Spring planting and front yard rehab


The snowdrops in the back survived last weeks snow.

Finally! Yesterday was the sunniest day of the year so far (23.96 kWh generated), so I was able to get outside and plant something. For many months the only thing I’ve done in the garden was to cut herbs and shake snow off branches. The whole family got in on the outdoor action: while I planted my seeds, The Man sculpted the hedges, and our awesome son moved 29 – 40 kilo bags of genuine Thunderbird manure from the driveway to the back of the garden. He also dug up one of the beds at the back for me. Planted:

  • “April in Paris” sweet peas in the rock garden. I normally have no luck with sweet peas, but I thought I would try. Again.
  • Three rows of Oregon Giant peas and one row each of Spanish Black and Amethyst radishes in bed 4. I hope to plant more peas, more radishes and some lettuce in a few weeks.
  • Favas in the open area in the back. Half of the seeds were from west coast seeds and half were seeds I saved myself.

Parts of our front yard really, REALLY need a serious make-over. The beds on either side of the driveway are fine, but parts of the front garden have gone wild. The two problem areas are (1) the front above the wall which contained a bunch of leggy heathers and ericas; and (2) the weedfest in the middle where there was an enormous tree.

Yesterday I dug up all the heathers, added some genuine thunderbird manure and seeded the area with giant poppies. I did a crappy job of drying the poppy heads over the winter and most of them moulded. Hopefully seeds that were left at the bottom of the bag are able to germinate and grow. If nothing comes up in the next few months, I may try some bush beans, marigolds or nasturtiums.

The plan for the weedfest was to plant favas, thinking that they would outgrow all the grasses. I was hoping to start to use that area to plant more vegetables in coming years because nothing says “we don’t have staff” than a row of bean tripods and a bunch of tomato supports. Yesterday I realized that there are too many spring bulbs coming up in that area (not like thats a bad thing), so I am going to relocate the bulbs after they bloom. I planted the favas in a bed in the back and am going to plant pole beans in the front instead.

Other garden-y stuff:

Indoor flower arranging. This winter I was inspired by the lush flower arrangements in the bathroom of my downtown office. One of the therapists from down the hall is truly talented: she brings in flowers, leaves and branches from her garden and makes incredible arrangements. This year I plan to do more of that myself. Right now I have branches of Forsythia and Cornelian Cherry about to bloom in my dining room (okay, three sticks in a jar doesn’t an arrangement make, but never mind), and I have cut some pink daphne branches for my bathroom.

New garlic variation. Just now, our neighbor dropped by with a few heads of garlic that he bought at the farmers market along with a dried garlic flower. He said that you roll the flower to release little pods that you could sprinkle on a salad or pasta. Although the flower looks totally dried out, the little pods are like mini cloves of garlic, and are quite moist and pungent. I don’t know at what stage they are dried – if it is when the flower first emerges from the scape or later. Since you have to cut the scape in order to get the most out of the bulb, it would seem to me that this may be a way to make the best of garlics than have been left to flower? Thanks Ray!


My big farm hands holding the garlic heads and the dried garlic flower.

More veggies: This year my name finally moved up the waiting list to join the UBC Farm CSA (Community Supported Agriculture). $680 buys you 20 weeks of vegetable items (5-7 vegetables per week) plus a dozen eggs every second week. UBC Farm grows vegetables earlier, larger and more prolifically than I do despite being only two kilometres away, so I am looking forward to this.

Next: Raspberry cane rescue


The daphne is finally large enough to cut branches to take inside.

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Go shake your branches NOW!

IMG_7801If you are reading this today (December 19) and live in the lower mainland, now is the time to get outside and shake your branches, hedges and small trees. Although the rain has melted much of the snow, many of the branches are heavily weighted down and may snap. At least that’s the way things are at my house.

I walked through the garden with an umbrella and a broom. Some of the smaller trees and hedges needed only a gentle shake to remove the snow. The large rhododendrons and the hemlock hedges required a stronger force; some of those branches were already bent to the ground under the snow. I tied up the flat-top hemlock hedge near the front door to weeks ago to keep the snow from splitting it, and it is still intact. If you have ever had a hedge damaged by heavy snow, you know what I am talking about.

