How to grow butter beans?

Cookbook:Lima Bean

Cookbook | Recipes | Ingredients | Vegetable | Legume

lima beans

NUTRITION FACTS:
Serving Size: ¼ cup dry (35 g)
Servings Per Recipe: about 13 per pound
Amount per serving
Calories 100
Calories from fat 0
Total Fat 0 g
Saturated Fat 0g
Cholesterol 0 mg
Sodium 5 mg
Total Carbohydrates 22 g
Dietary Fiber 7 g
Sugars 3 g
Protein 8 g
Vitamin A 0%
Vitamin C 4%
Calcium 2%
Iron 15%

The lima bean, also known as the chad bean or butter bean, is a large disk-shaped bean used in succotash. Lima beans originated in Peru and have been grown there since 6000 B.C. The name comes from the capital city of Peru, Lima. Lima beans are almost always called “butter beans” in the southern part of the United States, even in markets and restaurants.

Lima beans come in three main varieties:

  • Large lima beans are green or speckled. The speckled kind have a creamy texture and a strong earthy flavor, unlike the pale green ones.
  • Small lima beans are also called sieva beans, Carolina bean, civet, seewee, and sivvy. Most small limas are pale green. They are less starchy than the larger varieties.
  • Dwarf lima beans, also known as butter peas, are white and speckled and the least starchy of the limas.

Fresh lima beans are difficult to find in the United States, but can occasionally be found at farmers’ markets. It is easier to find lima beans in the southern United States than anywhere else in the country. Most lima beans are dried, canned, or frozen.

Preparation

Fresh lima beans need to be shelled before they are eaten. Shelling can be a little tricky, especially with larger beans. Beans are easier to handle if they are tender and have full pods. One method used for larger beans is to simply cut open the pod with scissors and remove the beans by hand. To remove the beans from smaller limas, pull off the string along the seam, and press the two sides open to pop the beans out. Rinse canned limas before using them to reduce their gas-promoting properties.

Lima beans should never be eaten raw (see warning below). The most common methods of preparation are boiling and microwaving. Only a small amount of water needs to be used for either method.
Dry lima beans require soaking before cooking.

Warning

Do not eat lima beans raw. When eaten raw, lima beans produce the poison cyanide.

Butter Beans vs. Lima Beans: What’s the Difference?

About five years ago, a community member threw into our hotline a stink bomb—a smelly, confusing query that left more than a few with their feathers ruffled. “What’s a good explanation,” the user asked, “for the difference between lima beans and butter beans?”

The responses poured in. Some were measured and informative:

  • They’re two names for the same kind of bean! They can be used interchangeably whether frozen, dried, or canned.
  • Both fall into the general category of broad beans, of which there are different strains. But certainly interchangeable.

  • They are the same bean. But I’ve found the “butter beans” labeled as such are typically the larger beans with a somewhat more mealy texture. Same bean, just labels. IMHO my preferred beans are the ones labeled as “baby limas.”

Others hinted that there might be a larger beany conspiracy at work here. That butter beans were but a PR scheme, a fool’s trap: The butter bean is a cruel, though theoretically more acceptable, attempt to lure you into eating lima beans, which are an abomination.

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Regardless, the vast majority of responses seemed to point to a confluence, two names for one bean, the Phaseolus lunatus. What, then, was the reason for this lexical discrepancy, this division of designation? It seems we have geography to blame. In the Southern U.S. and in the U.K., these cream-colored beans are named after the dairy product with a similarly rich consistency: butter. Meanwhile, the rest of the bean-eating world labels them limas. They’re flat and chewy, with a mild flavor and a coloring that ranges from pea-green to off-white. Whatever you call them, we’ve got plenty of ways to prepare them! Here are all the recipes for butter/ lima beans on our site.

Braising the Bar

Softly Simmered

What do you call these beans? Let us know your preferred term in the comments.

Growing Butter Beans In Your Garden

Image by photooiasson

If you grew up in the southern part of the United States, you know that fresh butter beans are a staple of the Southern cuisine. Growing butter beans in your own garden is a great way to add this tasty bean to your table.

What are Butter Beans?

