Mission Impossible - stop the weeds

gblack(6a)October 22, 2010

The goal is simple but seemingly unattainable. I want to put in some raised beds, and not have anything grow between the beds. It's a 100ft x 85ft area. We have high winds, and weeds from your worst nightmare - some even have these hard thorny balls guaranteed to cause pain upon contact.

I need to find some way to kill EVERYTHING without:

1. Spending enough to match the national deficit.

2. Lowering the property value of the house (in theory the are can be used for horses, so it shouldn't be a pain to convert it back to that purpose at some point).

3. Requiring a lot of upkeep.

I just want things dead. Shouldn't be that hard, right?

Current thinking:

1. Rock landscaping - I thought this was perfect at first but then had a Realtor suggest it would probably lower the property value because it would make the area unfit for horses and be difficult to remove. I've also heard the rocks get nasty and are hard to clean.

2. Mulch Landscaping - it disintegrates after a few years - it's going to be ton of work in a bobcat to put this in. I have no intention of doing it again in anything less than 15 years and preferably not then.

3. Salt - washes off and causes pollution. I'm also paranoid it might soak up through the groundcover into the raised beds.

4. Special grass or some other short groundcover - I'm sorry, I lack faith anything can go head to head with my weeds and wipe them out, and some sort of mix that still leaves me having to maintain the mess just doesn't work.

5. Concrete or Asphalt - It's tempting, but not affordable.

6. Poison of some sort spread yearly - I'm paranoid it would leach into my beds from the bottom or harm the fruit trees.

7. Burn them out - it's a lot of fuel, they'll just come back, and it's probably a lot of work.

Ultimately I don't care if it's muddy, I don't care if it's ugly, I just want it dead. No growth of any kind other than I want the trees to survive. The trees are only in one area though, so I'll consider dual pronged solutions.

Thoughts? I curse my inexperience because I figure there has to be a good solution, maybe even one I've already considered, but I just lack the experience to recognize it.

Thanks guys!


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Gene, how many times has the better-half said that the living room carpet needs replacing? That is the answer to your question. Request that area carpet stores give you removed sections of carpeting which you can cut and fit where needed. Synthetic carpeting will last seemingly forever and block weed growth, yet can be removed when desired.

    Bookmark   October 22, 2010 at 7:12AM
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What kind of prep work should I do if I'm going to use carpeting? Should I still lay a weed barrier under it? Do I need to do anything in particular to kill the existing weeds? How deep (or how many layers) would I need? I'm guessing I'll still need to pin it against high winds, I assume the metal fabric stakes are fine to use? Do I need to worry about anything growing (fungus or something) in the carpet?


    Bookmark   October 22, 2010 at 10:09AM
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toronado3800 Zone 6 StLouis(6)

I believe you to be on the right track but the softer and closer to organic material you use the more stuff will grow.

Think astroturf. Even then it will have a life expectancy. Sun will bleach it out it will get brittle or something! you can pick different colors and it is sorta easy to undo

    Bookmark   October 22, 2010 at 4:36PM
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karinl(BC Z8)

Could look into used carpeting at the thrift store, or free on craigslist. You never know. Great idea, Nandina.

The carpet would BE your weed barrier, should be no need for more. Weed seeds may settle on top and need to be raked/swept (vacuumed? :-)) from time to time, so best not to get loop pile! You will have stuff trying to grow around the edges, so plan to maintain that by hand, with shears or a weedwacker.


    Bookmark   October 22, 2010 at 8:52PM
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I always chuckle when these requests for maintenance free garden projects are posted. Mother Nature has a specific agenda and it takes some wile tricks to outsmart her. In this situation old carpeting is probably the best solution, held in place by metal stakes or tacked in vulnerable spots to wooden raised beds with a heavy duty stapler. Yes, at certain times there might be fungus growth during high temperature/wet periods. Easy treatment would be filling hose end sprayer container with full strength Lysol, set dial on 3 tablespoons per gallon and spraying affected path areas with this keeping spray pattern low and off growing beds. And, through the years more carpeting can be placed to cover the old as deemed necessary. It should not be necessary to place weed barrier material under the carpeting. If you give a bit of thought to constructing raised beds and carpeting as you build the problem of weed growth along the edges of beds can be minimized.

    Bookmark   October 23, 2010 at 9:26AM
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Yea, she's got an agenda all right - on one hand we've got hail, late snow/frost, early snow/frost, etc. which she kills things with, on the other, it seems next to impossible to create a totally dead space because she chokes everything out with weeds.