My awesome kids have shovelled the entire block as well as our next door neighbors’ runway. (Thanks guys!) Now I am back inside the house drying off and charging up my devices for when the power goes off later today or tonight; I’m not a pessimist, it just seems to happen every time it snows or when the wind blows.

This Thursday is the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year, and a nadir for those of us who suffer from lack of light. This year’s winter coping strategy involves high intensity interval training (HIIT), minimal alcohol and foolish books, a strategy that seems to be working well so far.

Thanks so much for reading my blog this year (as infrequent as it has been) and I am sending you warm wishes for a wonderful Christmas and all the best for 2018.


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Late fall larch

The larch is at it’s peak: the needles have turned from green to gold and seem to give off their own light. When the sun shines, the rooms closest to the tree are filled with reflected gold.

Last week I ran into my gardening neighbor who asked me if I had “put my garden to bed”. I love the idea of my garden being “finished” for the year with all work completed, but this has never been my experience. Even in winter, there is always something that needs to be cared for. This isn’t a bad thing, as getting outside into the garden regularly is part of my winter survival strategy.

Garlic: I planted Russian red and Italian hard neck garlic at the end of October. I wish I had ordered more, as the amount I planted (3 heads of each) filled up exactly half a bed. I will likely plant lettuce in the rest of the bed in late spring.

Greens: Arugula, parsley, winter lettuce, chard, Italian endive and kale are all productive despite the cold weather. The self-seeding wild arugula that we ate all summer has died back, but the other variety -planted in careful rows mid summer – is thriving. Of the five types of kale, the ornamental purple, curly green, Siberian and lactinato kale are growing like crazy, while the red Russian is turning yellow. I have a new recipe book that favours lots of kale and crispy fried sage leaves, so am grateful to have an ample supply of both.

Goodbye rotted pile of wood: In September when I pumped water from the barrel at the side of the house to the irrigation barrels, I realised that the water wasn’t making it up to the back of the garden. I followed the pipe to investigate and behind the new compost bin/shed I found a large pile of wood stacked on top of the pipe, which had caused the elbow joint at the corner to disengage.

In the last three weeks we’ve pulled out all the wood, which included the remains of the old compost bin and the tree house, removed the nails, and neatly restacked the good wood in a better location. The rotted bits of wood are now stacked in the driveway for disposal (apologies to our neighbours).

End of the food composter: We’ve used a big black plastic city of Vancouver food composter in the back yard for just over a decade.  The bin was well used, but we could never seem to layer enough dry leaves and grass clippings between the kitchen waste so the decomposition process lacked mojo. We would have to layer the smelly sludge into the garden compost for an additional year to yield soil-quality compost.

Since the city now collects organic waste, it doesn’t feel necessary to sort our organic waste into what can be composted and what can’t (bones, fats, carbs, avocado pits and egg shells). As well, the food composter was moved a few times in the last year and the rodent-proof base was damaged. The plastic bin has joined the junk pile at the top of our driveway (again, apologies to our neighbors).

Festive greens: We are removing several large trees near the southern property line. One cypress died due to some root disease (says the arborist), and the other two trees are being removed because they shade the solar panels. This weekend I want to remove as much of their greenery as I can before the trees are gone. I am thinking of once again hosting a mid-morning, mid-week make-a-swag-and-drink-hot-cider event for all my unconventionally employed friends. (And for my one conventionally employed friend who reads this blog: I will make you a decoration for your door).

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2017 Wrap up

IMG_7232Many years I heard someone joke that Vancouver had only two seasons: “Wet” and “Roadwork”. I might suggest revising the two seasons to be “Wet” and “Parched” because this summer was the driest that I can remember. We had almost four months with very little rain, and it was the worst fire season ever. The plants and trees and animals suffered.

Although I didn’t make time to blog about the garden, I did spend lots of time there. So, here is the wrap up of this growing season.

(1) Bees.

