Soil and Compost forum→Planning a new raised bed and need lots of advice.

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Name: Pat
McLean, VA (Zone 7a)
daylilly99
Sep 23, 2018 12:43 PM CST
My husband is building me a new raised bed over existing turf. The plan is to put in the sides, cover the turf (mowed as low as possible) with layers of newspaper and fill with a growing mix. We plan to get this finished before the end of October and will plant there next spring (beginning probably in April with small daylily seedlings).

How many layers of newspaper will be adequate as a base to smother the turf?

I was planning to buy a topsoil/compost mix and fill the beds with that but was not sure what else, if anything I might need to add to that.

We also have a lot of left over shredded wood mulch which has been sitting in a pile for more than a year and which my husband tells me is now decomposed to soil/compost? In addition, I have a very big compost pile made from tossing all my plant trimmings and weeds in a heap and letting it rot for a year or more. This does contain weed seeds but that does not bother me as I can easily hand weed the raised beds.

Ideally, I would use the decayed wood mulch and my own compost in the beds but what else might I need, if anything? I don't really have any extra soil to scrape up from my yard since it is all in garden beds and grass.

Any advice, especially from someone who has done this before with successful results is appreciated.

Name: Sally
central Maryland
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sallyg
Sep 24, 2018 6:12 AM CST
How high?
I don't know if the newspaper layer gets you any benefit if it will be covered by a foot of soil anyway. Seems I see reference to six layers of paper under mulch. If you have a daily paper, just use a lot.

Tree roots coming up from underneath is sometimes a nasty surprise with raised beds.

The decayed mulch should be pretty free of weed seed so use it on top.

Hope someone with more specific experience adds to this.
i'm pretty OK today, how are you? ;^)
Name: Jim
Northeast Pennsylvania (Zone 6b)
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MoonShadows
Sep 25, 2018 3:46 AM CST
Over the past few years, we have started moving to all raised bed gardening.

Here is a great reference for raised beds. It is The Complete Guide to Raised Bed Gardening by Joe Lamp'l from Growing a Greener World. It is 101 pages and covers just about everything you can think of when it comes to raised beds. The link below takes you to a landing page where you can get a copy. It is a download and in pdf format. I have a copy, but I have no way to attach it here.

https://growingagreenerworld.l...
Thumb of 2018-09-25/MoonShadows/f74f8d

You can also watch his podcast.

Raised Bed Gardening, Pt. 1: https://joegardener.com/podcas...
Raised Bed Gardening, Pt. 2: https://joegardener.com/podcas...

His website is a great reference. Hope this helps.

Name: Rick Moses
Derwood, MD (Zone 7b)
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RickM
Sep 25, 2018 4:53 AM CST
Thanks for that link Jim! Lots of great info!
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Pal tiem shree tal ma.
Haskell Texas (Zone 7b)
Gowacky
Sep 27, 2018 11:58 AM CST
I have also built several raised beds that were completed late last spring so the spring of '19 is when I hope to have a good year. I've used a 4:1mix of hardwood mulch and loamy sand for my primary soil and now I've added a LOT of chicken and cow manure with straw or hay. I expect this is pretty hot in nitrogen now but has until next April to compost. I'm adding bone meal and kelp meal. I need to test for acidity before next spring. What do you think of this soil cocktail?
Name: Pat
McLean, VA (Zone 7a)
daylilly99
Oct 1, 2018 9:46 PM CST
Thanks for the replies everyone. I'm going to check out Joe Lampl's information.
Name: Thomas Mitchell
Central Ohio (Zone 6a)
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thommesM
Jan 6, 2019 1:45 PM CST
I built some new raised beds two years ago. Not sure where I saw this technique, most likely a YouTube video, but I'm impressed with it and I will follow it in a month when I build another new bed. The soil is very loamy and my maters and peppers love it.

Start with a layer of cardboard at the bottom of the bed without removing the sod. On top of the cardboard goes branches, a couple inches of branches. Next a layer of shredded leaves or shredded old straw. On top of that layer, actual dirt/top soil. I then followed that with another layer of shredded leaves/ old straw. Follow that layer with another layer or dirt/top soil. My bed was full at that point and ready for planting. I covered with a layer of straw. Sort of a lasagna bed.

