Maine Home Garden News — July 2020
In This Issue:
- July Is the Month to . . .
- Lenore Tipping and Tom Spitz
- Label Interpretation
- Bees of Maine
- Oxford Garden
- A Review of A Field Guide to Your Own Back Yard by John Hanson (1999)
- Gardener Confessions: Mistakes, We’ve Made a Few… (Part 1)
- Monthly Features:
July Is the Month to . . .
By Kate Garland, Horticulturist, UMaine Extension Penobscot County
- Prune spring-flowering shrubs before they develop flower buds for next season. Examples include azalea, flowering quince, deutzia, forsythia, lilac, cornelian cherry dogwood, bridalwreath spirea, rhododendron, and many viburnums. Although pruning in winter does not damage these plants, doing so eliminates many of the flowers for that season. Several shrubs may produce a second flowering if they are lightly pruned just after their early summer flowering. The success of this technique greatly depends on plant type, plant vigor, and season length (it is less successful in northern Maine’s cool, short summers). Learn more.
- Visit a pick-your-own berry, flower or vegetable farm. Farmers are working hard to keep everyone safe. Please get your farm info before you go, wear a mask around others, give each other space, keep your group as small as possible, stay home if you feel sick, follow the farm’s rules, and don’t eat until you get home. Find a farm here.
- Be ready to capture that local bounty with four new food preservation webinars from UMaine Extension staff. These 45-minute sessions are full of useful ways to preserve local food with safety and flavor in mind.
New topics for July include:
- July 7 – Quick-Pack Cucumber Pickles
- July 14 – Fermented Cucumber Pickles
- July 21 – All Things Green Beans: Pressure Canning and Freezing
- July 28 – Freezing Maine Seafood.
Registration is required; a $5 donation per session is optional. If you can’t attend the session live, register to receive the follow-up email with recipes, resources, and the link to the webinar recording. For more information or to request a reasonable accommodation, call or email Kate McCarty at 207.781.6099 or email@example.com.
- Make the commitment to establish drip irrigation. While it might be challenging to install irrigation around existing plants this year, now is a very good time to assess your irrigation needs and take measurements and develop a layout for a future watering system. If it seems to be an overwhelming task, plan the project in phases by designing and installing one “zone” at a time.
- Propagate softwood cuttings (PDF) of select woody plants. Examples of plants that root well from cuttings at this stage of growth include serviceberry, forsythia, weigela, various dogwoods, viburnum, lilac, summersweet, Japanese maples, and flowering quince.
- Plant crops now for a fall harvest. Beans, beets, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, leafy greens, turnip, summer squash, cucumber, and peas are among the crops that can be planted in July. While you’re at it, plan ahead to use season extension strategies this fall.
- Monitor your garden frequently and have your concerns identified before using any pesticides. Catching problems early and determining the pest or environmental conditions causing the symptoms will make management much more efficient and effective. Extension staff and volunteers are very happy to help!
Keep up with weeding and irrigating garlic. Harvest and enjoy the scapes. UMaine Extension research has shown that bulb size is reduced by up to 54% if scapes are not removed. Young scapes are more tender than their older counterparts.
- Learn more about how to support pollinators. “Choosing Native Plants for Pollinators” will be the first of our summer gardening webinar series. Registration is required; a $5 donation per session is optional. If you can’t attend the session live, register to receive the link to the webinar recording. For more information or to request a reasonable accommodation, call or email Pamela Hargest at 207.781.6099 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lenore Tipping and Tom Spitz
By Lisa Colburn
Visitors to Lenore and Tom’s garden at the beginning of June are greeted by a splash of color. In one of the few sunny spots near their pretty home, Oriental poppies, peonies, and German irises in peach and apricot tones contrast stunningly with bold red poppies and burgundy peonies beyond. It’s clear that Lenore has an artist’s eye for using color and design to convey a mood.
Lenore began gardening when she was a young mother of two boys and a graduate student in psychology at the University of Illinois. Gardening was her therapy as she prepared for the challenges of qualifying exams, writing a dissertation, and a clinical internship. An older neighbor with a fabulous garden provided further encouragement and plants. By the time Tom and the boys gave her The Garden Primer by Barbara Damrosch on Mother’s Day, Lenore was hopelessly hooked on gardening. Tom grew up in a family that gardened. His father grew roses and vegetables and cared for them meticulously. From the time he was quite young, Tom worked with his dad in his lawn maintenance business. Together, Tom and Lenore have become a gardening powerhouse.