It would seem I need to figure out how to cross breed my garden plants with weeds. I could do with some invasive pepper plants or watermelons. Then again, nothing that puts that much effort into fruit could possibly compete with a more resource efficient weed...

    Bookmark   October 23, 2010 at 1:04PM
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Probably not what you want to hear, but have you ever thought of growing grass between the beds. If you edge them, the grass should stay out of the beds, it's soft to walk on and really sets off the plants.

If you really don't want anything at all, then carpet is probably the way to go, but is it going to smell bad, when it gets wet?

Of course, when we see these beautiful pictures of raised beds with gravel or bark between them, I'm sure someone is out there weeding them like crazy, at least a few times a week!

    Bookmark   October 23, 2010 at 2:27PM
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You could always try a really aggressive groundcover such as the dreaded sedum sarmentosum. I don't know if it grows in your zone, but here in zone 6b, in about three months it will grow from a single leaf to a 6-foot-wide, 6-inch-high mat that cannot be removed by hand without the use of cutting tools. I used to shear off the edge of it with large gardening shears and if I accidentally dropped a single leaf on the concrete steps it would grow into the concrete.

    Bookmark   October 24, 2010 at 6:16AM
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These hit at good concern points I've had:

1. If I use rock, I can stand a little weeding, but not a lot. If it's going to be a lot, I'm wasting my time (and money).

2. I'm not opposed to grass, I just lack faith in it. I think I'd actually kind of like grass. But if I'm going to do grass, then A. It has to be some variety that never goes past a certain height (the shorter the better), B. It has to actually be able to take over from these weeds or I have to have some sort of surefire way of wiping out the weeds so they don't come back and the grass (or groundcover) and rule the roost. Know of anything like that? Part of the short bit is that I'm going to have melons growing out through it (because it's inevitable that they'll overgrow their beds), and I want the leaves on the melons to still be able to get sunlight.

3. Will carpet smell? We don't have much of a wet period (it's a cold desert), but it does rain often during the spring it seems. I also don't really want chemicals leaching into the soil even if I'm not planning to grow there.


    Bookmark   October 24, 2010 at 11:53AM
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bernd ny zone5

Somewhere on your property you probably have grass, and that you need to mow anyway. Weeds in grass are easily to take care of with an application of weedkiller with fertilizer. Thereafter only spot treatment is needed and you will have a natural landscape, that's how I have it. You simply can not have a free lunch when you have property.

    Bookmark   October 24, 2010 at 3:45PM
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Maybe the issue is I've never "started" a lawn before. I've always been continuing what someone else put into place. Even those I know who are starting lawns are starting from a dirt patch the builder left behind - not a weed lot like mine. That and the "lawn" part of the yard has to be mowed. This is a pretty big piece of property (relatively speaking) I'm talking about gardening and I certainly don't want to mow it.

So if I were to use a "lawn" to solve the issue it would need to involve a non-mow scenario and I'd have to have some confidence this "lawn" could win against the weeds.

    Bookmark   October 24, 2010 at 5:18PM
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I'm also of the mind that if you've got property you've got maintenance. If you don't live in the middle of a tall grass prairie where a lightening strike can burn away all your problems, you've got maintenance.

Just for fun - Google the images for potager gardens - lots to look at for raised beds, etc. and what's in between them. You'll see all kinds of treatments from gravel to pavers to mulch to grass to other plants...some of them very exquisitely done. But regardless, it's work either in getting it established or in maintaining it.

A healthy lawn is the best defense against weeds. A bad lawn can be brought back. I cleaned up some really bad patches in mine (and I've got more lawn than any one person should probably rightly own) with a routine topdress of homemade compost, some overseeding, some hand flung used coffee grounds, and a spring and fall dose of alfalfa meal pellets which are cheap from the feed & grain store.

I doubt there's a type of lawn grass you never need to mow - the Toro and John Deere people wouldn't like that.

    Bookmark   October 24, 2010 at 6:43PM
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May I suggest google Ruth Stout method which involves straw, and the lasagna gardening method, which generally involves old newspaper or cardboard. If you are putting in raised beds and they are built up with wood or cinder blocks or something like that, you can easily put thick cardboard or newspaper underneath those beds, and also in the spaces between the raised beds. I have very easily and successfully covered over grass in many areas when I lived in south Louisiana, where things grow rampantly all year, and here in north Mississippi. I put newspaper or cardboard (free from recycling, neighbors, or walmart boxes) down and then dump grass clippings and leaves mixed with shredded paper from my house. I beg the neighbors for grass clipping and leaves when I am making a new garden or just a mulched area. I did this all around my compost area, under trees, and under a big pergola in La. and I'm doing it now on a slope in the very back of my yard. You'd be surprised how well this works, you might have some maintenance of adding more grass clippings or other such organic matter periodically. I would mow the area as low as possible first, but believe it or not, you don't have to becoz a heavy piece of cardboard will smother the weeds. It works best if you water the cardboard/newspaper very well 1st, rocks might be necessary on a windy day. You can spray the area with glyphosate (?) aka roundup or other named weed/brush killer. I've done small areas with this before, but I've gotten 50/50 info that this is ok for the envt, it's just a hormone that stops plant growth, vs it is toxic. If you do use it, don't use on windy day, day of rain, and only with on active green growth. This time of year, things are winding down, it won't work, I don't think.