I looked for the branches at the bottom of the bed last year and they were gone. I did have the soil level drop over the two years that it's been in production but I have been topping off with compost and shredded leaves. My only concern is that I do not see worms in the bed, but I don't see worms in any of my beds really which is a mystery.
Everyone has something they can teach; everyone has something they can learn.

"America is the most grandiose experiment the world has seen, but, I am afraid, it is not going to be a success. "
— Sigmund Freud
Name: Dr. Demento Jr.
Minnesota (Zone 3b)
RpR
Jan 15, 2019 12:16 PM CST
thommesM said:I built some new raised beds two years ago. Not sure where I saw this technique, most likely a YouTube video, but I'm impressed with it and I will follow it in a month when I build another new bed. The soil is very loamy and my maters and peppers love it.

Start with a layer of cardboard at the bottom of the bed without removing the sod. On top of the cardboard goes branches, a couple inches of branches. Next a layer of shredded leaves or shredded old straw. On top of that layer, actual dirt/top soil. I then followed that with another layer of shredded leaves/ old straw. Follow that layer with another layer or dirt/top soil. My bed was full at that point and ready for planting. I covered with a layer of straw. Sort of a lasagna bed.

I looked for the branches at the bottom of the bed last year and they were gone. I did have the soil level drop over the two years that it's been in production but I have been topping off with compost and shredded leaves. My only concern is that I do not see worms in the bed, but I don't see worms in any of my beds really which is a mystery.

To me, it makes no sense to put cardboard under a raised bed.
I have compost piles that are years old and I never find worms above the ground level if there are any worms.
When I put leaves on my roses, there are worms right where the ground meets the leaves, including where I have a fabric under the leaves , the worms leave trails right where the fabric meets the ground.

What are the branches supposed to do other than make sure the bed will drop?
One woman on another forum years back put cardboard under her pile and found water pouring out of it around the edge.
She pulled the dirt back and found the card board still intact acting as a barrier.
I doubt very much worms are going to try to bore through cardboard.

Name: Thomas Mitchell
Central Ohio (Zone 6a)
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thommesM
Jan 15, 2019 12:46 PM CST
RpR said:
To me, it makes no sense to put cardboard under a raised bed.
I have compost piles that are years old and I never find worms above the ground level if there are any worms.
When I put leaves on my roses, there are worms right where the ground meets the leaves, including where I have a fabric under the leaves , the worms leave trails right where the fabric meets the ground.

What are the branches supposed to do other than make sure the bed will drop?
One woman on another forum years back put cardboard under her pile and found water pouring out of it around the edge.
She pulled the dirt back and found the card board still intact acting as a barrier.
I doubt very much worms are going to try to bore through cardboard.



Very good questions. I think the biggest reason for the cardboard was to prevent grass and weeds from growing up through the bed. Not 100% sure. I have made the same observation with the worms under the landscape fabric, now that you mention it. Earlier today I posted a message about not seeing worms in my raised beds, but I do see worms under the landscape fabric. I didn't have the problem with water pouring out from the bed due to the cardboard, but I did take the precaution of punching some holes in the cardboard and made the bed concave so water would run to the middle. Curiosity got the best of me and I dug down into the bed last year (2 years after the bed was built) to check the structure of the soil. Cardboard was long gone. Branches no sign of them. The soil was nice and loose. I didn't have enough material to fill the bed to over flowing so the bed did shrink in volume in the two years. I add mulch on top so it all works out. I don't know if the worms eat through the cardboard or not, but I have read several different articles on worms 'loving' cardboard. I'm happy with the soil structure and need to get the soil tested which I will do this spring. If the soil test doesn't turn up anything negative, I'll likely follow this process whenever building a new raised bed.
Everyone has something they can teach; everyone has something they can learn.

