determinedtogrow
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HELP Wanted: Raised Bed vegi garden going bad

My husband built me two 8ft x 4ft cedar wood beds for me to start my new raised bed vegetable garden. I filled it with a garden mix at our local yard works...it was 50%compost and 50% top soil. THEN, I added some worm casting, quite a lot of perilite (to help with water retention) and some chickity doo doo. I want to go organic as much as possible. Then, my father took me to get plants and seeds. We bought several little celebrity tomatoes, a juliet, some banana peppers, and then seeds for beans, cucumbers, zuccini. I planted all abut 4 weeks ago. So far, the beans, cucs, and zuccini's have come up. But, while they started with beautiful rich green leaves they now are a little more light green in color and they don't seem to be growing particularly well. The tomatoes and peppers have HARDLY grown and they just don't look happy and vibrint. I'm so frustrated. MY father's garden is doing fabulously and I mention this because we shared the seeds and the plants and our weather has been about the same. SO, clearly there is a problem with my soil. They get full sun all day and I have been watering them regularly and making sure that I don't over or underwater them. What should I do now? Just keep waiting and hope that everything starts to grow? Should I rip them up and start all over?...only for it to happen again. HELP
determinedtogrow

tedln
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It's really hard to offer an opinion without actually seeing the garden. In most cases with new gardens and new gardeners, the best advice is "be patient". Normally in a new garden bed with new seedlings planted it simply takes a while for everything to get balanced. When you grow from seed in the garden bed, the new plants acclimate themselves to the conditions present when they germinate and start growing.

Your description of all you have done leads me to believe you may have given your plants to much of a good thing. With chickty poo, and compost, and new soil; your plants may simply be overwhelmed with all the good stuff. After everything dissolves, bacteria become active, minerals and nutrients are evenly distributed; I think you will have a nice garden.

The only other thing I can suggest is find out what your father is doing different and copy his example.

I love your enthusiasm.

Ted
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determinedtogrow
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Thank you. I will try to be patient. ahhh. You are the second person (the first being my dad) who has said that perhaps there is too much of a good thing with all the stuff I've used to create good soil. Sadly, before hearing this advise I scattered another little round of chickity doo doo. Maybe I'll go out tomorrow morning and try to rake it up....but I think it's fairly benign as far as fertilizer goes. Humm.

My dad has gardened forever and has soil that has been worked forever. He has never done a raised bed and has never bought soil or any other amendment...only his own compost which is largely just yard waste. I, however, have clay soil and not knowing how long we'll be living here so I thought a raised bed would suit us best. Now I"m not so sure.
Thank you very much for your reply
determinedtogrow

tedln
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Everything I grow (a lot of stuff) is in raised beds. I have five right now and I am adding three more. Again, be patient. I want to tell you to really water the bed heavy for about a week to get everything mixed well. If you do, it will probably drown your plants. You have a nice garden. I wish I had all the stuff you have put in yours. Give your plants time and they should acclimate to the bed.

Ted
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DoubleDogFarm
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Chickity Doo Dooâ„¢ Organic Fertilizer 5-3-2.5

I'm with Ted and Dad. Sounds like to much love. :D

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supagirl277
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OH that's good, I was about to say don't put fresh poop on it, or it will kill the plants. But if it's fertilizer, then you're good.
~I learn as I go... I just wish that would I learn faster. :)
~Well at least I have my backups... nope they're dead too.
~Outdoor gardens are very good when you have a Bearded Dragon that can just chomp her fill when she's hungry.

tedln
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Just so you can be sure raised beds work fine, here are a few photos from my garden last year.

[img]https://i291.photobucket.com/albums/ll308/tedln/2009%20Garden/IMG_1703.jpg[/img]

[img]https://i291.photobucket.com/albums/ll308/tedln/2009%20Garden/IMG_1653.jpg[/img]

[img]https://i291.photobucket.com/albums/ll308/tedln/2009%20Garden/IMG_1742.jpg[/img]

[img]https://i291.photobucket.com/albums/ll308/tedln/2009%20Garden/IMG_1650.jpg[/img]

[img]https://i291.photobucket.com/albums/ll308/tedln/2009%20Garden/IMG_1671.jpg[/img]

[img]https://i291.photobucket.com/albums/ll308/tedln/2009%20Garden/IMG_1667.jpg[/img]

[img]https://i291.photobucket.com/albums/ll308/tedln/2009%20Garden/IMG_1647.jpg[/img]

It will look about the same this year later in the season, but it will have four new beds.