They’ve lived in Orono for 26 years at the end of a quiet, tree-lined street. One would never know that they’re a block away from the hustle and bustle of the University of Maine. Their house is on a rise that looks down on a fern-filled, shady wetland that extends to the Stillwater River. Most of the property is shaded by massive pines and oaks, and almost half the yard is flooded by the river each spring — certainly, a location that poses challenges! Tom and Lenore have taken full advantage of this unique environment with their impressive garden.
When they first moved to their home, they could only catch glimpses of the river through the brambles and underbrush that grew in the wetland. After years of careful clearing and pruning, they can now see the slowly flowing river in the distance from the house. To access the river, Tom created a Japanese-inspired walkway that hovers above the delicate ferns. Near the river, they’ve installed a deck and screenhouse for summer use.
Deep shade cast from the canopy of large, mature trees presented landscape opportunities. They love shade gardens. Lenore envisioned the space as a “serenity garden” — a place that conveys a feeling of peace. To reach this part of the garden, one must step down through a “Moon Gate” created by Tom with large rounded cedar limbs. Here we feel enveloped by raised beds filled with an interplay of greens. Ribbons of hosta thread their way around the space — brilliant chartreuse, waxy blue, avocado-green, emerald, lime, and olive are fused together with gold, ivory, and pure white. Lacy ferns and meadow rue are interspersed with giant, corrugated leaves; mosses mingle with diminutive hostas with names like “Mouse Ears.” Today, the green color scheme is interrupted only occasionally by a pale blue phlox. It is tranquil. A butterfly catches my eye. A robin above is singing. From a bench surrounded by lush foliage, my eye is drawn down a mossy path to the sparkling water of the Stillwater River. This is a place for quiet reflection. Lenore and Tom have succeeded in creating a verdant, peaceful sanctuary.
Lisa Colburn is the author of The Maine Garden Journal and writes Regional Gardening Guides with a focus on Zone 3 and 4 gardens for the Burpee Seed Company.
By Kerry Bernard, Pesticide Safety Education Program Professional, UMaine Extension
A few weeks ago, I visited a relative in southern Maine. There, at her now-suburban farmhouse, in spring, the conversation inevitably turned to ticks. She expressed annoyance that her cat was still picking them up, despite having had the property professionally sprayed. I pointed out that the cat roamed beyond the border spray, and rolled my eyes at the mention of his bargain-bin flea collar.
Then this relative told me she’d sprayed him with “tick spray” to take care of it.
I sat up straight. What “tick spray”? The stuff in the yellow bottle?
You can’t do that.
She admitted she’d sprayed herself too.
And why shouldn’t she? The product sits right there on the shelves for anyone to grab, usually beside the insect repellent that’s meant to be applied to the skin.
But the stuff in the yellow bottle contains permethrin.
Permethrin is a synthetic version of pyrethrum, an insecticidal extract from chrysanthemums. While low in human toxicity, the EPA has classified it as “likely carcinogenic to humans” with oral exposure.
And cats are extremely sensitive to it. At high concentrations, it can cause neurological symptoms, including seizures, which may lead to death if left untreated.
Thankfully, the low concentration of permethrin in that particular product caused no adverse reaction (in either human or cat) this time around. Still, the product is only for treating clothes (while unworn) and equipment.
Despite her insistence that her first bout with Lyme disease affected her brain, my relative is a smart woman. So how did she make this mistake?
She didn’t read the label.
Many people don’t. And most probably don’t realize they have to (consider this notice), or even that the product they’re using is a pesticide. But many products we use around the home are pesticides, including weed and feeds, mosquito repellents, ant baits, swimming pool chemicals, flea collars, mold and mildew control products, rat and mouse baits, disinfectants (including bleach), garden dusts and sprays, and that good old aerosol can of insecticide. It doesn’t matter how “natural” the product purports to be either. Products with essential oil or microorganism as the active ingredient are still pesticides. And all pesticides require strict adherence to the label. Any assurance of effectiveness or expectation that the use of the product will not cause unreasonable adverse effects to human health or the environment depends upon that adherence.