    Bookmark   October 24, 2010 at 7:00PM
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I'm good with the whole paper and cardboard thing, but unfortunately, it's just not really suitable this time around. Newspaper works well in my beds and that's small enough with enough plant cover that I can manage that >IFThere's nothing to bring back on this lawn either. It really is toast. It's been used for a horse coral for several years, then left to stand idle for several more over which it wasn't watered at all - and watering in Utah is pretty much a requirement if you want grass. It does have a really interesting assortment of weeds though. Lots of things out there I can put a name to. Even some wild sunflowers from somewhere.

Between the compost bin, the worm bins, the chicken pen and the lawn clippings I'm sure I couldn't muster enough material to keep the whole area mulched regularly either - I'd have to be bringing it in from somewhere else. That's a lot of work to be trying to continually keep up with too. Were I to use mulch, I'd want something really cheap, light so it's easy to install, and something I'd get at least a few years out of.

    Bookmark   October 24, 2010 at 8:29PM
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So, back on the carpeting note:

1. Is it right-side-up or upside-down for the carpet when I use it for mulch?

2. Anyone have any idea how much of an odor it might give off?

3. Anyone have data on possible contamination from leaching chemicals out of the carpet?


    Bookmark   October 26, 2010 at 9:36PM
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You have enough room to do some experimenting in areas with the following ideas to see which comes closest to solving your problem:

1. Bare soil; keep paths cultivated as needed with a Mantis tiller turning and exposing weed roots. Rake smooth.

2. Sow Buffalo grass seed in early spring. Do a search if you are not familiar with it. Tough, drought resistant. This will not block weed growth but it is a fairly low grower needing minimum mowing. When weeds growing in it begin to bother you just mow all. Although this approach will require some expenditure of time, money and water to encourage grass germination it is a good option. Do a test trial and see how it works.

3. Carpeting - I have never noticed organic growers posting about odors using carpeting. Much of the older carpets being removed from homes are wool on jute backing. No concerns there. The newer carpets are made from synthetics and recycled plastics such as your milk bottles. How safe are these for the environment? Can't help you with this one as recent press releases indicate they may be harmful to humans for food storage. The corporate world has us completely controlled these days and it may be a generation before we know the complete answer to plastics and the environment.

    Bookmark   October 27, 2010 at 9:16AM
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When I had large weedy areas to kill in my yard, I spread black plastic over the weeds and weighed it down with rocks. The summer sun will bake the weeds and sterilize the soil. After a month or so of hot weather, I can pull it off and plant with out worrying about the weeds. The existing weeds are gone for good.

    Bookmark   October 27, 2010 at 11:37AM
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have you considered goats. put up a fence, a small shelter in the back corner and a water trough. Soon you will find yourself without weeds and material for a fall BBQ. And have you ever noticed the prettiest county scenes are pastures.

truly the other ideas will only lead to disappointment. dirt will blow onto the carpet and weeds will sprout. same with the rocks, Nature will not allow you to leave it bare, the weeds will grow anyway and if you do succeed in leaving it bare the winds will cover you with dust, the sun will break down the plastic.

good luck and all that.

Yankee Dog

    Bookmark   October 27, 2010 at 4:01PM
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I have a friend with goats and he offered me one a while back. When I inquired whether or not they'd keep my weeds down his comment was that he didn't know about the weeds but they'd probably eat my trees for me - I've got 11 fruit trees out in that area I'd rather the goat didn't munch on. I'm having enough fun trapping and hauling off the stray cats that have been trying to debark them on me.

    Bookmark   October 27, 2010 at 7:38PM
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missingtheobvious(Blue Ridge 7a)

From what I've read, goats prefer to browse (eat shrubs and trees); standing on their hind legs they can reach up quite a distance. They will eat grass and non-woody plants if there's nothing else available, though that tends to give them worms and other parasites, which can easily result in dead goats.

