting effort totally doomed?  Please read on and let us know your thoughts.

Since Keith and I decided to start our own vegetable garden, my feelings regarding home composting have evolved from common fear (is our backyard going to stink like a mini landfill?), to cautious intrigue (can we really turn everyday garbage into "black gold"?), and finally to newbie enthusiasm (let's do it!).

I did some online research on how to start backyard composting at home, and learned about "browns" and "greens," also known as carbon and nitrogen sources.  I also read up on oxygen and water requirements for good composting.  We looked at countless pictures of backyard compost bins, checked out a few commercial composters at local garden stores, and eventually made a decision to build our own.

The "building" part was actually really easy.  We bought a food grade 55-gallon plastic barrel with a screw top lid from someone on craigslist for $20.  We then drilled many holes at regular intervals all around the barrel (including top and bottom) for air circulation and drainage.

Next up was the "filling" part.  I didn't really think through this part very well.  I had a vague idea that we would just toss all our kitchen scraps (minus the meats and the fats) in there, mix in some grass clippings and leaves, and we would magically have our compost some months later.  Ha, it didn't actually work out like that.

First problem: 55 gallons is actually a really big space to fill with kitchen scraps from a household of two adults.  Grass clippings added some bulk, but we discovered that they reduce down a lot as they start decomposing.

Second problem: we live in a new-ish subdivision, and we only have one very small tree on our property.  So... no brown leaves for the compost pile.  I told Keith that come fall time, we might have to sneak around the neighborhood at nights with a large trash bag and collect brown leaves from our more established neighbors.  He didn't like that idea so much.

Anyway, our current composting routine goes something like this:

  • We keep a small plastic container (big enough to fit a plastic grocery bag inside) in the kitchen for all vegetable and fruit scraps.  I'm anal enough to chop everything into smaller pieces, because I read that small pieces are more accessible for microorganisms during the composting process.  Keith thinks it's funny that I chop things like watermelon rind into bite sized pieces, only to throw them away in the compost.  Hey, if it's worth doing, it's worth doing well.
  • We toss in crushed eggshells and used coffee grounds whenever we have them. 
  • When the small container gets full, it gets emptied into the compost barrel sitting in the backyard. 
  • We add some newspaper (hand-shredded into approximately 1/2 inch wide strips) in the compost barrel as our main carbon source.
  • Grass clippings get added to the compost barrel after mowing. 
  • Oh, our compost barrel also serves as an earthly gateway to vegetable plant heaven. 
  • We spray water inside the compost barrel daily to make sure that it stays sufficient moist (but not too wet) inside. 
  • The compost barrel gets rolled around on a weekly basis to ensure proper aeration.
We don't keep track of the volume ratio between browns (newspaper) and greens (kitchen scraps, grass clippings and dead vegetable plants), but we haven't had any issues with bad smells, which I read may be attributed to the way-off brown/green ratio, so I'm crossing my fingers and hoping that our ratio is at least somewhat acceptable.

So far, things look okay in the compost barrel. Everything is starting to decompose into a dark brown mass without smelling bad.  We don't have a compost thermometer, so we don't know if our compost is heating up to the ideal range of 130F - 150F.  The barrel is still only about a third full, and we keep adding more browns and greens to it, so I guess we can't expect to get any usable compost out of it until at least several months after we get the whole thing full.  I'm starting to realize the limitations of the one bin (or barrel, in our case) composting method.

I also found this fascinating tidbit on wiki: 
People excrete far more plant nutrients (nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium) in urine than in feces.  Human urine can be used directly as fertilizer or it can be put onto compost. Adding a healthy person's urine to compost usually will increase temperatures and therefore increase its ability to destroy pathogens and unwanted seeds.
I asked Keith if he would consider peeing in our compost barrel.  He countered with an offer to add a built-in toilet seat to the compost barrel lid, complete with a step stool for me to climb up to the top.  I think he was kidding.  At least I hope he was.  I may be eager, but I guess I'm not THAT dedicated to composting.  Yet.

Aside from building a new compost pile (the barrel did not work well for EG) and finding a good source of browns for carbon (EG mentioned that paper is not a good choice of browns), do you have any ideas on how we can salvage our composting method?  Does spraying your compost pile with tap water really kill all the good microbes?  It's not so much that I want to doubt EG, I'm just so sad thinking about how we may have been killing all our compost microbes with our daily watering.

Monday, July 12, 2010

7/12/10 Harvest Monday

Welcome to another episode of  Daphne's Harvest Monday!

I finally have over ONE pound of harvest in a week.  And I will freely admit that the squash blossoms pushed me over that 1 lb mark.

It's my first home-grown zucchini!  I know most people have "problems" with their zucchini plants being too prolific, but I was excited to get my first full-sized zucchini this week.  I actually hand-pollinated this one with a small brush last weekend, because I wanted to make extra certain that this female flower got pollinated, after seeing another female flower, along with its embryo zucchini, just wither away and die two weekends ago.  I'm guessing that's what happens to female squash flowers that don't get pollinated.