Chances are you have probably eaten butter beans at least once in your life. If you don’t live in areas that call them butter beans, you may be asking yourself, “What are butter beans?” Butter beans are also called lima beans, but don’t let the undeserved reputation of lima beans dissuade you from trying them. They had it right in naming them butter beans; fresh butter beans are rich and flavorful.

Varieties of Butter Beans

Butter beans come in a wide variety. Some are bush beans such as:

  • Fordhook
  • Henderson
  • Eastland
  • Thorogreen

Others are pole or climber beans such as:

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  • Yellow
  • Christmas
  • King of the Garden
  • Florida

Growing Butter Beans

Growing butter beans in your garden is easy. As with any vegetable, start with good soil that has been amended with compost or has been fertilized properly.

Plant the butter beans after the last frost of the season and after the soil temperature has gotten above 55 F. (13 C.). Butter beans are very sensitive to cold soil. If you plant them before the soil is warm enough, they won’t germinate.

You may want to consider adding a pea and bean inoculant to the soil. This helps fix nitrogen to the soil.

Plant the seeds about 1 inch deep and 6-10 inches apart. Cover and water thoroughly. You should see sprouts in about one to two weeks.

If you’re growing butter beans that are of the pole variety, then you’ll need to provide a pole, cage or some kind support for the butter beans to climb up.

Be sure to water evenly and make sure the beans receive 2 inches of rain per week. Butter beans do not grow well in dry conditions. But also be aware that too much water will cause the bean pods to be stunted. Good drainage is also essential to healthy butter bean growth.

Harvesting Butter Beans

You should be harvesting butter beans when the pods are plump with the beans but still bright green. Fresh butter beans are supposed to be harvested somewhat immature for eating so that the butter beans tender. If you plan on growing butter beans next year from some of the seeds, allow a few pods to turn brown before harvesting and save those for next year.

The lima bean is a tender annual. Sow lima beans in the garden 3 to 4 weeks after the average date of the last frost in spring when the soil temperature has warmed to 65° or more for at least 5 days and daytime temperatures are consistently warm. Start lima beans indoors as early as 2 to 3 weeks before the average last frost date in spring for transplanting into the garden. Lima beans require 60 to more than 90 warm, frost-free days to reach harvest depending upon type and variety.

Description. Lima beans are tender annuals grown for their flat, crescent-oval-shaped seeds. There are two types of lima beans: bush and pole or vine varieties. Bush types grow to about 2 feet tall and tend to have smaller seeds; they bear more quickly than pole lima bean varieties. Pole lima beans have large seeds and can grow 10 to 12 feet high. Small-seeded limas, usually bush types, are also called butter beans, sieva beans, Burma beans, Madagascar beans, Carolina beans, and “baby limas.” Large-seeded lima beans are sometimes called potato limas. Large-seeded limas are often sold as dry beans. Lima beans have pale green pods that vary from 3 to 4 inches long to 5 to 8 inches long depending upon variety. Lima bean seeds are eaten, not the pods. Leaves are commonly composed of three leaflets and the flowers are white. Bush lima bean varieties are ready for harvest from 60 to 80 days from sowing; pole bean varieties are ready for harvest in 85 to 90 days.

Yield. Grow 4 to 8 lima bean plants per each household member.

Bush lima beans when flowers begin to blossom

Planting Lima Beans

Site. Grow lima beans in full sun; they will grow in partial shade but the harvest will not be full. Lima beans prefer loose, well-drained soil rich in organic matter. Beans prefer a soil pH of 6.0 to 6.8. Prepare planting beds in advance by working in plenty of aged compost. Avoid planting beans where soil nitrogen is high or where green manure crops have just grown; these beans will produce green foliage but few beans.

Planting time. Lima beans are a tender annual that grows best in air temperatures between 60° and 70°F. Sow lima beans in the garden 3 to 4 weeks after the average date of the last frost in spring when the soil temperature has warmed to 65° or more for at least 5 days. Start beans indoors as early as 2 or 3 weeks before the average last frost date in spring for transplanting into the garden 3 or 4 weeks after the last frost. Start beans indoors in a biodegradable peat or paper pot that can be set whole into the garden so as not to disturb plant roots. For continuous harvest through the growing season, sow succession crop bush lima beans every two weeks or follow bush lima beans with long-maturing pole lima beans. Beans can continue in the garden until the first frost in fall. Pole lima beans require a long growing period and are not a good choice where the season is short. Lima beans will not set pods in temperatures above 80°F or in cold or wet weather. Time your plantings to avoid hot weather. In mild-winter regions, lima beans can be sown in autumn for winter harvest.