Our neighborhood coyotes wreaked havoc among the goats and fowl who lived two houses north of me; that family no longer keeps livestock (except the donkey). Which is fine with me as goats are horrible escape artists, the in-between neighbor's fences were designed for horses rather than goats, and the bad goats always made a beeline (goatline?) for my newly-planted trees. Ate most of one walnut tree, which promptly died at that spring's bad freeze.

I haven't used carpet between my raised beds (too narrow to mow), but I'm under the impression it's used with the backing up. Not sure if I read that, or assumed. A friend I once mentioned it to thought weeds would grow through carpet, and then it would be impossible to remove.

I've tried cardboard, and like it, but it does blow around -- and if you're really lucky, the layers come apart too, so there are even more pieces to blow around. Groceries in our area give away cardboard boxes; of course, then your cardboard has all sorts of slits for weeds to grow through.

Somewhere I read someone who advocated growing clover; it would be low enough not to need mowing, and hopefully grow dense enough to choke out weeds.

    Bookmark   October 27, 2010 at 8:36PM
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I have no intention of doing it again in anything less than 15 years and preferably not then.
Ain't gonna happen, no way, no how!

If you do the following, it's still going to be work, but less work and expense than most:

1 - spray all the weeds with glyphosate to kill them.
2 - Lay a layer of cardboard down - 1 or two layers thick
3 - cover with a thick (4-6 inches) layer of wood chips. They decompose slowly.

If weeds pop up, and they will from blown in or bird-pooped seeds, just pull them out.

Renew the wood chips every couple of years. You can often get them free delivered by calling tree trimming companies.

    Bookmark   October 27, 2010 at 9:02PM
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toronado3800 Zone 6 StLouis(6)

ASTROTURF! It is green and somewhat plastic so it is less critter and bug friendly than carpet.

You can even pick your color if you are buying new.

Astroturf is popular at mini golf places also so you might be able to get it used on the cheap.

Heck. Put a cup in it and have a putting green.

    Bookmark   October 27, 2010 at 11:35PM
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A friend of mine has turf in her back yard. Because of dogs and rain and a large tree, she couldn't get grass to grow. It feels great, there's no weeds and she just rinses off the dog poop. But, it's expensive.

    Bookmark   October 28, 2010 at 2:12AM
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woodyoak zone 5 Canada(5b)

I'm not clear on how these raised beds are used, how they are organized, what's planted in them, how big they are/how much space between them etc. If it's something like a vegetable garden where functional is as high or higher a priority as ornamental, it seems that the ideal solution might be something that could do what the carpeting option does but has less concern with fungus/smell/chemicals etc.

It might be a little bit more work, but this might be a good place for heavy weed barrier fabric - cut to fit tight to the raised beds; pin it in place with the metal staples early as possible in the season. At the end of the season just before the snow arrives, remove the staples, roll up the fabric and discard it. That should remove any weeds that have started to root into the fabric, as well as remove any weed seeds that have embedded themselves into the fabric but not yet germinated.

Leave the ground bare through the winter. As soon as the snow melts and the ground is reasonably dry, replace the fabric with new fabric for that year. The fabric will allow air and water through it so there shouldn't be an issue with fungus or smell. There shouldn't be much growth of weed seeds on top of the fabric in one growing season unless you are spilling a lot of soil onto it.

The putting down and lifting of the fabric spring and fall is a bit of work but not difficult. The fabric is not terribly expensive and easy to obtain. You need to balance how much the weeds bug you vs. how much work you are willing to do to eliminate them. The weed barrier seems a reasonable compromise on most fronts to me but you're the only one who can make the final call on that...

    Bookmark   October 28, 2010 at 6:09PM
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It's all for a vegetable garden. The beds should stick up 2-4 inches above whatever mulch I use if I use 4 inches of it (more if I use less). The depth of the beds will be more as I intend to dig down directly under the beds to give more depth for better soil I'm going to haul in. I plan to leave some room at the top of the beds to add compost as time goes by. Some of the beds will be 10x4ft with 4ft spacing between them. These will probably be the least of my worries and I'll mulch with newsprint inside the beds with drip irrigation on top to keep it wet (and by so doing, keep it from blowing away). I'm reasonably confident of that part of my plan. Mulching between these beds will be important mostly to avoid the tall weeds, and to avoid anything that likes to spread weed seeds to the rest of the garden.