"America is the most grandiose experiment the world has seen, but, I am afraid, it is not going to be a success. "
— Sigmund Freud
Name: Jim
Northeast Pennsylvania (Zone 6b)
My garden feeds my body and soul
Greenhouse Vegetable Grower Seed Starter Container Gardener Peppers Hydroponics
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MoonShadows
Jan 15, 2019 1:36 PM CST
Yes, the cardboard is to keep the grass and weeds from growing up through the soil before they die off. It is a common practice when starting raised gardens on any surface that is not already devoid of growth. Worms love corrugated cardboard, especially the starch paste used to hold the layers together, however they will not bore through it. They can begin eating through it once it if it is soaked in water, but it will take time. I corrugated cardboard it in my worm composter, but I shred it in a heavy duty shredder into pieces that are about 1" x 1/4" and mix it into the bedding. When I first started using it, I was amazed at how fast they consume it. Of course, no worm is going to be able to get through landscape fabric unless it has a scissor in its pocket. Hilarious!
Name: Dr. Demento Jr.
Minnesota (Zone 3b)
RpR
Jan 15, 2019 4:54 PM CST
Thomas how deep is your raised bed?
With the exception of Quack Grass, no grass will penetrate, grow up through, four or more inches of soil.
If you have Crab Grass, I have dug up the roots, true roots, as much as twelve inches underground and they go sideways under and around obstacles for many, many feet.

If corrugated cardboard is good for worms, do as Jim does, but as a weed blocker it just makes no sense to me.
I had worms in the rose bed before but after I started using Eucalyptus and then Cocoa Bean hulls as mulch, when the Euc. was no longer around, I now have a lot of worms in the rose garden soil.
I bury my potato plant stalks when digging them also and if I plant potatoes in the same area the next year, I dig up many large Night Crawlers in spring and when I dig my potatoes in fall.
I also put the leaves from my roses as mulch over the potatoes in spring.
I think keeping them wet or damp where they meet the ground is what the worms really, really like.
Name: Thomas Mitchell
Central Ohio (Zone 6a)
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thommesM
Jan 18, 2019 6:13 AM CST
RpR said:Thomas how deep is your raised bed?
With the exception of Quack Grass, no grass will penetrate, grow up through, four or more inches of soil.
If you have Crab Grass, I have dug up the roots, true roots, as much as twelve inches underground and they go sideways under and around obstacles for many, many feet.

If corrugated cardboard is good for worms, do as Jim does, but as a weed blocker it just makes no sense to me.
I had worms in the rose bed before but after I started using Eucalyptus and then Cocoa Bean hulls as mulch, when the Euc. was no longer around, I now have a lot of worms in the rose garden soil.
I bury my potato plant stalks when digging them also and if I plant potatoes in the same area the next year, I dig up many large Night Crawlers in spring and when I dig my potatoes in fall.
I also put the leaves from my roses as mulch over the potatoes in spring.
I think keeping them wet or damp where they meet the ground is what the worms really, really like.


I used 2x6s in the construction of the beds. You might be right that grass at that depth isn't going to be able to make it to the top, but I'm not sure that I had the beds filled 100%, at least the most recent added ones. It wasn't really grass that was there before the bed was built; it was a conglomerate of crap, weeds, trumpet vine, crap, crab grass, and on occasion a blade or two of real actual grass. I also have an invasive trumpet vine that I was trying to keep from getting into the bed. That vine DOES grow up through 5" of soil and mulch. The cardboard appears to have helped with that vine for a couple of years but last year I started seeing the vine sprout.

I want to cry hearing about you burying stuff that I compost! Crying I really love composting. But it's all good. The stalks break down just fine in the bed. I got lazy last fall on my potato bed. I just dumped the grass that a neighbor brings me right on top of the potato bed and then added chopped leaves and mixed some. That's how that bed was created, lasagna style. It was getting low and my compost bins were full and I said why not. It'll all break down eventually.