Ted
I simply enjoy gardening!

determinedtogrow
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WOW. What you have is my dream. I sooooo want that. My beans are bush and I was too late for peas but I love vertical planting. Do you have any soil suggestions...as I'm feeling confident that's my problem. How did you get your soil? I know that doing my own compost is best but I don't have that yet. That's next years project....so long as I don't give up between now and then. Gardening is just so natural it doesn't seem like it should be so hard. I really hope they start growing soon because it's depressing running out to check on it everyday (multiple times a day) and see them looking sad and not growing. I have been watering them every evening because by the end of the day I stick my finger in the soil and it's definitely not moist so I go ahead and water well again. Do you think I should let it dry out a little?

As for the Chickety doo doo....I just put more on (shouldn't have I guess). It's an organic fertilizer. Ideally I need to start composting but haven't done that yet. And, we don't live on a farm so I don't have aged manure readily available. When my beans popped up there were rich dark green but over the last week they've seem to slow down in growth a bit and are a much lighter shade of green than the first leaves. Also, some bug or worm has been munching on the leaves which is about to drive me mad as well.

Thank you for you help

I threw worm casting in because with a truck load of 50%compost 50%top soil I thought that would add micronutrients (maybe I was wrong there)
determinedtogrow

jmoore
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tedln wrote:Just so you can be sure raised beds work fine, here are a few photos from my garden last year.

Ted
Wow ted! Vegetable pron :lol:

DoubleDogFarm
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determinedtogrow,

Just a few questions. How tall or how deep is your raised bed :?: . What is at the bottom :?:

determinedtogrow
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The beds are between 6-8inches deep. Basically they are sitting on clay soil. We took out the sod and took a pick ax to the clay to try and loosen it a bit. Then we leveled it, put the 8x4 boxes on top and filled with soil.

A couple years ago he made me two 2x4 beds with legs (so the floor was plywood) I read parts of Mel's Square Foot Garden book and gave it a go. They were great for herbs especially but I also some decent vegis.

For a couple years I've been wanting to expand. I'd LOVE to fill up several more boxes but of course I've gotta have a successful growing season first. I"m glad I have two because I can rotate the tomatoes / peppers with the beans next year.

Do you think depth is an issue? If so, I would would have expected the plants to still start out strong and then later in the growing season run into problems. I can't imagine depth being an issue this early on in the growing season.

I could take some pics tomorrow and upload them....uh....if that's not hard to do.
determinedtogrow

tedln
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All of my beds except the new beds I am adding were basically filled with the cheapest dirt I could buy which last year was $.99 cents per bag at home depot. I've always used that cheap, worthless stuff because after I add some organics like compost and a few other simple amendments it's really pretty good stuff. It's probably similar to what your Dad started growing in many years ago. Given time and attention, you can make something good out of something that wasn't so good. It sounds like you started with all the good stuff people recommend.

This year, I will be filling my new beds with a dump truck load of really good top soil. I will also be adding more organics and other amendments to it. When the new beds are finished, the dirt in them will be no different than the cheap dirt I bought at home depot.

Don't give up. It will work.

Ted
I simply enjoy gardening!

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engineeredgarden
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determinedtogrow - I feel that the problem is drainage. The reason I say this is because your box is only 6-8" deep, and sits on top of clay soil. In traditional style gardens, farmers "hill" all things belonging to the cucurbit family (in your case squash and cucumbers). The reason is that they demand really good drainage to thrive - which "hilling" helps to accomplish. Because of the abundance of rainfall in my area each year, I had the same problems with my 8" deep bad (especially with zucchini). It is now 14" deep, and works much better. Just my 2 cents.....

EG

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applestar
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I'm thinking, too, that if it's clay underneath, you shouldn't need to water every day. Perhaps you're not watering ENOUGH at a time, though what engineeredgarden said is an issue too. Often, digging in clay soil only creates a basin for the water to sit in.

Two things I would try.
(1) Use garden fork and stab into the soil around the raised bed. Stand on it if you have to to get it as far down in the soil as you can, then wiggle to fracture the soil (don't lift). This is what I normally do to prepare the clay soil before building a raised bed above it without actually digging the clay. This should help any water from pooling below the raised bed and drain into the surrounding soil.
(2) When you water, water thoroughly until you have puddles around the raised bed. Then don't water for a couple of days. If you have any seeds waiting to grow or seedlings that just started to grow, then just water the seeded area to keep moist and water the seedlings if the soil feels dry 1" below surface.

