How to plant broccoli rabe?

How to Grow Broccoli Rabe


Want to learn how to grow broccoli rabe? You’ve come to the right place! Also known as broccoli raab, rapa, rapini, taitcat, and Italian turnip, this vegetable is as easy to grow as it is delicious! Although most people think the broccoli rabe plant is just another type of broccoli, it’s in fact not really related to broccoli at all, but rather more related to turnips and mustards.

This bitter tasting vegetable is widely used in most parts of Italy, but seldom used in other parts of the world. Contrary to popular belief though, broccoli rabe can be quite delicious in salads and sautees!

If you already have a vegetable garden, growing broccoli rabe makes for a great plant companion! Growing broccoli rabe in containers is also a good idea as it can save you space and also deter pests and weeds.

The broccoli rabe plant should be planted in early spring when all danger of frost has passed. Choose a site with full sun and protection from strong winds. If growing broccoli rabe in containers, be sure your pots or containers have good drainage as well as well draining soil.

How to Grow Broccoli Rabe in Your Garden

Planting Broccoli Rabe:

  • Seeds are planted directly into the soil, with each being spaced about 4 inches apart.
  • Thin the seedlings to 4-6 inches apart once to leave some space.
  • Plant the seeds in the spring right after the last danger of frost.
  • These vegetables prefer both shade and sun, so plan to plant in an area that receives half sun.
  • Water regularly like you would turnips and mustard greens.
  • Harvest right before the flower buds grow.
  • Leave broccoli rabe any longer can result in a bad harvest that may be extremely bitter and almost inedible.
  • Depending on the variety of broccoli rabe you’re growing, it can be planted and harvested at different types.
  • Follow the directions on your seed labels to see when to plant and when to harvest.

Broccoli Rabe Care:

  • Water regularly, letting the soil dry in between watering.
  • Pull out any weeds, and do not plant next to turnips or mustards, as they can cross pollinate (unless that’s what you’re looking for!).

Broccoli Rabe Harvest:

  • Harvest the broccoli rabe plant as soon as buds appear on the plant.
  • At this point, the broccoli rabe should be 1-2 feet tall.
  • Harvest by cutting the stem 5-6 inches under the bud. Use a pair of gardening shears to do this.
  • The shoots, stems, and leaves are all edible.
  • After the cut, the plant will grow another smaller, more tender shoot which you’ll be able to harvest later on in the season.

So now that you know how to grow broccoli rabe, it’s time to roll up your sleeves and get to planting!

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You can start growing rapini (commonly marketed as broccoli raab or broccoli rabe in the United States) organically in your home garden if you want to grow something different. Growing rapini in home garden is very easy and the plants grow very fast.

The rapini is a green cruciferous vegetable which is grown mainly for it’s leaves. But, it’s leaves, buds and stems are also edible. The buds of the rapini somewhat resemble broccoli, but do not form a large head.

As a vegetable, the rapini is known for it’s slightly bitter taste and is particularly associated with Italian, Portuguese and Galician cuisines. And within the Italian tradition, the plant is associated especially with southern Italian cuisines such as those of Naples, Campania and Apulia.

The entire stalk of the rapini plants is edible, but the plants may become more fibrous depending on the season. The plant is known by many other different names in different parts of the world. It’s other names include friarielli, broccoletti, cime di rapa, broccoli di rape, rapi, grelos and broccoli friarelli.

However, growing rapini in your home garden has many advantages. Growing rapini organically in your home garden can provide a nutritious green vegetable during very early spring and very late fall (when few other crops are productive).

How to Grow Rapini

Growing rapini is relatively easy and the plants grow rapidly. And you can actually plan for planting the seeds directly into your home garden. However, here we are describing everything about growing rapini organically in your home garden from planting, caring to harvesting.

Select a Location

Select a good location in your garden for growing rapini. The rapini plants grow well in both full sun and shady areas. But selecting a good site with full sun will be good for growing rapini. The selected site also needs to be very fertile and well-drained.

Prepare the Soil

The rapini plants grow very well in fertile soil which is rich in organic content. So, add lots of organic materials into the soil while preparing the soil. Well-rotted, aged manure or homemade compost will be good for this purpose.

Purchase Seeds

The rapini plants are grown from seeds. So, purchase good quality seeds after selecting a good site and preparing the soil. The seeds should be easily available in your local market. You can also consider ordering the seeds online if you are not able to source the seeds within your area.

Best Time for Growing Rapini

The rapini plants prefer the same growing season, just like broccoli. The plants are mainly grown during the cool season and they can tolerate light frosts. The plants don’t do well during the summer months, because the plants will bolt to seed in hot weather.


Planting the seeds directly into the prepared bed will be good for growing rapini plants. But planting the seeds in rows will be good. The rows should be 10-12 inches apart. So, make several rows in the prepared bed and sow seeds to about 3-4 inches apart. You can thin the seedlings later to 4-6 inches apart.