Elsewhere (which is the majority of the garden), my bed setup will be the same in terms of height/depth but widthxlength will be 2x2. The purpose of these will be for larger plants like watermelon, muskmelon, pumpkin, squash, etc. While the pumpkin and squash MIGHT be able to hold their own against the weeds, the watermelon and muskmelon (which will be the bulk of the plants) won't. I proved that this year when I didn't weed some of them in time and the plants didn't put on near the growth they should have due to being shaded. The ones that were weeded in a more timely fashion did fine. Due to the size and quantity (around 125 or so) of these plants, it's really not practical to try building a bed large enough to hold them. The purpose of the bed in their case is to provide for the main stalk/root system. The leaves and fruit will have to be outside the bed on the ground where I need some sort of a mulch system to keep the weeds under control. When these things start growing, mowing obviously won't be an option because I'd destroy my plants.

I've got about 9,000 square feet of space here I need to mulch in some fashion, so cheap is important. I can live with spending a bit of money up front if it means I've solved the problem (or the majority of it) for several years. Spreading anything over that much space is a fair amount of work too (and often the work involved is more daunting than the expense - particularly if I end up doing something like rock).

Landscape Fabric
I tried some experiments with landscape fabric this year and didn't like the results. At a minimum, I'd have to replace it every year if I put it on top, and in that quantity, it's rather expensive for a yearly cost. Newspaper I can afford (I buy the end rolls from the newspaper company), but isn't suitable outside the beds mostly due to wind.

Black Plastic
I'd consider black plastic, but I don't think it will hold up to foot traffic - assuming it can survive the wind.

Any sort of outdoor carpeting/astroturf appears to be to expensive.

Old Carpet
Old used carpeting might be a real option if I can find a ready supply for free/cheap though I have concerns about the chemicals and possible smell. I suspect smell (if there is any) would only be an issue when it's wet during the spring. I can't really see it smelling when it's dry which should be the bulk of the year.

The more I read the more I'm afraid it won't do much at all for my weed issue after a few years and then I'll just be stuck battling weeds with a ton of rock involved.

Organic Mulch
I have doubts about being able to make the expense/longevity make sense here. It might be able to work, but so far the numbers aren't looking right. If it was either cheaper, or if it lasted longer, I could justify it.

I've got doubts about being able to locate this quantity of cardboard, and far more doubts about being able to make it hold up to the wind. I realize I could pin it, but if the cardboard pieces aren't very big to begin with, I think half the mulch will be pins instead of cardboard. Even with the pins, I'm not sure it could manage the wind. The wind gets really rough here sometimes.

Aggressive non-mow groundcover
Haven't found anything I think would do the job, I could reasonably source and afford, and I could have in place and ready to take over by next spring - I'm looking for a solution that will be working by next spring. Not one I'm going to have to spend a few years getting up to speed.

whatever I do, I don't really mind spreading some more of X every year, or rolling out new cover, etc. but it has to be affordable at those replacement rates. I'm trying to stay below $3K for the beds, soil, and mulch. For $3K, I want a minimum of a 5 year solution, preferably more like a 10. If I spend less, I can live with having to spend more on maintenance each year. I forsee getting some good life out of the soil (if properly maintained which I will) and the beds (if decently built which is the plan). My concern point and issue is the mulch.

    Bookmark   October 28, 2010 at 8:48PM
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What kind of prep work should I do if I'm going to use carpeting? Should I still lay a weed barrier under it? Do I need to do anything in particular to kill the existing weeds? How deep (or how many layers) would I need? I'm guessing I'll still need to pin it against high winds, I assume the metal fabric stakes are fine to use? Do I need to worry about anything growing (fungus or something) in the carpet?


    Bookmark   October 30, 2010 at 3:18AM
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How much of the 9,000 sq. ft. will be covered in raised beds? I ask because it sounds as though you won't have any where that much sq footage by the time you finish building the beds.

Me......I'd mow the stuff as low as I could and then spray it with glyphosate. Do this twice a year and you'll soon have nothing out there.
But, I think you're going to want something to walk on if you get any amount of rain. DS has a raised garden with fabric and 1/4 minus rock in the walk area and before the rock it was a mucky mess to try to work in. Yes, even with the fabric barrier and the rock he still gets weeds but a few shots of glyphosate and they're taken care of.

    Bookmark   October 31, 2010 at 12:22AM
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We get very little rain, and even when we do get rain it's normally not enough to make it very muddy and the mud it does create is sometimes mostly dried before the day is out. Spring is something of an exception. I'll keep the glyphosate in mind.

Most of the 9,000 sq ft will not be covered in raised beds as the bulk of it will be devoted to the melon patch where spacing will be a 2x2 hole with 4-6 feet in every direction (sometimes more). Plus many forms of cover require overlap of some sort, so at the end of the day I figure it will probably still boil out to around 9,000 sq ft of material.

    Bookmark   October 31, 2010 at 2:30AM
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