Now I'm really excited to go play in the dirt. I agree with you that moisture is tres important. I've been observing the beds since late November? when I added all the shredded leaves on top. Like a couple inches, then rain, then a couple more inches of leaves. What surprised me the most so far is that the top inch is pretty much preventing the water from going much lower. Sort of makes since. THe mulch is supposed to prevent moisture from getting out of the bed... that much mulch is preventing water from getting to the soil. The soil isn't super dry or anything, I just notice that the leaves under the top inch or two are dry. I think I'm going to disturb the soil... *Blush* and dig several large holes in each bed to compare them. I have the original beds which were just bulk gardener's top soil filled. The new beds were sort of a lasagna bed with the carboard, sticks, etc. Have to see how the beds compare with one another and what worms are present.

What type of potatoes and roses do you grow?
Everyone has something they can teach; everyone has something they can learn.

"America is the most grandiose experiment the world has seen, but, I am afraid, it is not going to be a success. "
— Sigmund Freud
Name: Dr. Demento Jr.
Minnesota (Zone 3b)
RpR
Jan 20, 2019 7:17 PM CST
Potatoes I try to grow one or two varieties that are repeats, at least, but I love trying new varieties every year but if listed every type I have grown in the past ten years it would be column two inches long.
If you looked at one of the Potato sellers catalogs, I would probably have tried two-thirds of the varieties.
As it is my hold overs, I only partially remember what they are, so when I plant it is partially a crap-shoot.
One of my favorite all around, and around for a short time is Veronica that I first put in three years ago, and I fortunately I had hold overs and hold overs from hold overs as it disappeared from catalogs.

This year my yield was down, and actually I am glad, due to failing taste buds, french-fries one of the main reasons for variety all are near tasteless so I use them at 1/10 the rate I did plus family dinners are now rare so they simply do not get used..
At that if you are going to keep them , long storage , make sure they are type that store well.
Then you can replant any that are left over at planting time again.
Mine were partially hold over repeats as usual last year and those that were early potatoes are starting to send out new growth so I make sure I use them first, again at, that depending on how you use your potatoes some varieties serve some purposes far better than others.
Purple Peruvian finger type potatoes are about the best tasting potato with out exception.

If you are going to plant potatoes in that raised bed , and have not done so before, I have been planting potatoes for forty plus years and have found potatoes planted deep, minimum 8 inches have always give the best results.
Potatoes grown under mulch, i.e. no hole dug, just laid on the ground, my dad tried it, and I did it twice was a great
disappointment though far less labor.

My roses in the dedicated rose bed are now all hybrid teas that after a fair number of years of neglect compared to what I once did is going to get a last multi-rose redo because I like roses, ma is probably spinning in her grave as small as it has gotten and I want to show my self I can still do it Blinking
I do have an old wild rose garden, and that means picked from road side, perennials but I think even one variety there is kaput.
Some thing got into that garden that wreaked havoc on the roses and the Bridal Veil but it is coming back now to the point it is spreading like a weed as is the peony growing there also.
And I have three cold hardy bush roses by the South side of the garage that looked like hell last spring but then really perked up.
The fact they do not get buried under two feet of snow from the drive-way the past few years did not sit well with them and this year the bed is bare again Grumbling
Name: Thomas Mitchell
Central Ohio (Zone 6a)
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thommesM
Jan 23, 2019 1:57 PM CST
RpR said:
If you are going to plant potatoes in that raised bed , and have not done so before, I have been planting potatoes for forty plus years and have found potatoes planted deep, minimum 8 inches have always give the best results.
Potatoes grown under mulch, i.e. no hole dug, just laid on the ground, my dad tried it, and I did it twice was a great
disappointment though far less labor.


Yup. I always plant the potato in soil. Not sure if it's 8" deep. I let it sprout and as it grows I put soil around the plant. Then when the plant gets to the soil level I put on a straw or leaf mulch of a couple inches. Can't wait to see what happens this year since they should have more light.

I tried growing potatoes in a a 3' high bin, believing what I read and watched that potatoes would grow from the stem. Apparently, that's only some potato varieties. I still got some potatoes but not the bin full that I was expecting.
Everyone has something they can teach; everyone has something they can learn.