Planting and spacing. Sow lima beans 1½ to 2 inches deep. Plant bush lima beans 3 to 6 inches apart; set rows 24 to 30 inches apart. Plant pole lima beans 6 to 10 inches apart; set rows 30 to 36 inches apart. Set poles, stakes, or supports in place at planting time. Pole beans also can be planted in inverted hills–5 or 6 seeds to a hill; space hills 40 inches apart. Thin strong seedlings from 4 to 6 inches apart. Remove weaker seedlings by cutting them off at soil level with scissors being careful not to disturb the roots of other seedlings. Bean can be crowded; they will use each other for support.

Companion plants. Bush beans: cucumbers, corn, cucumbers, celery, potatoes, summer savory. Pole beans: corn, scarlet runner beans, summer savory, sunflowers. Do not plant beans with onions, beets, or kohlrabi.

Container growing. Bush lima beans can be grown in containers, but you may need several containers for a practical harvest. Beans will grow in 8-inch containers.

Climbing lima bean vines in a garden.

Lima Bean Care

Water and feeding. Grow lima beans in soil that is evenly moist and well-drained. Bean seeds may crack and germinate poorly if the soil moisture is too high at sowing. Do not soak seeds in advance of planting or they may crack; do not over-water after sowing. Keep the soil evenly moist during flowering and pod formation. Rain or overhead irrigation during flowering can cause flowers and small pods to fall off. Once the soil temperature averages greater than 60°F, mulch to conserve moisture.

Beans are best fertilized with aged garden compost; they do not require extra nitrogen. Beans set up a mutual exchange with soil microorganisms called nitrogen-fixing bacteria that produce the soil nitrogen beans require. Avoid using green manures or nitrogen-rich fertilizers.

Care. Large lima bean seed may have trouble pushing through soil that has not been well worked; at sowing, cover the seeds with sand, vermiculite, or a peat moss-vermiculite mix instead. Cultivate around beans carefully to avoid disturbing the shallow root system. Do not handle beans when they are wet; this may spread fungus spores. Set poles, stakes, or trellises in place before planting pole beans. Select supports that are tall enough for the variety being grown. Rotate beans to plots where lettuce, squash, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, or collards have grown in the past year or two.

Pests. Beans can be attacked by aphids, bean beetles, flea beetles, leafhoppers and mites. Aphids, leafhoppers, and mites can be sprayed away with a blast of water from the hose or controlled with insecticidal soap. Look for eggs and infestations and crush them between your fingers and thumb. Pinch out and remove large infestations. Aphids can spread bean mosaic virus. Keep the garden clean and free of debris so that pests can not harbor or over-winter in the garden.

Diseases. Beans are susceptible to blight, mosaic, and anthracnose. Plant disease-resistant varieties. Keep the garden clean and free of debris. Avoid handling plants when they are wet so as not to spread fungal spores. Removed diseased plants; put them in a paper bag and throw them away. Beans are susceptible to many soil-borne diseases; rotating beans so that they do not grow in the same location more than every three years will reduce soil-borne diseases.

Pick lima beans when pods are plump and firm.

Harvesting and Storing Lima Beans

Harvest. Bush lima beans will be ready for harvest 60 to 80 after sowing; pole beans will be ready for harvest 85 to 90 days after sowing seed. Pick lima beans when pods are plump and firm. Continue to pick pods as soon as they become plump to extend flowering and the production of new pods. When seeds mature, the plant will die. Pods left too long will result in seeds that are tough and mealy. Bush lima beans should produce 2 or 3 pickings in a season.

Storing and preserving. Unshelled lima beans will keep in the refrigerator for one week. Shelled lima beans can be blanched and frozen for up to 3 months. Dried shelled limas can be stored in a cool, dry place for 10 to 12 months.

