Category: Greenhouse Growing

Spring-Cleaning Our Main Greenhouse

November 2016 greenhouse interior
The usual, end-of-growing-season state of our greenhouse…
With a solid twelve hours of traditionally Mancunian rain forecast from 14:00 hrs yesterday, I thought I’d nip out in the morning and give our still-newish main greenhouse its first ever Spring Clean.

It’s a wet and messy job and, as I usually aim to get it done in February before the germinating season kicks into high gear, also a cold one. But it’s an essential job, too; a mucky greenhouse is an inefficient greenhouse, suffering from reduced rates of photosynthesis and an increased risk of pest and disease problems. Plus, greenhouse cleaning marks one of the key turning-points of the gardening year, from the tail-end of still-winter to the earliest days of pre-spring, so it’s a task I welcome, and attack with gusto.

Here’s how I go about it:

Get Kitted Up

I always wear my oldest, scruffiest, scrattiest work-gear for this job, because I know I’ll end up soaked and stinking of Jeyes Fluid before I’m done. Heavy-duty rubber gloves are a good idea too if, like mine, your hands tends to be prone to chillblains.

Pick Your Poison(s)

The aim of the greenhouse spring clean is to kill things that you don’t want hanging around with all your tender young seedlings: algae, moss, fungal spores, weed seeds, over-wintering pests. Anything that’s likely to cause a problem needs to go. But at the same time, you don’t want to unnecessarily damage nearby plants that might be coming out of winter hibernation and putting up new shoots. For that reason, I use good old Jeyes Fluid inside the greenhouse and Citrox outside.

February 2017 Greenhouse cleaning solutions
Jeyes for Inside Citrox for Outside.

Jeyes is a traditional cocktail of germ-zapping chemicals that will apparently get rid of everything from algae to bird-flu. It’s an evil-looking dark brown colour and it stinks, so you know it means business. You really don’t want this stuff to come into contact with your dormant dahlias or chilli seedlings though, so make sure you’ve removed everything green to a safe distance before you start spraying it around.

Citrox is an organic alternative, a “soluble formulation of bioflavonoids, derived from citrus fruits, [that] has antimicrobial activity against bacteria, fungi and viruses” (according to one study into its possible use as a mouthwash). It won’t damage any plants it comes into contact with, so it’s generally safer to use on the outside of your structure.

Pros and Cons of both: Jeyes is probably more powerful (although I haven’t seen any documentary evidence either way), and is certainly cheaper. 500ml of Citrox cost me £6.49. At the recommended 25ml per litre dilution rate, that’s ten applications (in a 2 litre pressure sprayer) at round about 65p each. Jeyes retails for around £10.92 a litre, but with a dilution rate of only 14ml per 2 litre sprayer, that’s 71 applications per tin, at around 15p each.

On the other hand, Jeyes is most definitely not compatible with organic growing principles, whereas Citrox is. And if you have a bare soil growing bed in the greenhouse, then you’ll need to change out the soil after you’ve sprayed with Jeyes, otherwise I can imagine it doing a fair bit of damage to the soil biota. Then again, Citrox might do that as well. Best best is probably to change the soil out anyhow, just to be sure.

Dilute as Instructed and Spray

I used to use a hand-trigger spray gun to apply the Jeyes fluid. That was a monumental pain in the… well, the hand mainly. This year I invested in the aforementioned 2 litre pressure sprayer (all of £3 from Wilkos) and it made the job a whole lot easier and quicker.

February 2017 pressure spraying
Add chemicals, dilute as instructed, pump, spray. Easy as.

Start with the outside of the greenhouse. First, disconnect any water butts that are hitched up to the greenhouse guttering. A bit of Citrox in the water is no bad thing, but you don’t want to add in the dead and dying algae / moss mix that you’re about to create.

Start at the top of the roof. Spray one panel at a time and work methodically around the structure, ensuring thorough coverage. You’ll want to spray into all the gaps and joints, because that’s where the algae tends to accumulate. Don’t be shy with the spraying. Much better to give the whole structure a thorough drenching than miss a bit and let the muck get an early foothold. I used around 8l of solution on our 8’x10′ greenhouse, so that’s 400ml of the concentrate, in case you’re keeping score.