Unfortunately, labels can be hard to read and harder to interpret. Many are long and technical, and how they present required information varies widely between them. There are, however, components common to most labels, and for individuals who use pesticides, it’s well worth a little practice navigating them.
To learn more about pesticide labels, read the entire article on the Pesticide Safety website.
Dobsonflies (genus Corydalus) are large and rather fearsome-looking insects (they raise their heads and open and close their jaws to try to intimidate, often quite successfully). They are primarily nocturnal, are more common near bodies of water, are active from late spring to mid-summer, and are attracted to lights. Read more.
Bees of Maine
By Jennifer Lund, Maine State Apiarist, Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry, Division of Animal and Plant Health, email@example.com
Nearly 4,000 bee species have been identified in the United States. Maine has more than 270, representing six families. This is the fourth of a series of articles where we explore the types of bees found in Maine and learn about their biology, foraging preferences, and nesting requirements.
Family Melittidae (Melittids and Oil Collecting Bees)
This is a small and uncommon family containing only 2 genera (Macropis and Melitta) and four species in Maine. These bees are small, brown to black in coloration, and have stripes on their abdomens. Melittids are ground nesters, preferring areas of bare, sandy soils. Because adequate nesting sites are not uniformly distributed in the landscape, Melittids will often be found in aggregations. Most species are specialists, only collecting and feeding on pollen/nectar from a limited number of plant species. Macropsis spp. collect loosestrife (Lysimachia spp.) oil and line cells with it. They also feed it mixed with pollen to developing larva.
Family Andrenidae (Miner and Sand Bees)
Andrenids are the most diverse family of bees on the North American continent. Andrenids are one of the first bees to emerge in the spring. They are moderately sized (0.3 – 0.7 inches in length) and hairy. Most are black or gray-brown, some with abdominal stripes. This family contains both specialist and generalist foragers and female bees carry pollen high on their hind legs. They are soil nesters and can be found in aggregations when conditions are favorable. Many are solitary, but some will form communal nests. Females excavate a vertical shaft with lateral tunnels used as brood chambers. In Maine, there are four genera, but 52 of the 56 species are in the genera Andrena.
You’ve asked us some great questions over the years! Here are a few examples from this month in a prior year. To read more inquiries from fellow Maine gardeners and answers from Extension experts, check out our Ask the Experts website.
Q: I have heard that to kill the weed seeds sitting in the soil, you could “cook” the soil under black plastic. If that is true, for how long and when?
A: It is true that weed seeds can be killed by getting them to a high temperature. We call it solarization of the soil. It can be done with black or clear plastic and has to be done when the days are near their longest. May, June, and July are best, though some start early and leave it later.
If you are using plastic, the solarization process will actually go more quickly as the soil will heat up faster and get hotter more quickly. The article Solarization in the Garden from the University of Minnesota discusses this process.
Alternatively, sheet mulching or “lasagna” garden preparation will allow you to start the spring with all your perennial weed seeds buried under many inches of good growing media. As long as you don’t till the soil in the spring but rather plant into the soil you created, those weed seeds will not bother your garden. Some perennial weeds may not be as easy to control with this method: Japanese knotweed, bittersweet, and horsetail just to name a few.
Q: I live in Deer Isle and would like to get some milkweed seeds to plant this fall. Where can I purchase these seeds, and how much do they cost?
A: I am glad you are thinking about this a little bit ahead of time because once the seeds are ready they go quickly. How one family goes about collecting and dispersing the seed is outlined in this Milkweed Seeds article from MOFGA.
An article from the Xerces Society called Harvesting Milkweed Seed: a Pod and a Plan contains great background information. In Maine, the Wild Seed Project is a good resource for info and advice on where to find the native milkweed seed. Locally you may be able to find a local land trust that is aware of where wild milkweed grows and you can get pods there (with their permission of course). Lastly, you can also go online and buy seed (just search for the seed by the botanical name so you get varieties suited to Maine). Don’t forget to also plant some nectar plants for the adult Monarchs too; consider it the local craft drink for the adults getting ready to migrate.