Lima Bean Varieties to Grow

Common name. Bean, lima bean, butter bean, sieva bean

Botanical name. Phaseolus lunatus

Origin. South Mexico, Central America

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Lima beans and butter beans add a protein-packing punch to soups, stews and even summer salads. Although slightly bland in taste, there is nothing unremarkable about the beans’ linguistic impact. This humble legume is not only called lima or butter bean depending on the region, but also assumes a slew of other identities.

Common Misconceptions About Beans

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Lima beans take their name after the capital of Peru, a country in which they have been cultivated for more than 7,000 years. They were introduced to the U.S. in the 19th century, with the majority now grown in California. They range from pale green to beige, with a flat kidney shape, and come in two main varieties: baby lima and Fordhook. The latter is the larger and more common variety in the U.S.

Although the Fordhook might appear to be a mature baby lima, the two are, in fact, separate varieties. Crucially, the only difference between the lima bean and the butter bean is in name. In the American South, as well as in the U.K., they are most commonly referred to as butter beans rather than lima beans.

Flavor and Texture of Bean Varieties

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In season during summer and fall, both types of beans are highly perishable and fresh beans are hard to come by other than at farmers’ markets. If buying fresh, check them for discoloration and wrinkling.

Lima beans sold in most grocery stores tend to be dried or canned. The first experience of lima beans or butter beans for many people is under duress, perhaps at school, when overcooking can leave them sulfurous, bitter and unappetizing. However, limas are an essential ingredient in the bright, zesty succotash and baby limas can be delicious with herbs, olive oil and salt or when blanched, drained and sautéed in olive oil. Mature beans feature frequently in bean soups or stews, such as Italian butter bean soup. A starchy vegetable, they also are often used as a substitute for side dishes such as potato or rice.

Other Names for Lima Beans

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Depending on the country or region, lima beans might also be referred to as Madagascar beans, wax beans or chad beans. Those varieties that carry purple speckles often are called calico beans. The smaller baby limas can also be called butter peas or sieva beans.

In the culinary domain, where the distinction between varieties is potentially crucial, lima beans typically refer to the small, green variety. Alternatively, the large, white and slightly creamy bean often is considered a butter bean.

A Cooking Caveat to Beans

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Raw Lima beans contain linamarin, which releases hydrogen cyanide, although the varieties grown in the U.S. contain only trace amounts. Nevertheless, Lima beans should never be eaten raw.

Boil them first for 10 minutes, uncovered to allow the gas to escape, and drain the water. Dried lima beans normally take about 45 minutes of simmering and dried Fordhooks an hour. Both types produce a lot of foam, but neither are suitable for a pressure cooker as they will disintegrate.

When cooking, don’t add any acidic seasoning such as tomatoes, vinegar or citrus to the water as this will make them tough. Once cooked, lima beans perish quickly, typically after just a day in the refrigerator. However, dried beans will keep in an airtight container for six months.

Growing Lima/Butter Beans

Anne K Moore
Photograph by Linda Weiss

Whether you call them butter beans or lima beans, one thing is for sure; you either love them or hate them. I love them, especially the small little butter beans.

As with other beans, butter/lima beans are easy to grow. The hard part is in the picking and shelling. They also take up a good deal of garden space in order to get a decent crop for a family. The exceptions to space requirements are the pole beans. Growing up is a good space saving practice in a small garden.

Pole lima beans, like the heirloom ‘Large Speckled Calico’, also do better in the hot summer areas of the country. Hot and humid won’t slow down bean-set on pole growers as much as it does the row growers.

Plant the lima/butter bean seeds in summer after the soil warms up. They thrive in sandy loam or any well-drained soil. Be sure to keep them well watered during the summer dry spells. They can take 75-100 days from sowing to picking. Another heirloom, ‘Henderson’s Bush Lima’, is a quick bearer and tolerates drought much better than many of the other varieties.

Wait to pick until you see plumped out beans in the pods. I like to use a small garden clipper to harvest the bean pods. You can also use scissors. Pinching off the pods is difficult. Be sure to hold the plants in one hand and pinch and pull with the other or you will harvest a whole section of bean plant with the pod.