Scrub Those Nooks and Crannies

An old toothbrush (or two, or three) is your best friend for this stage of the process. They’re great for getting into the guttering and all the fiddly corners to really scrub away at any hard-to-shift gunk and gunge.

February 2017 old toothbrush
Don’t forget to do the back molars… er, I mean, under the ends of the panes of glass.

If you don’t have an old toothbrush to hand, you might get away with using the very end of a scrubbing brush, or a washing-up brush. See what you’ve got that fits.

Don’t rinse everything off just yet though. Leave the Citrox to do its work for a while.

Move Inside, Sweep the Floor

If, like me, you’ve got a concrete slab floor in your greenhouse then now is a really good time to get down on our hands and knees with a hand-brush and sweep up as much of the loose soil and bits of dead plant matter as you can. Your flooring may vary, of course.

February 2017 greenhouse floor sweeping
You’ll be amazed at just how much crud ends up on the greenhouse floor.

What you don’t want to do is leave all that the crud lying around and assume it’ll just wash away later. That just leads to blocked drainage channels, or a puddle of Jeyes-flavoured mud splashing around when you’re trying to get everything rinsed off later on.

Spray, Spray and Spray Again

This is where the pressure sprayer comes in handy again. With a manual spray gun, you have to be quite close to the glass to ensure the solution makes contact. That means you get spray in your face, your hair, your lungs, and the stuff will drip all down your arm when you’re doing the inside roof panels, too. Far better to pump up the pressure, hit the trigger and spray from a safer distance.

If you’re using Jeyes rather than Citrox, make sure you open the doors as wide as they’ll go, and if you have manual ventilation, peg the vents open as well, once you’ve sprayed them. Trust me, you’ll need all the fresh air you can get.

Again, get the old toothbrush out and scrub away at any awkward bits that you can reach. Don’t forget to run it along the underside of any support struts as well, to dislodge the over-wintering slugs.

Tea Break!

A tea / coffee / hot beverage of choice break is mandatory at this point. You’ll need one by now (if only to wash away the taste of Jeyes) and it’s worth leaving the Jeyes / Citrox to do its thing for a while anyhow.

February 2017 tea break time
Gloves off, brew up…

(Personally, I recommend a round or two of toast and jam as well. But you might be on a diet or something. Entirely up to you.)

Hose Down

You should start on the inside this time (for reasons that will become apparent). This year I invested in a variable nozzle-head for the hose and again, it made a big difference. The ‘jet’ setting is almost as good as a pressure washer. Applied to the narrow gaps where the vertical panes meet the eaves in particular, it’s great for blasting out any lurking mats of algae that you can’t quite reach with your trusty toothbrush.

February 2017 hosing down
Blast into all the corners and crevices to make sure you’ve missed nothing.

Admittedly it’s not the most environmentally responsible use of fresh tap-water, but if you have a full water-butt that you can attach the hose to, you might be able get enough water pressure to do the job with rain-water instead.

It’s worth noting: if you’re hosing down flooring flags as well, do those first, otherwise you’ll just splash a load of muck up onto the lower panels that you’ve just hosed down.

When you move to the outside you’ll find that a lot of the gunk you blasted from the joints has been splattered out through the gaps in the structure, which is why you don’t do the outside first. And of course, you could just leave the outside to nature if you have a lot of rain forecast. But then again, getting that pressure jet into the bits you couldn’t quite reach before is a great way to ensure the job is done properly.

Don’t Forget the Staging and Shelving

We use large, plastic shelving units and metal / wooden staging in our greenhouse and that all needs a good cleaning as well. Spray, scrub, rinse as required.

And You’re Done!

That’s it. Job finished. You’ll need to wait a while before piling everything back into your greenhouse, to make sure the Jeyes fumes have dissipated (if applicable) and to give the inside a chance to drip-dry. Overnight, with the doors open, should do the trick.

Get your work gear into the washing machine, get yourself under a hot shower and then get a warming bowl of soup inside you and you can deservedly pat yourself on the back and congratulate yourself on a messy job well done. Your plants will thank you, too.