By Sally Lucy Wright, Master Gardener Volunteer
Editor’s note: This article was written and submitted in early March, before all in-person Master Gardener Volunteer activities were suspended until further notice in order to stem the spread of COVID-19. It’s a beautiful example of work we all look forward to supporting again hopefully soon.
It’s a Saturday morning in September. I arrive with a truckload of supplies: folding table, coffee, snacks, garden bags, rakes, and lists of chores. Today, the garden smells of asters and apples. Anne is already here, walking the pathways and checking over the duties. It’s chilly to start so we’re in layers of cotton and wool. Today is one of our monthly work days with volunteers. Employees from the shelter come out and help me unload. They’ve been on site early cleaning up any trash from the previous day. I offer a quick hello to some guests perched on the porch that connects the homeless shelter to the garden. I don’t always get a reply. This time I do. “Do you have coffee this time?”
“Yup. And cookies and fruit. Give me a minute, I’ll set up.”
It’s funny how normal this is. Back when I began the rejuvenation of Oxford Garden in 2015, I could not have imagined such a normal start of a gardening day. My first couple of seasons at the garden usually revolved around the clean-up of old bicycle parts and dirty needles, pulling weeds the size of small bushes, and repairing broken tools. Not many folks paid attention to me or my volunteers. They didn’t have any reason to. We would come and go and not return, or so they thought. But by the third spring, they were convinced. Some shelter guests began to take ownership. Two or three folks stepped in and watered on off days. Staff started showing up and pitching in on their off-time.
Oxford is a true urban garden. Tucked into the West Bayside neighborhood in Portland, it is adjacent to a homeless shelter. It has 10 raised beds, two apple trees, raspberries, blueberries, many pollinators, and woodchipped pathways. This has been an official Master Gardener Volunteer (MGV) project since 2015. People who know this neighborhood know it as a pass-through to Congress Street schools and workplaces. Or they know it as a drug dealing area and homeless population center. We gardeners are trying to change some of that by adding in food and flowers and a bit of nature in the middle of the city.
Along with emerging veggies and flowers, each year brings a fresh crop of new helpers, mostly MGV. In 2017, Anne Spelman completed her MGV training and jumped right into a supporting role managing Oxford. Her seasons of experience gardening and her love of natives and pollinators gave the garden a boost. When asked what drew her to Oxford she replied, “There’s so much need in our country and I have the ability to help. Gardens, and outdoor space in general, support the health of our neighbors. I’m doing something that I love, and at the same time I find inspiration from others.”
Then, during the 2018 season we met Marybeth Sullivan. Marybeth is a trauma specialist and social worker at the shelter and around the Bayside neighborhood. Marybeth loves gardens and understands the benefits of connecting people to the outdoors. Not only does Marybeth encourage shelter guests to help us, she herself finds solace in this little city garden. “I am a trauma steward and if there’s a place at the end of the day that I can go, like the garden, it’s a good place to be. Gardens mean so much to me.”
Oxford is an open pick garden. All are welcome to come in and take what they need. Many new Americans from the neighborhood are big fans of sweet potatoes and all the greens. They are also encouraged to help, and in doing so, they share their knowledge. Because it’s an open-pick model, it isn’t always easy to measure outputs in a garden like this. What doesn’t get harvested by neighbors and passersby we donate to Preble Street Food Kitchen. And starting in 2019, Marybeth Sulivan helped connect us to the YMCA Grow program. “Sundays are my day,” says Sullivan. “After work, I spend time in the garden. I putter around and water and harvest. Several times last year I brought the extra harvest to the Grow Program at the YMCA, where there’s a shelter set up for men. Their eyes bug out when they see me arrive with armloads of greens and potatoes.”
On this particular Saturday in September we have five Master Gardener Volunteers helping harvest, weed, and replant some quick crops. We also have three shelter guests helping alongside, getting dirty and working hard. I greet one of the guests at the snack table and together we assess the work accomplished thus far. He doesn’t look at me, but keeping his eyes on the garden, he tells me, “You know, this is the most human I have felt in a long time.”
I could say a million things. I could tell him how important it is to connect with the natural world. I could say how much I appreciate his help today. I could also tell him things will get better. But the truth is all I know at that moment is that his being there is the reason I garden in the city, and I simply reply, “Me too.”