The rapini seeds germinate faster, and it can take about 2-3 days to germinate after sowing the seeds. And after germinating, they will quickly grow into lush, leafy plants.


Taking additional care will help the rapini plants to grow better. So, additional caring is a must for growing rapini plants. Here we are describing more about the additional caring steps for growing rapini plants in your home garden.

Fertilizing: The rapini plants are heavy feeders, and providing them with additional fertilizer will ensure good growth of the plants. You can use organic liquid fertilizers such as blood meal, compost tea etc.

Watering: The rapini plants will grow better if you can keep the soil moist constantly. So, water the plants on a regular basis.

Mulching: Mulching helps to retain moisture into the soil. Use organic materials as mulch such as hay, grass clippings, compost, straw etc.

Controlling Weeds: Weeds consume nutrients from the soil. So controlling them will ensure good growth of the plants. You can either control the weeds by hand or by using a hoe. Heavy mulching will help to prevent most of the weeds from your garden.

Pinching: Pinching after one month of sowing the seeds is important. You will need to pinch out the first bud-bearing stem as soon as you see it, which triggers the development of more than a dozen side shoots.

Pests and Diseases

Just like growing broccoli, the rapini plants are also susceptible to some common garden pests and diseases. You should always apply homemade or organic pesticides/insecticides for controlling all these pests or diseases.


The rapini plants grow very fast and they become ready for harvesting within 6 to 8 weeks after planting the seeds. The buds shatter easily, so you can cut the stems well below their heads (taking a cluster of leaves with each). You can actually start harvesting, when the plants reach your desired size.

And after harvesting, you can enjoy the greens in many different ways. The rapini is rich in vitamins A, C and K and very good for your health. Good luck & happy gardening 🙂

Related Content

The more you cut, the more purple sprouting broccoli sprouts.

Although today’s plant of the week looks beautiful in the garden right now, it isn’t really something you can plant right now… but it is the season to eat it… if you remember to get those seeds planted in time. Mid-July (= winter seed-sowing time) is a mere 2 months away so why not plan ahead? Hopefully seeing these glorious cruciferous vegetables at the peak of their season will inspire you to watch for those special varieties to start in your garden this summer.

Last week, Portland Monthly food blogger Teri Gelber wrote about one of my favorite late winter-early spring foods, rapini: tender little flowering stems, which she’s been finding in bunches at local farmers markets under the name “spring raab” are also at their absolute peak in the garden right now.

Rapini and other winter crucifers are easy to grow in the garden: they are tough, cold-hardy and need virtually no care or attention over the winter. They just need to be planted at the correct time: to wit, in mid-July (if sowing seed) and up to mid-August (if you’re buying plant starts).

Since space is often at a premium in the summer vegetable garden, you can just tuck the plants around the base of the other plants (like tomatoes, the biggest space hogs), cutting out excess foliage that might shade them; keeping them watered; and using a balanced, organic fertilizer to stimulate growth.

I cut the central stalk and it just sent out more sprouts…each of which will send out more sprouts when I cut them.

After getting established in late summer and fall, these crops pretty much sit around in winter, just sending out a few leaves here and there during any warmer spells in winter. (It’s rare that we have such a bad winter that we lose winter vegetables in the Portland area.) Come March, though, they hit their stride, unfurling leaves that can be snipped (in moderation) and sauteed or added to salads for an early March treat. By April, the plants are sending up the first tender, tightly budded flower shoots, nutty and sweet from the cold air.

The trick is to choose varieties that are specifically labeled suitable for winter gardening. Savvy local nurseries will buy in seeds and starts of locally adapted and winter-hardy varieties of rapini, sprouting broccolis, winter cauliflower, and good winter kales like Tuscan black and Siberian.

I found a great selection of exciting winter-growing cruciferous vegetables at Naomi’s Organic Farm Supply last summer – mark your calendar and trip out there in June to look for your winter seed crops. I also spotted fine winter varieties in six-pack trays last July and August at the Portland Nursery, too. Keep these nurseries in mind when you’re casting about for your seed sources and ask for them at your favorite local nursery… July is just two months away, you know…

When I started writing this column on broccoli – or, more correctly, calabrese, for that is what those dense heads of green truly are – it wasn’t easy. Not because broccoli is hard to grow – it wants utterly consistent conditions, regular watering, lots of food and no overcrowding – but because it bores me.

Yes, it’s nice and crisp, lovely to dip into things, and pleasingly green once steamed and slathered in butter or tossed in garlic. But, essentially, it is sweet and bland. Is it, dare I say it, just a child’s vegetable? Particularly when you compare it with broccoli raab, or cime di rapa as it is known in Italian. Now that is a green worth writing about – so that’s what I’m doing instead.

I remember my first plate, at the Italian market in the Bronx. It was steamed, sometimes fried lightly, then drizzled in good olive oil and fried garlic, perhaps a few chilli flakes. Broccoli raab has a hint of something dark under its broccoli beginnings. It is a little bitter with undercurrents of mustard greens, an indication of its true nature: it’s a turnip sibling, rather than a broccoli. That bitterness is ideal for digesting heavier foods – rich meats and cheeses.