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First Germination of 2017

The developing theme for this week seems to be “emergence”. On a personal level, I’ve emerged from my Deep Dark Revision Cave, sitting four RHS Level 2 exam papers yeesterday, and am once again able to focus on things that don’t necessarily have a Latin binomial or a key role within a cohesive garden design scheme. For the time being, anyhow.

Meanwhile, on the growing front, the first seedlings of 2017 have emerged in the Vitopod propagator. First germination is always a lovely moment, one I look forward to immensely every year.

Here are the first few chillis to emerge:

January 2017 Chilli germination
The first three chilli seedlings have poked their cotyledons above the surface and are starting to develop.

They were all sown on January 20th. Note the ones that have germinated are all seeds sown in the middle part of the small trays. I’m assuming they’ve benefited from a lower rate of moisture loss and a higher constant temperature due to the volume of compost surrounding them.

January 2017 Goji Berry germination
These tiny green shoots will hopefully grow on into two varieties of Goji Berry bushes.

These specks of green are Goji Berry seedlings. I’ve sown far more than we’re likely to need for our own purposes so with any luck we’ll have spare plantlets to share around later in the season. They were sown on Jan 31st and emerged yesterday, so that means they germinated in just seven days.

I’m going to leave the seed trays in the Vitopod for the time being, although I’m conscious that the humidity in there is probably too high to do so for too much longer, as it could result in poor growth and maybe even damping off disease. Once the majority of the seedlings have emerged I’ll transfer them to cooler, un-heated (therefore room temperature) trays with lids and let them grow on in peace until they’re robust enough to be pricked out into a more nutrient-rich compost.

How are your seedlings coming along? Let me know in the comments, and please feel free to post links to your own blog as well.

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First Seed Sowing of 2017 – Chillis Are Go

It’s still very early in the sowing and growing season, of course, but there are one or two crops that can benefit from starting off in January. The hotter members of the Capsicum family – chilli peppers – are one example, and so, as I did last year I’ve sown four varieties and tucked them away in our Vitopod heated propagator to (hopefully) germinate.

January 2017 - chilli seed sowing
That’s six of each chilli variety seeds sown, one per tray.
January 2017 Chilli seed trays
Chillis need heat to germinate, so the Vitopod propagator is set to 22 Celsius.

This year’s sown varieties are:

  • Capsicum annuum ‘Cayenne’ (‘Hot Portugal’?) – Once again, the bog-standard magazine freebie with supermarket-style red fruits. 5,000 – 30,000 Scoville.
  • Capsicum baccatum ‘Aji Limon’ – A bush variety with bright yellow fruits that’s apparently good for hanging baskets. 40,000 – 60,000 Scoville.
  • Capsicum annuum ‘Prairie Fire’ – A bush variety that did well for us last year. It’s a prolific cropper and looks very attractive when it’s in full fruit. c. 70,000 Scoville.
  • Capsicum annuum ‘Padron’ – The classic tapas pepper, known for its mildness when young and green, apart from the odd one or two that develop their heat sooner than the rest. 500 – 2,500 Scoville.

I only want to grow one or two plants of each variety, so sowing six of each ought to include plenty of redundancy, but of course you can never guarantee germination rates. And I’m planning to keep a closer eye on the pepper production line this year. Last year the seedlings got a little leggy and some of them weren’t strong enough to grow on into strong plants, so I aim to move each variety into an unheated but covered propagation unit as soon as the seedlings show. Hopefully that will help them grow a little more sturdily. (And if all else fails, I’ll send away for some interesting plug plants later in the year.)

If you’re interested in the full sowing method I used, details can be found in last year’s chilli sowing post. I used the same method this year, albeit without the vermiculite top layer.

(By the by, do please excuse the recent lack of new content; a situation that may continue for the next fortnight or so. I’m sitting my second set of RHS Level 2 exams two weeks today and I’m deep in my revision cave, so not much else is going on. I’ll be back in full swing just as soon as I’ve recovered the brain power to devote to anything other than memorising Latin binomials…)

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Tromboncino Results: Bit of a Poor Showing

Earlier this year I decided to have a go at growing tromboncino squash with a view to entering the Sutton’s Cup competition to grow the country’s longest / largest fruit.