Hook yourself up to an iPod (pardon the pun), MP3 player, or set yourself down in front of a TV movie and begin shelling the beans. It takes a mindless amount of time to get enough beans out of the pods to feed a couple. Don’t worry about shelling enough for the kids. They probably won’t eat them. Although, just telling them they can’t have any could spark interest.

Limas/butter beans are fleshy enough to stand in for meat on the menu. These beans are delicious steamed and drenched in butter and salt. Or, try one of Chef Linda’s butter bean recipes found elsewhere on this site.

Butter Beans Stock Photos and Images

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  • A plate full of white butter beans topped with oven baked salmon slices is photographed from the front view.
  • Vegetarian burger made of green pea, butter beans and spinach with sundried tomato pesto and grilled courgette
  • Butter beans
  • Mussel and bean stew
  • A bowl of beans red kidney lentils butter beans borlotti chick peas garbanzo beans
  • Spanish Tortilla With Tomato & Butter Bean Salad
  • Speckled Butter Beans
  • Tomato soup with beans, spinach and parmesan close-up on the table. Horizontal
  • Dried butter beans in a glass jar
  • Put the kettle on
  • Cooked breakfast with toast, bacon, fried egg, sausage, baked beans, mushroom and butter – filter applied
  • Chocolate espresso cupcakes
  • A person sorting different kinds of beans and pulses in her hands on a wooden table top
  • A group of cooked butter beans on a white background.
  • Flat-lay of traditional English breakfast with fried eggs, sausages, mushrooms, sauted tomatoes, bacon, beans and butter toasts on rustic wooden backg
  • Pork meatball stew with tomato, spinach and butter beans.
  • dried beans on white background
  • Freshly Cooked Authentic Fried English Breakfast Of Two Pork Sausages Fried Egg And Baked Beans With Toast As A Flat Lay With No People
  • Edamame soya beans with peas and lemongrass with chilli dressing
  • Two portions of slow baked salmon with butter beans are served wine and photographed from the top view.
  • Vegetarian burger made of green pea, butter beans and spinach with sundried tomato pesto and grilled courgette
  • A simple bowl of stew with carrots and beans.
  • Mussel and bean stew
  • A bowl of beans red kidney lentils sweetcorn butter beans borlotti chick peas garbanzo beans
  • Traditional English breakfast. Fried egg with sausage, mushrooms, beans, tomatoes and bacon. View from above.
  • Dover sole with white beans, Belgian endive and black truffle
  • Tomato soup with beans, spinach and parmesan close-up on the table. vertical view from above
  • Sunny side fried eggs in a copper pan with tomatoes and green beans, copy space.
  • Sausage mashed potato and baked beans
  • Cooked breakfast with toast, bacon, fried egg, sausage, baked beans, mushroom and butter – filter applied
  • Chocolate espresso cupcakes
  • butter beans
  • A gray bowl filled with cooked butter beans on a white background.
  • English breakfast with fried eggs, sausages, mushrooms, bacon, beans, coffee
  • Close up red kidney beans in wooden bowl on wooden background. Selective focus depth of field.
  • dried beans on white background
  • Freshly Cooked Authentic Fried English Breakfast Of Two Pork Sausages Fried Egg And Baked Beans With Toast As A Flat Lay With No People
  • Fried Shrimps with Butter Beans, Chilli, Garlic and Onions
  • A plate white butter beans topped with oven baked salmon slices are photographed from the top.
  • Vegetarian burger made of green pea, butter beans and spinach with sundried tomato pesto and grilled courgette
  • Ingredients for Spanish Chorizo Soup,
  • Quick stewed squid with butter beans and tomatoes
  • Individual portion of red kidney beans chickpeas and rice salad
  • Full English breakfast with scrambled eggs, sausage, mushrooms, beans and bacon on a wooden rustic green table
  • butter beans in homemade sweet & sour sauce served with long grain rice
  • Tomato soup with beans, spinach and parmesan close-up on the table. horizontal view from above
  • Sunny side fried eggs in a copper pan with tomatoes and green beans, copy space.
  • Locally-grown butter beans make for a colorful display at B.T.C. Old-Fashioned Grocery in Water Valley, Mississippi.