"America is the most grandiose experiment the world has seen, but, I am afraid, it is not going to be a success. "
— Sigmund Freud
Name: Dr. Demento Jr.
Minnesota (Zone 3b)
RpR
Jan 23, 2019 2:23 PM CST
My dad hilled potatoes for a number of years but my grandfather did not so when I took over planting for dad, or when I was around to do it, I just dug hole put the potato in and filled it up.
Dad adapted my method as it was less work and hilled potatoes are above ground level, people do not think so but ii is called hilling for a reason, and they do not get as much water as simple deep planted potatoes.

I have planted as deep as 16 inches, depth of two sand shovels and that produces very well but with my heavy soil digging them out is a labour of love Blinking .
When I dig up the South garden, when I am done, that part of the garden looks like fresh plowed by some one continually resetting the plow.

I have hilled, part of the garden a few times, -- planted as I said, no hill ,-- planted 4 inches deep ,-- planted 6 inches deep etc.
I have now pretty much just settled on deep planting with mulch.
The mulch is the one thing that has had a positive difference and it is easy to pull weeds out of thick mulch. Thumbs up

One year I bought some foo-foo bagged soil and filled some of the holes half up or so with that soil.
I do not watch my garden close enough, though I should really do this in a more scientific manner than rely on my emory, no wait mamory, no , emmery, well you get the point, well anyway , other than when digging, and eye 70 percent of the time finish digging literally by hand, I knew when I hit the bottom of the hole as the soil texture was different but other than the lowest potatoes coming out nice and clean, not worth it.
I also used to put coffee grounds, a lot, in with potatoes till I ran out and that made the lower soil extremely soft and fluffy but now I just till it in. I tip my hat to you.

One thing in my gardens that has the biggest effect in a positive way, is every x years I put on several yards of sheep manure
I put it on in the fall usually, rarely in spring and most of the time let it sit there all winter.
It is fresh enough that you get that fine smell of Petunias.
Put a load of that in your garden, sheep manure does mean weeds, and you will be amazed at your yield the next year.
[Last edited by RpR - Jan 23, 2019 2:33 PM (+)]
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Name: Thomas Mitchell
Central Ohio (Zone 6a)
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thommesM
Jan 23, 2019 2:44 PM CST
Wondering if I'm working too hard. So when you plant deep do you only fill in part of the hole until you see the stems growing and then keep filling in the hole until you have the whole hole filled? I could see the stems growing up 4-5" up through soil but more than that I would start wondering. I mean I'm all about hard work but if I don't have to baby potato plants... so much the better.
Everyone has something they can teach; everyone has something they can learn.

"America is the most grandiose experiment the world has seen, but, I am afraid, it is not going to be a success. "
— Sigmund Freud
Name: Dr. Demento Jr.
Minnesota (Zone 3b)
RpR
Jan 24, 2019 12:12 AM CST
thommesM said:Wondering if I'm working too hard. So when you plant deep do you only fill in part of the hole until you see the stems growing and then keep filling in the hole until you have the whole hole filled? I could see the stems growing up 4-5" up through soil but more than that I would start wondering. I mean I'm all about hard work but if I don't have to baby potato plants... so much the better.

No I fill the hole up completely, and even leave a little mound sometimes so I can see how the rows run.
They come up through the black gumbo and then another foot or more of mulch no problems.
You have to be patient though as they are slower with mulch.
I some times plant carry overs one-half the size of your thumb and not very often do they not show up but I do not recommend planting that small unless simply wish to.
I do it because I have a hard time throwing out carry overs, though I do some time toss two three in a hole.
It is also just to see what come up and if they are not the same variety, if I have multi-colored yield.

It is also best to dig a hole twice as wide as your shovel , that way they come up in looser soil.

I get fussy with the small ones but also lazy with the big ones, I rarely quarter any more mostly thirds and halves and if I look at the potatoes left to plant and see that divided I am looking at another couple of twenty foot rows but know I will have enough to feed a family of eight and there are only two of us at best, I have just tossed baseball sized potatoes in the ground whole.