This was a very tough year for the bees. In the spring we learned that our bee guy Bryn lost many of his hives over the winter. He worked hard at building up the strength of the existing hives and we were very happy to be able to host one in our garden. Unfortunately, at the first hive check-in, Bryn wasn’t able to find evidence of a queen (no larvae in the cells). He tried  a number of different things including replacing the queen and switching in some frames from other hives and by the end of the summer the hive was surviving, but not thriving. Although our hive didn’t produce enough honey to survive the upcoming winter, we were happy to learn that most of Bryn’s other hives did very well, so our bees (and us) will be benefiting from the excess honey from other hives.

(2) Things that did thrive: raspberries, favas, green beans, kale, fennel, endive, sunflowers and tomatoes. 

No secret, the raspberries are my favourites. This summer was a fabulous one for the berries and we are currently enjoying our third (small) harvest this year. I didn’t bother to make raspberry vodka, but instead froze the berries for fresh ice-cream during the winter.

Despite a frustratingly late spring that saw me replanting everything after it rotted or was eaten, our summer harvests were abundant and satisfying. We enjoyed food from our garden almost every day this summer. The kale and fennel only really seemed to take off when it became cooler, so we are looking forward to much more of those. Side note: this year the kale never became infested with aphids, so  hopefully we can enjoy more of the mature plants into the winter.

The Man gets the green thumb award: not only did we enjoy an enormous crop of tomatoes, but we are still enjoying his sunflowers. The ones in the back garden grew to over seven feet tall, and the dried seed heads are feeding the birds.


(3) Lessons learned.

Don’t bother planting favas in the fall; wait until spring. When you plant the favas in the fall, they grow, they freeze, then rot. Then you plant them again in the spring. I’ve done this three years in a row. Late this summer I instead planted a cover crop in the designated bed and will dig it under and put the favas there in March.

Plant the zucchinis in direct sunlight. Despite last year’s big zucchini success, this year I managed to produce only four. I’m sure my zucchini-hating  family was delighted. The zucchinis and cucumbers were were shaded out by the bean teepee, which is why I think that they didn’t do well.

Buy the expensive garlic. In the fall of 2016 I cheaped out and bought garlic at one of the garden centres. I only ended up with about 10 heads at the end of the season, and the cloves were tiny and hard to peel. This year I ordered two types of garlic from West Coast Seeds which I will plant late October.

img_7239.jpg(4) Fun new project: shaping boxwoods

Five or six years ago I had to replace the lavender plants at the front of the garden with small boxwoods. This year they reached the size that I wanted, so I trimmed them into tidy round balls, which took me about a week and a half as I could only manage to do about three or four per day. It’s surprisingly easy to trim healthy boxwoods, and I experimented with two shaping methods: the flattop method and the beachball method.

a) The flattop method. Look at the boxwood and decide what size you want it to be. Trim the top of the boxwood down to a flat plane, to the final height you want your hedge. Trim the other four sides into a square-ish box. This gives you four vertical corners where the planes meet. Trim the top and bottom of the vertical edge under (cut off the corners of the box) and then round off any other greenery so that the bush becomes a round ball.

b) the beachball method. (this is easier) Look at the boxwood and imagine it as a beachball, with six equal sections starting from the middle top. Trim each section from the top to the bottom of the plant.

Ha – I make it sound easy, and it is. It just takes time. This fall and spring we need to tame some of our out of control front garden as well as some of the other hedges. It took a good six years to get our salal to grow, and now it won’t stop and is crowding out everything in the front. The main project for next summer will be to try to cultivate the front garden.

That’s it for today. Thanks for reading and enjoy the fall!

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Celebrating the Peak of Summer

This is the absolute high point of summer: a cloudless sunny Sunday afternoon spent under the shade of my apple tree. The fava beans and the poppies have finished and the apples are just starting to ripen. Rhododendrons are long gone, but the hydrangeas are enormous, the lavender is full of bees and the nasturtiums and dahlias are providing bursts of color. The leaves of the vine maples in the forest are still fresh and green and haven’t started to fade. Everything is very dry because it hasn’t rained for weeks, but there doesn’t seem to be widespread concern about this. (That I find odd, because a lack of rain makes me anxious.)