The food that didn’t get taken away in the open-pick format in the 2019 season was measured to be over 500 pounds of potatoes, sweet potatoes, cabbages, garlic, greens, and herbs.
How do I sign up for the emails about Oxford?
Send a note to Sally Wright, firstname.lastname@example.org. She will put you on the mailing list; this doesn’t require you to be a volunteer. It just fills you in on work days and projects in case you are able and interested.
A Review of A Field Guide to Your Own Back Yard by John Hanson (1999)
Reviewer: Ivonne Vazquez, Penobscot County Master Gardener Volunteer
One naturalist’s observations, impressions, and stories of his own backyard. The area of study encompasses one square mile (640 acres) in Massachusetts. Over the course of 20 years, John Hanson Mitchell has written many books and articles based on the findings of this area. He describes vividly the look of the fields, the woods, and flora and fauna which abound. Hanson is realistic in describing the decline of insects and other wild things due to development, climate change or the passing of time.
I rarely read a preface in full. Hanson’s preface drew me in, providing history for the decision to spend time within one square mile and supporting his decision by comparing the work of Gilbert White, John Borroughs, Jean-Henri Fabre, and Henry David Thoreau. Hanson recounts a story “about a naturalist who was at a party where a neighbor was boasting about a trip to five different national parks in one month. He turned to the naturalist at one point and asked if he had done any traveling during the summer. “Yes,” said the naturalist, “I made it halfway across my backyard.”
Hanson intersperses observations, illustrations, and stories of his neighbors with scientific descriptions. His joy and wonderment of all he encounters are real and can be felt with the turning of each page. The observations are broken by season employing the richest detail. The illustrations are quite lovely, detailed, and realistic in the rendering.
One of my favorite stories can be found on pages 172/173. Hanson, in describing asters and suggesting to the reader that a section of the garden should be left to “grow wild,” recounts the story of Megan Lewis, who “lived in a small cottage, a mile or so through the woods on a back road in the Berkshires in Western Massachusetts.” Lewis bought the property in the 1920s and installed formal gardens, which she gardened in this manner for 20 years. In her 50s and realizing the beauty of wildflowers, she began to leave wild, weedy patches, mowing only narrow strips as paths. While Hanson describes that her garden “was not the type that would cause comments by passersby, that is to say, there were no showy beds or smooth places to it,” he notes. “Nevertheless, her garden would begin to bloom earlier than her neighbors’ and would be in bloom late into the fall…a haven for birds, butterflies, bees, and small mammals.” Considering myself to be a “wild gardener,” I know firsthand of the joy of seeing things in my garden that were not here when it was a mere lawn.
I found this to be a very, very enjoyable read. As someone who needs to “see” the story in order to immerse myself fully in the book, I thought Mr. Hanson did an exceptional job. At times, I felt as if I was walking alongside the author.
By Nancy Donovan, Oxford County Master Gardener (with input from fellow gardeners who shall remain nameless to protect their reputation)
When I moved into my new home 12 years ago, I decided I wanted to grow some of my own food, I had no desire for a lawn, and I wanted to surround myself with lots of color. I began my adventure by purchasing clothes specifically for gardening, multiple tools, and a two-wheeled wheelbarrow. So far, this gardening stuff was really fun. A trip to the garden center left me overwhelmed. There were at least a dozen types of tomatoes with some labeled “determinate” and some “indeterminate” (those two words were not in my vocabulary), several varieties of cucumbers and squash, ground covers, and plants of various heights and bloom times and sunlight requirements. Not to mention a dizzying array of fertilizers, composts, mulches, soil amendments, and concoctions for preventing various plant diseases and for killing pests. It did not take long to figure out that looking spiffy was not going to guarantee success.
Over the years I have over-watered, under-watered, pruned what I should not have pruned, dug up what I had planted thinking it was a weed (apologized to it and re-planted it), and excitedly purchased too many plants resulting in moonlit planting sessions to get them in the ground, and incapacitating muscle soreness the next day. My thoughts and feelings have ranged from tentative satisfaction to cursing, to contemplation of an entire front and back yard composed of moss, and skulking to weekly farmers markets for fresh produce when my garden was less than prolific. But I have also been rewarded with the fresh vegetables, colorful perennial displays, and the positive words from friends when I say, “I grew these all by myself.”