Well, the closing date was September 30th, and I took a photo of my best effort on that day:

September 2016 tromboncino best effort
Definitely not as impressive as I was hoping it would be…

As you can see, it barely reached 32cm or so. Compared to some of the tromboncino pics that have been posted on Facebook this year, it’s a tiddler. This was already my backup fruit, promoted to front-runner after the early competition candidate went down with a dose of soft-rot, but it clearly wasn’t up to the job.

I think the cold summer checked its growth; as you can see it’s already matured into something approaching a butternut squash colour, so must have finished growing a while back. Perhaps I should have kept the plant in the greenhouse instead of sitting it outside? Frankly though, there just wasn’t room for it. Or maybe I over-fed it? Or under-fed it? It didn’t really develop the super-long neck that usually characterises the tromboncino fruit, bulking up around the middle instead, so maybe there was a touch too much K in the plant food I gave it.

Ah well, it looks like there are a couple of meals’ worth of good eating to be enjoyed there. It certainly won’t go to waste.

I won’t be growing tromboncino for the Sutton’s Cup if they hold it again next year though. When I think of all the fruitlets I picked off so this one could get all the plant’s energy… a shocking waste of food, that was. Not really my style of growing at all.

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A Pretty Decent Chilli Harvest

Well, the chillis that I sowed back in January and have been nurturing in the greenhouse have been steadily growing away; setting flower, fruiting and now ripening up nicely. Here they are the other day:

September 2016 chillis
The left-hand side of the shelving, with cayenne, and prairie fire.
September 2016 chillis
The right-hand side of the shelving, with cayenne, pot black and habanero / scotch bonnet.

I’m quite pleased with the size of the plants and the number of fruits, considering that it’s my first year giving chillis a serious go, and that I didn’t get round to putting any of them in the chilligrow planter than I bought specially for the purpose. Next year, definitely (I have plans for reorganising the greenhouse along more sensible lines…)

Most of the fruits that have ripened so far are the standard ‘cayenne’ variety, probably the one you see in most supermarkets. They’ve either been shared around (it’s a minor irony that I love growing chilli plants for some reason, but I’m not all that keen on cooking with them, as I tend to prefer spice to heat) or have been set aside for a batch of chilli jam. There are a few small fruits on one of the habanero / scotch bonnet plants that have ripened to bright red already. I might sneak those into the chilli jam as well, just to give it a bit of a kick.

Here are a couple of close-ups on the more interesting varieties – ‘pot black’ and ‘prairie fire’ that haven’t quite ripened yet:

September 2016 chilli 'pot black'
These glossy purple-black fruits are lovely to look at, but I don’t think they’re ready to eat yet.
September 2016 chilli 'prairie fire'
Ripening up gradually, from yellow through purplish orange, to red, eventually (?)

I’m hoping the burst of warm weather we’re having this week will help them along towards ripening at long last.

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Tromboncino Update – Disaster Strikes!

Well, that’s nature for you. Just as you think you’re developing a potential Sutton’s Cup prize-winning specimen, you take your eye off it for a minute and along comes a cold snap, or a dry spell, or something else entirely (maybe not quite enough food at quite the right time?) and this sort of thing happens:

July 2017 tromboncino one
#tromboncinofail!

Yep, that’s a gonner and no mistake. Not even enough left on it to salvage something worth eating.

Luckily, I have a spare:

July 2017 tromboncino two
The backup is still looking robust and healthy.

Any dreams I might be harbouring of #SuttonsCup glory are all resting on tromboncini #2 now. No pressure…

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Quick Greenhouse Update

Our 8’x10′ greenhouse has been a hive of activity – seed sowing, pricking out, potting up, potting on – since early March. But as most of the plants have now been moved outside to their longer-term homes, things are a bit more sedate now, with a few of the more tender and/or heat-loving plants settling in to some serious growing.