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The base of real soil is made up of clay, silt and sand. These fine particles are what come in close contact with the roots and and close the air pockets so the root hairs can obtain water from the soil. These fine particle also hold water well. I think that when you try to build soils from 80% organic matter, you are ignoring the basics of good soil. When you make raised beds, you should excavate about 6 inches of the soil where you are placing the bed, and then mix that removed material with your other fillers. Clay is not a bad thing. A good soil should have about 20% clay in it. Perlite is worthless as a soil. Its only virtue is light weight which is desirable for flower pots.

You answered your own query here when you said: "He has never done a raised bed and has never bought soil or any other amendment...only his own compost which is largely just yard waste. "

Compost, and manure are soil amendments. They should be used to improve the fertility and tilth of your soil, not as a soil substitute.

Remember to include the basics of soil, clay, silt, and sand.

I think your soil has too large of particles and the roots do not have good contact with the soil.

I would recommend just water your bed well, and if you can get the worms working it , they will eventually bring up some clay from down below, and the microbes will break down the organic matter in to plant nutrients.

Drainage is not an issue in a raised bed. The excess water can run out the bottom.
Last edited by jal_ut on Sun May 30, 2010 4:45 pm, edited 1 time in total.
Gardening at 5000 feet elevation, zone 4/5 Northern Utah, Frost free from May 25 to September 8 +/-

determinedtogrow
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Well, I've used Mel Barthalamew's general guidlines for raised bed gardens so it's frustrating to hear that the 50/50 topsoil/compost mix is actually causing the problem. The problem is that there is no topsoil in my backyard. Immediately beneath grass is the hardest kind of clay you could imagine. I mean, my husband and I literally took a pic ax and managed to break up the first 3-5 inches of clay on top of which we placed the raised bed. It would have taken a decade to create good soil with that clay and we don't know how long we'll be living in this house so it seemed like the most logical thing was to do raised bed and truck in some soil.

I did just go get one new tomato plant and replace it with one of my 4 celebrity tomatoes this morning to see how it does. I figured I still had 3 other celebrities (all of which haven't grown in the past 4 weeks) so it would be interesting to see what would happen. The celebrity I dug up was very very moist and there had been minimal...minimal root growth. The roots didn't impress me as being particularly strong. So, I will hold off on the water for a few days (checking it regularly of course) and hopefully some of this 90 degree sunny weather will help. I HOPE SO.

I really appreciate all of your suggestions and help. Keep it coming if you think of something else.
determinedtogrow

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engineeredgarden
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determinedtogrow - when you used a pickaxe to loosen up the clay soil, you created a bathtub. Cucurbits absolutely will not tolerate their roots sitting in water, and that's what is happening. I'm sorry for your dilemma, but that's what is happening. Cutting back on watering will help matters, but torrential downpours will plague you throughout the year. Again, I'm really sorry.

EG

cynthia_h
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determinedtogrow wrote:Well, I've used Mel Barthalamew's general guidlines for raised bed gardens so it's frustrating to hear that the 50/50 topsoil/compost mix is actually causing the problem.
Mel's recommendations, if you want to stick to them, are:

1/3 vermiculite
1/3 peat moss
1/3 compost from mixed sources

no top soil anywhere at all

This is a well-draining, lightweight yet nutritious mix. I used it as prescribed in 2008, the first year in many that I was capable of gardening again. I made Bed #1 from scavenged cinder blocks and (silly me) believed Mel, that 6" would be sufficient.

Well, it might be in some parts of the country, but not here; that's for sure. The Bay Area sits on that famous Spanish adobe clay, against which the red clay of Georgia (in which I have also placed a shovel) is mere child's play to dig. Sadly.... :shock: I kept hilling up green beans, zukes, peas, everything that first season.

Then i just added another layer of cinder blocks. 14 inches works so much better! :D Even if it *is* underlain by adobe clay. I did the "fork wiggle" into the clay to make worm channels "just in case," but all in all, the plants did much better in 14 inches of growing medium.

And, once I looked into the question of peat moss, I decided not to use it again, so Beds #2 through #5 have been mixes of vermiculite, mixed composts, and some potting soil I had laying around. They're also 10 to 14 inches deep (scavenged lumber; I just matched boards, except for the one bed that DH "had to" make from new boards), and the plants love 'em.