This summer my intention was to celebrate by doing one summery thing each day. I started to keep a list:

  • Drink coffee in the garden.
  • Pick raspberries for breakfast.
  • Pick raspberries for dessert.
  • Eat breakfast outside in pyjamas.
  • Water the garden in pyjamas.
  • Ride my bike everywhere.
  • Go to the farmers market.
  • Enjoy lunch on the deck.
  • Invite entire extended family over for brunch on the deck.
  • Dry clothes outside on the clothesline.
  • Pick fresh peas for dinner.
  • Eat a salad from the garden every day.
  • Plan meals around what is growing in the garden today.
  • Fresh herbs with everything!
  • Work outside.
  • Invite friends over for tea under the apple tree.
  • Invite friends over for Campari cocktails.
  • Eat dinner in the garden.
  • Do yoga in the garden.
  • Sleep outside in the tent.
  • Invite friends over for a glass of wine outside.
  • Light candle lanterns and talk late into the night.
  • Go on a late night walk through the garden with a flashlight…beware of the skunk!
  • Watch the hummingbirds.
  • Watch the bees.
  • Nap in the tent.
  • Ride bike to the farmers market.
  • Pick fresh flowers for the table.
  • Save poppy seeds.
  • Eat fava beans.
  • Grab handfuls of cilantro.
  • Drink wine while weeding.
  • Pick apples.
  • Pick more apples.
  • Walk down to the beach and have a picnic before the fireworks.
  • Water garden in the middle of the night.

At some point in the next few weeks, things will quietly turn towards fall. Until that time I am going to spend as much of my life outside as possible.

Enjoy summer……winter is coming. (ha ha Kinga and Risa)

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Opening day at the UBC Farm Market

The UBC farm is an under-appreciated green oasis on an increasingly congested campus. Last Saturday they held their first market of the season. Not only were they selling their own vegetables and eggs, but they had invited a number of other interesting vendors as well.

As I arrived rather late, I wasn’t sure if there would be much left for sale. Vegetables are often limited, and things sell out quickly. In past years they would list all the vegetables for sale on a blackboard and cross off each item as it sold out. I needn’t have worried: everyone in front of me in line was filing past the vegetables and taking photos only. I was able to nab the biggest head of butter  lettuce I have ever seen, some kale, radishes and a dozen UBC farm eggs.

Here are photos of the UBC farm produce compared to the miniature vegetables that I am specializing in this year. (UBC Farm’s kale and butterhead lettuce are on the left, my special miniature vegetables are on the right)

One of the guest venders was selling seasonally foraged morel mushrooms and fiddleheads. As I was making my purchases, I was swarmed by a group of about six people taking pictures of all the mushrooms. It was like a photo flash mob. Bizarre.

Since none of my cookbooks have any morel or fiddlehead recipes, I used the Google to find recipes. I would make both of these again:

How to cook and clean morel mushrooms. I served the morels with bread to soak up the sauce. They were fantastic.

Fiddlehead lasagne. I ate fiddle head lasagne at Feast + Revel restaurant in Ottawa a few weeks ago, and so I was super happy to find the recipe posted just few days ago. The fiddle heads are layered between sheets of pasta and goat cheese, then topped with a poached egg, truffle-oil laced sauce and baby greens. I didn’t have enough goat cheese so instead used some mascarpone which pushed the recipe into the caloric stratosphere. Prosecco helped cut the fat (ha) and paired well with the poached egg and truffle oil.

My plan is to make the UBC Farm Market a weekly ritual, but next time I plan to get there a little earlier.

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Compost Bin Make-Over 2017

Most years I pay one of my sons to dig out the compost bin, sieve out the rocks and sticks, and deposit the finished product in plastic bins so that we can spread it around the garden. He’s done this every year since he was 10, except for last summer when he decided that the compost needed more time to break down. This year he did the job in record time and produced the equivalent of nine barrels of fine nutrient-rich dirt. (Really, this stuff is so good you could probably mix it into a smoothy and sell it for $8. But I digress.) After his first day of digging he announced that the compost bin needed to be replaced, and that he was going to design and rebuild it.


Bins of finished compost….some of these bins obviously need replacement.