Squash Blossoms:
I've been reading about fried squash blossoms.  Edible, cookable flowers?  Heck yeah, I had to test this out for myself.  Unfortunately, I only saw two blossoms that seemed fit for harvesting on Sunday, so I ended up with just two.  I prepared a beer batter according to one of the recipes I found online, and fried up the two blossoms.  The verdict? Well, let's just say that there's room for improvement.  There was nothing really wrong with them, but I just wasn't overly impressed as I had hoped.  Maybe my expectations were too high.  Or maybe my frying technique needs more practice, as I hardly ever fry anything. I will try this again before I give up completely.  Does anyone here have a good recipe for squash blossoms that they would recommend?  I also sliced up my one zucchini into coins and sticks and fried them up using the same beer batter.  But I discovered that the batter was just too thick/heavy for the zucchini.  I really need to work on my frying skills and recipes.

Green Beans: 
There was another handful of green beans this week. We are loving growing (and eating) our own green beans.  We made a note to plant many more beans next year.  We may even try multiple varieties.  The one we planted this year is Burpee's Blue Lake 274.  Do you have any favorites that you would suggest we try next year?  These beans got sauteed in a little bit of olive oil with some garlic for Sunday dinner.

Oh, I also harvested another female flower/baby zucchini after watching it closely for a few days and not seeing it grow any bigger compared to my hand-pollinated zucchini (above) that grew about 1-2 inches every day.  There wasn't much to eat on this baby zucchini (it was about a finger length), but I suspected that it didn't get pollinated, so if I had left it on the plant, it would have just met the same shriveling death as its sister did two weeks ago. I just sliced it and ate it raw in two bites, while Keith watched and wrinkled his nose in anti-zucchini disgust.  It tasted just like a regular zucchini.

In other garden news, I'm slowly getting over my squeamishness over all things buggy, and have been bravely picking off any creepy crawlies of pest persuasion from my vegetable plants.  Just this weekend alone, I removed a yellowstriped armyworm and an unidentified bright green caterpillar from my bean plants, and four Japanese beetles from my basil.  All of them were quickly smooshed dead by the bottom of my unforgiving shoes. 

Yellowstriped Armyworm eating its last meal

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Is This Powdery Mildew?

As the growing season progresses, I'm starting to discover more pests and plant diseases that I've only been reading about until now.  Can someone tell me if this is powdery mildew on my squash leaves, or something else? There are numerous white spots spread all over the leaves.  Also, the whole plant has been getting more yellow-green the last week or two.

(click on all pictures to enlarge and see the spots better)

And what about these white spots on my cucumber leaves?  They look very different from the white spots on the squash leaves. Does anyone know what this is?

And lastly, there are holes on my bean leaves.  I thought the culprit was japanese beetles, but I found a different pest today.  Yellow striped armyworm, I think?

Sugar Snap Peas in California vs. Indiana

Back in early May, I visited my mom in Southern CA and sowed a few sugar snap peas in her small side yard.  Later that same week, I sowed more of the same peas - yes, I traveled with my seed envelope - here in our garden in Indiana.  Fast forward two months, and take a look at the difference between the two pea patches:
Indiana peas:

and California peas:

Our Indiana peas never really had a chance, what with the wild bunnies first nibbling the seedlings down to sad little nubs, and then getting toasted extra crispy in this heat in the last month or so.  I got two whole sugar snap peas out of my 16 plants last week.

The California peas, on the other hand, have been enjoying the unusually cool spring/summer weather for the last two months, and there are no wild bunnies in my mom's densely populated urban neighborhood.  I'm told that the pea vines have been growing like mad, already outgrowing the 4-foot trellis and reaching for the sky.

I know now that early May is too late to sow peas here in Indiana.  I will definitely start earlier next spring.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

They Picked Us!

Something exciting happened around here yesterday.

No, no, my tomato plants didn't spontaneously bear hundreds of perfectly-shaped and fully-ripened fruits overnight. Oh, I wish.

A representative from CSN Stores offered us an opportunity to review one of their products with a $40 store credit. CSN Stores sells all sorts of things on their many websites, including lights, greenhouse products, cookware, and lots more. Many of their products also come with free shipping, which is like the holy grail of online shopping for me.

Now, I like freebies just as much as the next person, but I was actually more excited that someone from this company found AND selected our blog for this offer. Then again, I still get super excited and do a (silent) happy dance every time I get a new comment or a follower.

As a building engineer with a specialty in lights, Keith considered selecting and reviewing one of their lights. I admit, they do have some cool lighting products. Still, with this being a vegetable gardening blog, I wanted to pick something more gardening-related. So, we're going with a gardening product, because sometimes Keith just lets me have my way without any fussing. You might think that this is because he's a nice person (which he is), but I have a secret suspicion that it's because he thinks I'm really, really cute.

Anyway, I'm considering one of these products from their greenhouses site.


Next spring, we could use our homemade indoor grow box to start our seeds, and then use one of these covered growing racks to harden off the seedlings before they go into our garden beds. I can't wait to try this out with tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, melons and anything else with seeds needing an early indoor start.