Here’s a whole shelf-full of chilli plants, happily doing their thing:

July 2016 greenhouse chillis
Larger specimens at the back are producing fruits, smaller ones still thinking about it…

The taller plants are all ‘Cayenne’ – the standard red chilli sold in most supermarkets – and they’re all producing fruits quite happily. The smaller plants in front of those and on the lower shelf are an assortment of ‘pot black’, ‘prairie fire’ and ‘habanero / Scotch bonnet’ (t.b.c.). They’re healthy and have all flowered, but have been slower to produce fruit, I suspect because they’re hotter varieties and therefore need more sustained heat that we’ve had of late? A more seasoned chilli grower than me might be able confirm that one.

Sneaking in from the left of the pic, you might spot the flowers of Fuchsia ‘berry’ – a variety from Thompson & Morgan that’s meant to produce large, edible, tasty fruits.

The flowers are certainly large and impressive enough:

July 2016 fuchsia 'berry' flower
A big, bold and bright bloom on this fuchsia variety.

We’ve also managed to grow a decent basil plant or two, which is a first for us:

July 2016 greenhouse basil
Green, bush and red varieties.

The green at the top and the red at the bottom have been grown from seed. The ‘bush’ basil in the middle is one we bought from a nursery the other week (I might take a few cuttings and see if I can multiply it along.)

It turns out that we’re growing indoor beans this year as well. Not deliberately – I started off a few climbing French bean ‘Purple Queen’ and instead of climbing they ended up draping themselves down the staging. It seems to be working for them though: there are flowers and even a couple of proto-beans:

July 2016 purple bean flower
‘Purple Queen’ seems to like the indoor living conditions.

Yeah, I think they can be left to do their thing.

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Tromboncino Update – We Have Fruit!

Reqular readers with a long memory may recall that this year I’m attempting to grow a tromboncino squash or two with a view to entering the inaugural Suttons Cup competition. Just a bit of fun, like, and as it turns out, a rather useful comparative growing experiment as well.

There are two plants on the go, both grown from plugs sent by Suttons. One I’m growing at home, in a compost-filled air-pot container, which I’m feeding on a regular basis with a high Potassium solution. The other is planted in open ground down on Plot #59. Here’s how they were both doing recently:

Tromboncino @Home

A week or so ago, I took a couple of pics:

June 2016 home tromboncino
Tromboncino #1 is growing well in a sheltered spot by the greenhouse door.

June 29th 2016 tromboncino fruit
The fruit is just starting to swell and develop nicely.

And then just yesterday, I snapped another:

July 8th 2016 tromboncino fruit
A week or so later and the fruit is noticeably larger and thicker…

Definitely a little longer and with more girth. Coming along nicely.

Tromboncino @Plot #59

Alas, I can’t say the same for the tromboncino that I planted in the ground down at the allotment:

July 2016 plot 59 tromboncino
Not looking too good for this specimen. Hopefully the weather will improve and help it along.

Although the plant is in good soil and was given a compost boost when it went in, the weather has been poor – wind, rain, repeat – and the foliage has clearly suffered. Perhaps if conditions improve it might turn a corner, but so far, not so good…

Looks like all my hopes will be resting on the home-grown fruit(s). Judging by some of the pics posted to the Suttons Cup Facebook page mine are a little way behind at the moment. But the final judging date is September 30th, so it’s a marathon, not a sprint.

Again though, just a bit of fun, I’m not taking this at all seriously. (No, Sir. Not at all.)

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Pot Up, Pot On, Repeat…

May is a pretty mad month in the greenhouse as the seedling shuffle continues apace. Last month’s sown seeds are shooting like crazy. More new seedlings need to be pricked out and potted up daily. And larger plantlets are outgrowing their starter pots and being potted on at a rate of knots. I’m loving every minute of it.

In lieu of time to describe everything in detail, here’s a quick photo gallery to convey the general impression:

May 2016 chilli 'cayenne'
Three chilli ‘cayenne’ potted up into their permanent containers.
May 2016 Tromboncino squash
Two tromboncino for the #SuttonsCup, potted up into long toms.
May 2016 Swiss chard
I reckon we might just get a decent Swiss Chard crop this year.
May 2016 Brassica seedlings
The massed ranks of cauliflower, kale and Brussels sprout seedlings.
May 2016 squash 'turk's turban'
These squash plants look promising. Here’s hoping we’ll actually have a harvest this year.
May 2016 assorted chillis
Chilli plants in their penultimate pots, permanent placement pending.
May 2016 pea seedlings
Two types of mangetout here: ‘shiraz’ (front) and ‘golden sweet’ (back).
May 2016 beans germinating
Here come the beans!
May 2016 coldframe plants
Meanwhile, out in the cold frame: sunflowers and sweet peas and courgettes (oh, my!)