  • Cooked breakfast with toast, bacon, fried egg, sausage and baked beans
  • Chocolate espresso cupcakes
  • Can of Napolina Butter Beans in Water.
  • Phuket, Thailand – August 1st 2019: Tin of Fiamma Vesuviana butter beans. The beans are also known as lima beans
  • English breakfast with fried eggs, sausages, mushrooms, bacon, beans, coffee
  • Close up red kidney beans in wooden bowl on wooden background. Selective focus depth of field.
  • dried beans on white background
  • Freshly Cooked Authentic Fried English Breakfast Of Two Pork Sausages Fried Egg And Baked Beans With Toast As A Flat Lay With No People
  • Greek stallholder sitting on a chair awaiting to sell his butter beans harvest to customers at the annual chestnuts festival. Leivadi, Greece
  • A plate white butter beans topped with oven baked salmon slices is photographed from the front view. photographed from the top (
  • Vegetarian burger made of green pea, butter beans and spinach with sundried tomato pesto and grilled courgette
  • Background of dry butter beans isolated on white.
  • Quick stewed squid with butter beans and tomatoes
  • Individual portion of red kidney beans chickpeas and rice salad
  • A traditional full English breakfast with fried egg, sausage, mushrooms, beans, bacon and tomatoes on a rustic wooden green table
  • butter beans in homemade sweet & sour sauce served with long grain rice
  • White bean soup with tomatoes, spinach, carrots and parmesan close-up on the table. vertical view from above
  • Slow cooked beef and butter beans in dark beer.
  • A very close view of butter beans.
  • Dried butter beans in local Asian supermarket in London, tower hamlets
  • Chocolate espresso cupcakes
  • Can of Napolina Butter Beans in Water.
  • Sunny side fried eggs in a copper pan with tomatoes and green beans, copy space.
  • black eyed beans alubia beans red kidney beans dutch brown beans baby lima beans butter beans haricot beans
  • Dried sugar beans, butter beans, red kidney beans, fava beans in white bowls
  • dried beans in a wooden spoon
  • Freshly Cooked Authentic Fried English Breakfast Of Two Pork Sausages Fried Egg And Baked Beans With Toast As A Flat Lay With No People
  • Chocolate Buttercream Pie with Chocolate
  • Sauteed green beans with olive oil and garlic on a serving plateTop view
  • Vegetarian burger made of green pea, butter beans and spinach with sundried tomato pesto and grilled courgette
  • Dry butter beans in white ceramic bowl isolated on white.
  • Close up of dried butter beans
  • Spanish Chorizo Soup, with red lentils, tomatoes and butter beans, served with garlic bread.
  • Traditional English breakfast close-up on a blue background, top view. Fried egg with sausage, mushrooms, beans, tomatoes and bacon.
  • Indian Baby Corn Masala or spicy Baby corn curry served with roti or naan or indian bread
  • Soup with white beans, spinach, carrots and parmesan close-up on the table. Vertical
  • heap of dark cocoa powder with cocoa beans on white background
  • Different types of beans at the market : cranberry beans, green beans and butter beans
  • fresh croissant and coffee on white background
  • Chocolate espresso cupcakes
  • Nutritional Information and Cooking Instructions. Can of Napolina Butter Beans in Water.
  • Sunny side fried eggs in a copper pan with tomatoes and green beans, copy space.
  • black eyed beans alubia beans red kidney beans dutch brown beans baby lima beans butter beans haricot beans
  • Dried sugar beans, butter beans, red kidney beans, fava beans in white bowls
  • dried beans in a wooden spoon
  • Freshly Cooked Authentic Fried English Breakfast Of Two Pork Sausages Fried Egg And Baked Beans With Toast As A Flat Lay With No People
  • A plate of sauteed butter and garlic green beans on dinner table – USA
  • English breakfast in pan with fried eggs, sausages, bacon, beans, toasts and coffee on dark stone background
  • Vegetarian burger made of green pea, butter beans and spinach with sundried tomato pesto and grilled courgette
  • Dry butter beans in white ceramic bowl isolated on white. Spilled beans.
  • Butter beans in a brown bowl
  • Spanish pork stew with olives and butter beans.

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