What do you think?  Do you have any suggestions on another product we should try out instead?

The generous CSN Stores representative also mentioned that they may let us host a giveaway for a gift certificate to one of you in a few months. Then we get to pick a lucky winner among you readers. Ohh, I can't wait to host my first giveaway on this blog!

Monday, July 5, 2010

The Stylish Indoor Grow Box

If you would like to see how our plants are growing in our grow box, here they are: Grow Box Updates

* * * * *
Hey everyone, this is Keith.  Usually I'm the "behind the scenes" helper when it comes to this blog but I was asked to do a short write-up on the newest addition to our gardening arsenal, our indoor grow box.

Temperatures here in Indiana (or anywhere else that gets snow) make it a bit difficult to get our gardening “fix” during the winter months. The obvious solution to this is to have some sort of setup indoors that will allow us to grow some plants, and start some seeds during the times when mother nature isn't being cooperative!

However, from looking at pictures around the internet of people's indoor gardening setups, I find most of them to be a little..... ummm...... “rough” looking (no offense to anyone!).   As Minji will no doubt confirm, I tend to be a little (very) picky when it comes to how the inside of the house looks, and a table with a light hanging above it doesn't fit very well into my interior decorating plan. :)

So I set out to build something that would allow us to garden in the winter months, while still making it easy on the eyes. Here's what I came up with...

My perfectly logical drawing of a grow box.

Makes perfect sense, right?  Minji was skeptical though.  I can't imagine why!  Basically, I explained, my goal was to build a grow box inside of an old armoire!  Still skeptical.  "Trust me", I said.  :)

Warning! Long Post!  If you just want pictures of the finished product, skip to the end!

Step One - Get an Armoire!
I searched around on for this until I found one that I thought would fit our requirements.  I was was looking for something that looked fairly nice, and that had multiple shelves (no drawers). I found this one for $50.

Step Two - Prepare for Lighting

My idea was to run lights directly down the center of the armoire so I didn't have to mount a bunch of light socketts on each level.  This involved drilling some holes in the shelves.

The lights I used are 4' fluorescent bulbs (four 6500k "daylight" and two 3000k "warm white" fluorescents), and seeing as how the armoire was taller than 4' inside, I had to build up the top and bottom a bit to fit them correctly.  Luckily, I saved all the circle pieces that I drilled out for just that purpose.  They weren't quite tall enough though, so I cut a few more pieces from some scrap wood I had left over from another project.

I then measured how many I needed and glued them to the top and bottom inside the armoire.  To those, I glued the lamp holders in a hexagon...... ending up with this....

Step Three - Wiring

I used two, three lamp ballasts (for six lights total).  Wiring these to the lamp holders was the most time consuming part of this whole process.  After I wired it, I used electrical tape to neaten it all up and run everything as cleanly as possible.

Next, I mounted the timer I bought to a piece of laminated shelving and used some small "L" brackets to secure it to the bottom of the armoire, in front of the ballasts.

At this point the whole unit looked like this.....

Step Four - Finishing!

Now it was time for the finishing touches!  After putting the light bulbs in we measured the inside temperature while the lights were on.  It was getting up towards 90 degrees so we decided to install an exhaust fan to let some of the heat out.  I drilled out a hole on the back of the unit and installed a simple 120v computer fan.  It now stays between 76-81 degrees in the box at all times.

We then added some aluminum foil to help reflect the light for the plants and put a few test subjects (basil, lettuce seeds, rosemary) in to test it out!

So right now it looks like this.....

And here it is in full operation.....

As the picture above shows, I found it was difficult to take good pictures looking directly at the box because it is so bright and my camera tries to compensate.  Here is one from the side....

Our plants are so bright, you gotta wear shades!

As for materials and cost.....

ItemCostWhere to buy / Details
Armoire $
Two GE332-N ballasts$56Lowes
Four F32T8 6500k fluorescent bulbs (daylight)$14Lowes
Two F32T8 3000k fluorescent bulbs (warm)$7Lowes
Two outlet digital timer clock$17Lowes
Twelve medium bi-pin lamp holders$30Lowes
120v Fan$25Radio Shack
Small “L” bracket$1.75Lowes
8' Three prong extension cord$6Lowes
10' Two Prong extension cord$6Lowes
Small white laminate shelf (or scrap wood)$3Menards (just for looks)
Two boxes of aluminum foil$5Kroger (grocery)
Double sided scotch tape$3K-mart

So that's it!  We set the timer to come on in the morning at 6am and go off in the evening at 8pm.  And from the outside, you can't tell it's anything but a normal armoire!

Overall, I'm pretty satisfied with the outcome but being new to gardening I'm sure there are ways to make this thing better.  Anyone have any suggestions?  Do I have to worry about humidity too, or just make sure it doesn't get too high?  I heard humidity is a killer for tomato plants.

Thoughts and suggestions are always appreciated!  Any ideas?

If you would like to see how our plants are growing in our grow box, here they are: Grow Box Updates


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