"Topsoil" as sold in stores is often construction fill with no nutritional value to plants; the other additions you mentioned are nitrogen rich and don't strike me as a balanced diet for plants. Also, as others have mentioned, these additions may have overwhelmed the new plants.

There is SO MUCH to learn in gardening that no one ever learns it all, much less the first season. Your father has most likely been learning stuff each season he has gardened. No doubt he will learn more this year. He understands his soil; he knows what he likes to grow and what it needs. But something will occur to him this year that hasn't occurred to him before, and he will learn new stuff.

We all do. That's part of why we keep coming back. Any true art/science is more vast than the powers of any individual to master it in a lifetime; that is the challenge! My signature for Spring 2009 through Spring 2010 was from Thomas Jefferson: "Although in years I am an old man, I am but a young gardener."

Use this experience with the next set of plants. That set will have another lesson for you, whatever it is. And on and on...

Welcome to gardening. :D

Cynthia H.

(Vergil needed staples yesterday when some sutures popped upon his falling down :( in the a.m.3 hours of waiting in the vet hospital waiting room, he and I collapsed for the afternoon. We're still pretty worn out. TPLO right knee was Wednesday, 5/26)

determinedtogrow
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Yes, I do remember now that I did Mels mix a few years ago with so so success (just two little little raised boxes really) but after reading lots I decided to go cheaper with the few amendments....hence the garden mix I chose.

I just went outside and I'm completely astonished to realize that my gardens are in shade from about 2:30 (I'm guessing) onward. I can't believe this because I felt like I took careful note of the sun situation all year..... But, it's still in full sun from I'd say 8 am until 2:30.....Is this enough sun?

Could it be overwatering plus not enough sun that is causing?

I appreciate the comments about the clay acting like a bathtub but what's crazy about this is the fact that so many different blogs, utube video, books, etc spoke of doing exactly what we did...many didn't even suggest removing the grass which we did to be extra careful.

I sure wish things could be more black and white.
determinedtogrow

tedln
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Just so you will know, my raised beds are sitting on what we call "hard pan". It is red clay so hard the pick axe wouldn't touch it. We tried to drill some fence post holes into it last summer with a tractor mounted post hole drill. The drill would hit the hard pan and start smoking from the friction.

The condition of my soil was probably the deciding factor that put me into the raised bed gardening business. The first year with my raised beds, I tried, to incorporate some of the hard pan into the raised bed soil with a shovel. I couldn't do it. The second year, after some of my topsoil and moisture, and sand (the high sand content is one reason I like the cheap dirt by the bag) had penetrated the hard pan, I was able to turn my beds over with a shovel and incorporate some of the hard pan into my garden soil. I suppose I mixed about four inches of the bottom stuff into the top stuff. (another reason that cheap dirt in a bag works well for me is the fact that it contains a lot of a white dirt called caliche. Caliche is normally used to build roads. Caliche is also calcium carbonate which means when some of it is present in my garden, any problems with blossom end rot on my tomatoes goes away.)

My first beds were filled to about ten inches in depth of the cheap dirt and amendments. I had so much organics in the soil that by the end of the first season, the ten inches had compressed to about six inches. Every year, I have to add about two inches of fresh material to my beds to maintain a ten inch depth. My new beds will be twelve inches deep.

I just provide the water I think my plants need based on how my plants look and how dry the soil in my garden looks. The good thing about raised beds is the fact that it is hard to over water. Any excess simply overflows or underflows at the bottom and waters the grass around the beds. I've never had a standing water problem even with the hard clay underneath.

The nice thing about gardening is you just do what you have to do and it usually works out well at the end.

Ted
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Duh_Vinci
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With the red clay - I completely understand where you coming from! I'm in VA as well, and my entire property is nothing but clay. When the house was built - all I could see is RED. It took me over 2 years just to get the grass growing!!!

As for raised beds - our clay is not quite as hard as Ted's in TX, so in the spring (or late fall), after few days of rain, the clay can be worked with sharp shovel. As Jal_UT suggested, I think it is important to incorporate those 6-8" of native clay/soil into your beds.

And much like yourself, at this house, and with no immediate availability of good fertile soil on the property, I started with raised beds, and I too used Mel's method, but only as guidelines. His exact proportions don't work well in our summers, dries out waaaaaay to quickly, and even when you do water often, water just runs out. So I believe (as mentioned earlier) to use existing soil, mixed it well with your organic matter. Difference is day and night! And indeed, as Ted said, be ready to add few inches of organic matter to your bed every year!

Good luck to you, let us know if you are making any progress!