[Last edited by RpR - Jan 24, 2019 12:15 AM (+)]
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Name: Thomas Mitchell
Central Ohio (Zone 6a)
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thommesM
Jan 24, 2019 6:49 AM CST
Hmmm... my new philosophy is to disturb the soil less. I may do a comparison between a large hole and a don't disturb the soil. However, last fall I sort of add a lasagna bed on top of where I plant potatoes so I may need to give it a season to fully break down. The new material was about 4" so I might be surprised and find that it breaks down a lot faster than I think it will. I'll still plant in the bed, but as far as not disturbing well.. .
Everyone has something they can teach; everyone has something they can learn.

"America is the most grandiose experiment the world has seen, but, I am afraid, it is not going to be a success. "
— Sigmund Freud
Name: Dr. Demento Jr.
Minnesota (Zone 3b)
RpR
Jan 24, 2019 10:23 PM CST
One thing that makes no sense to me is why they uses branches in their lasagna.
That will tie up N for several years till they are totally decomposed.
What size branches are used, green or dried?

I finally did a more thorough check and unless your beds are moist, worms will not go there.
They must have a moist atmosphere to survive, they die quickly without moisture.
Why you never see them in drier dirt.

If you till leaves into the ground, makes for nasty globby ground for gardening for a few months, but it will have worms in it in short order id there are any around.
If you want worms chop up your card board add leaves and get them wet, then put dirt on top.
Make sure they stay moist.
Red Wigglers, The ones that live in moist compost, as I said, are different from Earthworms and Night Crawlers.

If you are going to add worms to your garden do not just throw them into your raised garden, dig down to the original ground, dig a hole and toss the original soil back in no clumps, toss the worms in when half full, with some form of moist mulch, and then fill the hole .
Make sure it is moist and they will work from there but they will not move up through branches or dry areas until it has broken down to a point they can use and live in it.
Name: Thomas Mitchell
Central Ohio (Zone 6a)
Composter
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thommesM
Jan 25, 2019 6:12 AM CST
RpR said:One thing that makes no sense to me is why they uses branches in their lasagna.
That will tie up N for several years till they are totally decomposed.
What size branches are used, green or dried?

I finally did a more thorough check and unless your beds are moist, worms will not go there.
They must have a moist atmosphere to survive, they die quickly without moisture.
Why you never see them in drier dirt.

If you till leaves into the ground, makes for nasty globby ground for gardening for a few months, but it will have worms in it in short order id there are any around.
If you want worms chop up your card board add leaves and get them wet, then put dirt on top.
Make sure they stay moist.
Red Wigglers, The ones that live in moist compost, as I said, are different from Earthworms and Night Crawlers.

If you are going to add worms to your garden do not just throw them into your raised garden, dig down to the original ground, dig a hole and toss the original soil back in no clumps, toss the worms in when half full, with some form of moist mulch, and then fill the hole .
Make sure it is moist and they will work from there but they will not move up through branches or dry areas until it has broken down to a point they can use and live in it.


I'm not sure what type of branches the video used. I only use dead branches which I break up into less than 10" lengths. Mostly whatever falls from the oaks that I have laying around. Get rid of the branches and add filler in the bottom. I haven't seen a problem at all with the peppers and maters that I've planted in the beds. The peppers seem to love the location and volume is great. The tomato plants I plant vertically rather than deep so that may help as well.

I agree that moisture is likely one of the biggest issues. Now that I'm thinking about it, I see worms underneath and in straw bales that are in the garden in addition to the plastic bags that lay around from time to time. All places that have a lot of moisture. Still confused about the compost bins. I know they get HOT but I still would expect to see a worm or two when harvesting the compost or at the bottom of the bin. I think another issue is food. I know that worms love cardboard, kitchen scraps, shredded leaves, etc. This year is the first time that I've actually dumped a 4" layers of shredded leaves on top of the beds, mostly as an experiment but also because the beds were getting low. Hoping that the shredded leaves might help attract the worms into the beds. I still have one bed that has a impromptu cold frame in place which is keeping the soil warmer than the other beds. Will be interesting to see if that makes any difference come March.

Everyone has something they can teach; everyone has something they can learn.

"America is the most grandiose experiment the world has seen, but, I am afraid, it is not going to be a success. "
— Sigmund Freud

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