This year, I gave myself two gifts: I retired and I entered the University of Maine Cooperative Extension Master Gardener Volunteer training. I found that I was not alone with respect to errors and there is always a lot to learn. I thought “been there, done that” too many times as I was pretending to take notes, but when I dared to look back up, I saw a lot of heads nodding.
When I was tasked with writing an article about gardening mistakes, I had the opportunity to connect via Zoom with fellow Maine Master Gardeners to confess our historical mistakes (versus hysterical mistakes, though there are some of those). Here are a few we hope you learn from.
The what of my soil?
The vision was to have lowbush blueberries as a ground cover for my entire back yard. I anticipated that the birds would enjoy the berries and I might get at least one bowlful before they were totally consumed. I purchased 6 plants (not inexpensive, at least for my budget) and planted them in soil excavated to build my basement. Sadly, they did not produce any berries. To be totally honest, they died. When I asked someone at a nursery what I may have done wrong, I was asked about the pH of my soil. I think my response was something like “The what of my soil?” As I now know, blueberries thrive in acidic soil. A subsequent soil test revealed that my soil was 7.0. Those beautiful plants would have had a much better chance at survival if I had performed a soil test and applied amendments based on the recommendations from the soil lab before diving in!
Not everyone likes eggplant
One individual reported that she planted eggplant because she liked it. The eggplant grew well and after preparing it for a meal, she learned that no one in her family liked eggplant. No matter how she prepared it, the vote from the family was not a positive one. She also discovered that her neighbors did not like eggplant. So, the message of this story is that family members should be involved in vegetable planting decisions.
Leave roadside plants on the roadside.
While it is tempting to put a shovel in the car and stop along I-95 to dig up a plant that is on the side of the road, it is more often than not an unrewarding venture. Plants that grow in one soil may not thrive in another soil. It will be a more rewarding situation to take the time to research soil conditions required by plants and then start them on your own.
When moving a plant, bring its roots with it.
This gardener dug up a beautiful Enkianthus shrub to transplant elsewhere but failed to root prune months before the big move. Strategically cutting into the root system to encourage more dense growth of feeder roots close to the base of the plant will allow the plant to be more resilient during the re-establishment phase. In addition to the first misstep, the anonymous gardener also failed to regularly water the transplanted shrub over the following 12 months. Sadly, only sticks remained after that lesson.
When you see something in the garden that you can’t identify, take the time to identify it.
A tiny tree-like plant growing in a perennial bed seemed innocent enough. There did not seem to be any immediacy to figure out exactly what it was. But, when the unplanned plant kept appearing throughout the garden, it was time to bring a sample to an expert. The gardener received a look of pity, a name for the intruder (horsetail) and wishes for good luck. Later research confirmed that the identification was, indeed, grim news. It would take about 3 years and lots of persistence to maybe, perhaps, and with extreme luck (win the lottery type of luck) potentially decrease the invader. So, the lesson to be learned is to identify quickly any invading plant, find out if it is friend or foe, and act swiftly.
In gardening and in life, every failure is an opportunity to learn. It’s our hope that you can learn from our mishaps before making the same mistake. Look for more confessions in upcoming issues of the Maine Home Garden news and consider sharing your own garden follies in our feedback form.
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University of Maine Cooperative Extension’s Maine Home Garden News is designed to equip home gardeners with practical, timely information.
For more information or questions, contact Kate Garland at email@example.com or 1.800.287.1485 (in Maine).
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Maine Home Garden News was created in response to a continued increase in requests for information on gardening and includes timely and seasonal tips, as well as research-based articles on all aspects of gardening. Articles are written by UMaine Extension specialists, educators, and horticulture professionals, as well as Master Gardener Volunteers from around Maine, with Katherine Garland, UMaine Extension Horticulturalist in Penobscot County, serving as editor. Special thanks to our 2020 Master Gardener Volunteer co-editors Naomi Jacobs and Abby Zelz.
Information in this publication is provided purely for educational purposes. No responsibility is assumed for any problems associated with the use of products or services mentioned. No endorsement of products or companies is intended, nor is criticism of unnamed products or companies implied.
Call 800.287.0274 (in Maine), or 207.581.3188, for information on publications and program offerings from University of Maine Cooperative Extension, or visit extension.umaine.edu.
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