Regards,
D

Timlin
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I'm really sorry to say I still think your problem is over kindness. I think you put in far too much "feed" to the mix........50% soil, 50% compost would be just fine if you were using your father's compost which is made up of stuff he piles up and composts himself BUT you added and added to the mix with the worm manure and then chicken manure and then more chicken manure.

By next summer if you stop adding fertilizer your plants will be in heaven and will grow beautifully. I think they are being stunted from too rich a soil mix. As the summer progress and the rain washes some of the extra yummies from the soil they will improve I'm betting.

If you think they are sitting in water dig a drain along the side to drain off any excess water........it might be hard to do because of the clay but once dug it will stay there so that's one advantage of hard clay!

tedln
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If she has extra unused depth in her bed, she can also add some ordinary top soil without amendments and with a hand trowel, slowly incorporate the new top soil into the existing soil. She needs to be careful to not damage the roots of her plants as she does it.

The red clay that seems to be so prevalent is a mineral called kaolin. It is found throughout the world as geologic deposits. In most places it is white in color and is used to manufacture fine china, electrical insulators, apple growers spray it on newly harvested apples, and Kaopectate as a digestive tract aid. When it is red or orange in color, it indicates the presence of iron oxide. It also contains some solable calcium. What that means is the fact that when we are able to incorporate some into our garden soil, it adds a lot of minerals to our garden. It's amazing how some of the "bad" things are actually good things.

Ted
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Tate
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Re: HELP Wanted: Raised Bed vegi garden going bad

determinedtogrow wrote:My husband built me two 8ft x 4ft cedar wood beds for me to start my new raised bed vegetable garden. I filled it with a garden mix at our local yard works...it was 50%compost and 50% top soil. THEN, I added some worm casting, quite a lot of perilite (to help with water retention) and some chickity doo doo. I want to go organic as much as possible. Then, my father took me to get plants and seeds. We bought several little celebrity tomatoes, a juliet, some banana peppers, and then seeds for beans, cucumbers, zuccini. I planted all abut 4 weeks ago. So far, the beans, cucs, and zuccini's have come up. But, while they started with beautiful rich green leaves they now are a little more light green in color and they don't seem to be growing particularly well. The tomatoes and peppers have HARDLY grown and they just don't look happy and vibrint. I'm so frustrated. MY father's garden is doing fabulously and I mention this because we shared the seeds and the plants and our weather has been about the same. SO, clearly there is a problem with my soil. They get full sun all day and I have been watering them regularly and making sure that I don't over or underwater them. What should I do now? Just keep waiting and hope that everything starts to grow? Should I rip them up and start all over?...only for it to happen again. HELP
A similar thing happened to me when I first started my garden. I tried everything to get things to grow better and was really frustrated. I realize now what the problem was. The compost I used had too much green wood in it. It had not been aged and broken down enough. When the woody stuff breaks down it pulls nitrogen out of the soil and the plants don't get enough of it. That soil a year later is working great because all of that wood has decomposed. I am not sure if that is your problem or not, but if you see a lot of wood in your soil that might be the culprit. I look back at some of my pics from last year and my soil looked like a wood pile.

Tate

determinedtogrow
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Well, I watched the sun like a hawk today and the raised beds are in full sun from 8:30 to 3:00. So, I understand that's not ideal sun but it should suffice right? I have a more experienced gardener neighbor who built similar boxes two years ago and bought the same compost/topsoil blend that I bought via truck load from the same company. Her gardens are wonderful. She came over to look at my garden and quickly and confidently said my problem was too much water. SO, I am laying off the water big time and hoping that things pick up. I'm feeling like such a garden rookie in spending all this money on soil and soil amendments. All I've wanted is a prolific garden with organic veges and just really felt like i was making the best decision in adding the worm castings and chickety doo doo fertilizer.......I thought, "we've spent all this time making boxes and getting soil that I'm going to do whatever I can to make sure this is successful. I know you can burn plants with too much fertilizer but still sort of figured that more was better. I also didn't trust that the compost from the company I bought from would be rich enough in nutrients since it was compost of only yard waste. So I thought it would need more.
determinedtogrow

determinedtogrow
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IF my primary problem is too much water.....once the soil begins to dry out a bit is it likely that my plants will ultimately prosper? OR, is it more likely that it's too late and they won't grow and I might as well replace them? Any thoughts?
determinedtogrow

tedln
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If they are not dead, they probably will recover. They will be delayed some, but they should be okay.

Ted
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