What’s giving you particular joy in the greenhouse at the moment? Let me know via the comments…

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How To: Grow Your Own Fancy Salad Leaves

Equipment Needed: 2x plastic troughs, with trays. Compost. Watering can. Mixed salad seeds.
Care Requirements: Minimal.
Difficulty Level: Ridonkulously easy.

In our house, salad season officially starts when: a) the first batch of salad leaves are ready in the greenhouse, and b) it’s too damn warm to eat soup for lunch any more.

Both conditions have been met round about now, and as luck would have it – thanks to a bit of forward-planning – we’ve got a great big crop of lovely, fresh, healthy salad leaves ready to go at just as the temperature reaches the top-teens:

May 2016 salad leaves
Rocket and lettuce and mizuna and all sorts of tasty things… yum!

You too can grow your own fresh salads – and avoid having to splash the cash at the supermarket for those tiny bags of premium-priced leaves – all summer long.

Here’s how:

Firstly, buy yourself a few packets of mixed salad seed – there are plenty of varieties available, with flavours ranging from hot and spicy to mild and succulent – along with two deep, rectangular plastic troughs – around 15-20cm deep and 50-60 cm long would be ideal – along with trays to stand them on (quite important), and a bag of compost. Multi-purpose is fine, no need for seed compost, unless you have some spare.

Fill the first tray (not the second one, not yet) to around the 4/5 mark with compost. You can use seed compost for the final half inch or so, if you have some handy, but don’t worry if not, your leaves will grow just fine without. Water the compost well – give it a good drenching – and allow excess water to run through.

Sow (scatter / sprinkle) your mixed salad seed on the surface of the compost (I use an old Schwarz herb pot to help them scatter and spread out). Not too thickly, feel free to nudge them about a bit if they’re clumping together, but don’t worry about spacing them out exactly; the idea is to let your leaves grow wild and free.

Lightly cover the seed with another cm or so of compost. You probably won’t need to water the surface compost; the seeds should be able to soak up enough moisture from the main compost layer to germinate, but if in doubt, water with a very fine rose watering can, taking care not to disturb the seed.

Finally, stand the trough on its tray and leave it on a light, sunny window-sill or on a shelf in the greenhouse, then wait for the seeds to germinate.

April 2016 salad trays
Salad trays in full swing.

A couple of things to watch out for: sometimes the surface of the compost can dry out and form a crust, which the emerging seedlings can have difficulty breaking through. If that happens, gently dampen the compost with a fine-rose watering can and it should fall back into place around the seedlings.

Also, keep the compost reasonably moist, but not too wet – remember that even though the surface appears dry, the compost underneath can still be damp. The seedlings’ roots need both water and air to thrive, so keeping the compost too wet will actually be quite bad for them. As the plants get larger they’ll need more water, so keep an eye on the compost and top them up as needed; a good soaking every couple of days is better than a sprinkling here and there. If you’re going to be away for a while, give them an extra-good soak before you go, fill the tray that they’re sitting in with as much water as you can fit in it and hope for the best.

Once your leaves are well-established – with individual plants growing well, showing plenty of true leaves and basically looking like they’re just about ready to harvest – start off your second tray in exactly the same manner as the first. That way, by the time you’ve finished picking or cutting the leaves from the first tray the second trough-load should be ready to start harvesting.

April 2016 second salad tray
Tray #2 is coming along nicely, and I’ll need to re-sow pea shoots at some point too.

You should get three or four harvests from each tray – at least 60 or more portions – before the plants are exhausted; you’ll know when they’ve gone over, as the stems will be much tougher, or flowers will begin developing as the plants desperately try to reproduce. At this point you can empty the first tray – dump everything into the compost bin – then start that first trough off again with fresh compost and seed. With a bit of careful management and good timing you’ll be eating home-grown salad leaves all through the summer and into the Autumn.

Enjoy!

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