In the fine Palaty tradition of father-son compost building projects, Jan and Thomas have already disassembled the bin (see below), have moved all the rain barrels out of the way and purchased all the necessary materials for the new bin. The existing bin is the third that my husband can remember building with his father and once even with his grandfather (who was visiting from the Czech Republic), which puts the average compost bin lifespan at about 15 years.


Looking towards the corner of the property where the new compost bin will be located.

Thomas’s excellent design for the new compost bin is shown below. He has decided to include a covered multi-purpose area for tool storage and for smokers. He has also determined that we have been composting wrong for years and is going to take over as the Compost Boss from now on. (Yes, my proud heart is bursting like a Vancouver rain barrel at the end of March).


The top view is looking North from my neighbour’s property. The bottom view is looking towards the back corner of the yard. The black cylinder (at right) is where the food compost bin will be located.

This was an exciting week.

A new hive! Despite all expectations, last weekend Bryn dropped off a small hive. The hive only has a single box and the numbers of bees coming and going is fairly small, but we are glad it is here. The timing couldn’t be better as the raspberry blossoms are now in bloom.

Favas! The fava beans are my best success this year so far. They are now blooming and the stalks are growing about an inch per day. I am keeping close watch to make sure that they don’t get covered with aphids again this year.

Many of the other things in the garden beds seem to be doing very poorly. The manure that I mixed in earlier in the spring is different than in past years: it seems to have a lot of straw in it and it doesn’t retain water very well. This weekend I started to top dress the plants/beds with the new compost, in hopes that it will hold the moisture or provide missing nutrients.


Favas blooming: no aphids yet.

Wildlife sightings – Last evening I was sitting at the back of the garden when I heard something large pushing through hedge behind me. I saw a rough white stripe and I was gone!. Skunk!  Then this morning at 6 am, three racoons were having a fight in one of the trees in our back yard. We saw one fall into a bush, then the three ran across the back and continued fighting in the raspberries. And this past week a mole (or several) moved into my garden boxes. Every morning I would come out to a new pile of dirt around the periphery of two boxes. After replacing the batteries in the mole beepers (they go in the ground and release a high pitched squeak once per minute) the activity seems to have abated somewhat.

Goodbye Icelandic poppies: mostly yellow, with five petals and bloom for about a day, after which you get to look at the naked stalks for the rest of the summer. This year I have been digging them up before they bloom and have been throwing the dead poppy bodies into the garden waste so that the seeds don’t spread. So far I have been fairly successful at removing them.

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Sad bee news


Lilies and trilliums

Over the last several summers we’ve hosted honeybee hives in our backyard. Having the hives was beneficial for everyone: the bees had a safe (pesticide free) place to propagate during the summer, we had an ample supply of pollinators for the raspberries, apples and zucchinis, and we enjoyed our own honey all winter. The hives were literally the life of the garden and we loved watching the bees as they buzzed around the hive.

I’m not the Hive Mama, but sponsored the hives from Bryn Jones in Langley. He delivered the hives in the early spring, visited the bees during the summer to check on the health of the bees and to add honey boxes. In the fall he picked up the hives and returned them to Langley, where they were cared for in the winter.

Unfortunately, most of Bryn’s hives didn’t survive the unusually cold, wet winter we had here on the Wet Coast. Colonies were weakened by the cold. Some hives didn’t have large enough clusters of bees to keep the queen warm, while others didn’t have enough pollen and honey stored. A fungal disease called Nosema apis spread through many of the hives. Of 105 colonies, only 25 survived the winter.

Although we’re disappointed about not hosting hives this year (and are currently hoarding our remaining supply of honey), mostly we are just heartbroken for Bryn and his bees. He is meeting with the provincial bee inspector to determine which colonies are salvageable and to make a plan. He has purchased 35 new colonies from New Zealand and will keep most of the hives on his property to propagate new queens and to rebuild the remaining colonies. We look forward to hopefully hosting some of his hives again in 2018.

Fava beans and the pea war


Favas and a few rows of radishes. Self-seeded cilantro is sprouting between the fava plants.

The fava beans planted in February are growing well. Despite a promising start, the fall-planted favas all froze and turned black during the winter. Most of the seeds planted indoors are thriving, including pumpkins, cucumbers and zucchini which I have transplanted into larger containers.

This year I planted peas in The Man’s tomato planter in February. When we returned from our vacation in March, I was happy to see the two inch sprouts and I removed the wire frame that I had used to cover the pea sprouts (big mistake). Within a few days, most of the pea sprouts had been rudely pulled up from the soil and the pea seeds eaten. Of course the green sprouts were left behind to mock me. I replanted the peas, put wire around the bed and also added a climbing net for the peas which has diverted the racoons from their regular route. Hopefully they will stop using the pea planter as a buffet.

Yesterday I noticed that someone in point grey had planted their boulevard with what looks like mixed grass and peas. I was on the way to a meeting so didn’t have time to stop, but I am going to swing by on my bike later this week to check it out and take photos. Their peas are already six inches tall. At first I thought that they had planted corn for the peas to climb on, but it is far too early for that.

Water barrels

With climate change, mosquito-bourne diseases are moving north. This weekend I finally covered the small holes that drain the rain water collecting on the concave lids into the barrels. The original plan was to glue patches of screen to cover the holes, but instead I found some fibreglass screen repair tape at the hardware store. Very cool stuff. I could just dry the lids, cut a patch of the tape, remove the adhesive from the centre of the tape and then cover the holes. I expect that I will need to replace the tape occasionally, but for now it seems to be working well.



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It’s time to get the garden supports in place.

Spring is almost here and within a week the first cherry trees will start to blossom. I can’t wait. Because of our long cold winter, everything is behind. However, I was glad to notice that the peas are now starting to sprout as are the radishes and some of the favas. Time to get the garden supports in place.

Peas. For the last few years my peas have climbed far beyond my too-short metal trellises (trelli?) and fallen over. This year I planted them in The Man’s raised bed that he built for his tomatoes. I hung a net over the six foot high frame at the top of the bed, so hopefully the peas will be able to climb and reach their full height.

Peonies. My wedding bouquet was made up of peonies, and I look forward to mine blooming in time for our 25th wedding anniversary. Peony rings can be placed around the dormant plants now. Some of mine have wide metal grids that the plants grow through. Later, when the flowers become too heavy and start to droop, you can gently pull up the rings to help support the blossoms.

Soaker hoses. Arg. My intention was to get new soaker hoses for the raspberries, but I think that I’ve left it too late. I don’t want to be moving through the canes now and risk damaging the little leaf buds. I did notice that there is a big pile of new soaker hoses in the garage….I wonder if I can borrow these ones and replace them with some other ones that I get from the store on the weekend…..hmmmm….

Last week I planted one more row of radishes, a row each of adagio and wild arugula and “winter blend”  mescluns. Inside I started basil, zucchini, kale and cucumber. Although kale can be planted outside now, it seems to be a slug favourite, so I am starting it inside.

Happy Spring everyone!

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Manurefest 2017

img_6354Yesterday was mushroom manure delivery day: 60 – 40 pound bags of manure stacked in neat piles on my driveway, 2000 pounds in total. I asked one of my sons if he would be interested in helping me move the bags to the back of the garden for 50 cents a bag. Before he could even respond, the other son was out the door, trying to get a head start. It became a big competition (like many things are for twins) with my sons running from the front yard to the back, carrying bags under their arms or on their shoulders. Less than 30 minutes after I took the picture above, all the manure was (neatly!) stacked in the back of the garden. They decided to split the earnings equally, and I gave them each a big tip.

I don’t move quite as fast as they do, so it took me the rest of the afternoon to top up each of my garden boxes – soil levels were down about six inches. I spread the manure through the raspberry patch, I top dressed the flower bed in the back where I grow delphiniums and borage, around the rose and hydrangeas and around the roots of a few tress. I think I only spread 20 bags before it started to get dark and I went inside.

Yesterday was cool but not unpleasant, and it was nice to see that the tiny green tips of the raspberry leaves are starting to show.  I pulled a lot of weeds that were starting to come up as well as the crab grass that is creeping in everywhere. I’m glad I spent so much time out there yesterday because this morning (and most of today) it snowed. The snow drops love the cold weather and have been blooming continuously for almost two months, but I worry that some of the other flowers and plants are going to be behind schedule.


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