Broccoli raab is fast and easy to grow – on your plate within seven or eight weeks. You eat the immature flower heads, which look a little like sprouting broccoli, but with more leaf to them. If you harvest carefully, leaving the lower two leaves intact, they will often resprout several times. They also require little space and can be grown in containers. If you harvest very young, as if it were a cut-and-come-again salad, there is little need to thin. If you want more than one or two harvests, thin to 10-15cm between plants and cut when they are 20cm high.

Sow now until midsummer: it doesn’t like heat, so stay clear of June and July sowings, which will bolt. Sow again in August and September for winter pickings. It’s not hugely fussy about soil, but good moisture-retention saves against running straight to flower. Dig in homemade compost or add a layer to your pots. The biggest battle is the flea beetle, which is worse for the later sowings. Cover with fine mesh after sowing.

The best seed I have found is from Real Seed Catalogue , which offers the 60-day ‘San Marzano’, or Seeds of Italy’s ( traditional Italian, 40-, 60- and 90-day cime di rapa (the numbers indicate days to harvest). The later-maturing varieties are bigger, sturdier plants used in late-summer and autumn sowings for winter pickings.

Tips For How To Grow Broccoli Rabe

For something a little different in the garden, consider growing broccoli rabe. Read on to learn more.

What is Broccoli Rabe?

What is broccoli rabe (pronounced rob)? It’s a garden vegetable with a rap sheet as long as your arm. This bad boy is also known as broccoli raab, rapa, rapini, taitcat, and Italian turnip and in some parts of the world it’s known as rape. Even in Latin, this villain plant can’t catch a break. Some botanists label it Brassica rapa and others Brassica ruvo.

What is broccoli rabe? By its name, this con man has led many a gardener to believe it’s related to that prince of the garden, broccoli, but in truth, they are only distant cousins. Rabe is more closely related to the lowly turnips and mustards, and like turnip and mustard, its leaves have a somewhat bitter taste. It’s quite popular in some areas of Italy, where it originated, but in other parts of the world, it’s considered only good food for barnyard stock.

What is broccoli rabe? Whatever it is, it’s easy to grow and worth a small patch in your vegetable garden. However, how to grow broccoli rabe properly seems to be another

part of the mystery where this shady character is concerned.

Broccoli rabe planting is easy and it grows quickly enough that it can be planted directly into the garden. Seed catalogues recommend planting the seeds about 4 inches apart, but the seeds are so tiny, it’s next to impossible. Do your best and thin to 4-6 inches when the seedlings are about. Don’t throw those thinnings away. Snip off the roots and add the washed seedlings to your other salad greens.

The broccoli rabe growing season is another point in question. Ask the authorities how to grow broccoli rabe and they will tell you it is a cool season vegetable and should only be grown in the spring and fall, but my Italian neighbor says “pfftt” to that. She claims the broccoli rabe growing season begins right after the last spring frost and doesn’t end until the first frost of winter. The key to growing broccoli rabe, she says, is to grow the smaller and quicker growing varieties and harvest early and that brings us to another of this veggie’s crimes.

This veggie villain fools you once again with the names of his varieties of broccoli rabe. Planting such varieties as Quarantina (40 days), Sessantina (60 days) or Novantina (90 days) can cause trouble if you rely on their names. They all are ready for cutting well before the days they claim. When it comes to growing broccoli rabe, never believe those labels. All varieties should be cut just as the flower buds form. Waiting even a day can ruin your broccoli rabe growing season because this sneaky fellow tends to bolt overnight. A day or two can make the difference between a tasty treat and a dinner debacle.

While the stalks will store in your refrigerator for about 10 days, for fresh from the garden flavor, plant only of few seeds every four or five days to prolong the harvest of your broccoli rabe. Planting in succession will give you enough for a meal without overloading you fridge. Recipes abound for cooking this versatile veggie.

One last note; don’t expect this slippery fellow’s seeds to breed true. They readily cross pollinate with turnips, mustard (including wild varieties) and any other close cousins.

Broccoli Basics: Do You Know the Difference Between These Nutritious Veggies?

Sometimes, you just gotta review your broccoli basics.

Broccoli, Broccoli Rabe, Broccolini: They’ve all got nearly the same name and yet are totally different plants. (Can we file a complaint with whoever is in charge of naming vegetables?)

And while all of them are stellar additions to a healthy diet, there are differences you should know about—especially in terms of the best ways to use each of them in the kitchen.

Brush up on your broccoli-world facts, below, and find out which of the group is our fave.

Broccoli Basics: Broccoli vs. Broccoli Rabe vs. Broccolini


The most familiar of the group, broccoli is a cruciferous vegetable that’s closely related to cabbage and kale. Technically the stalks are edible, but most people only eat the florets (i.e. the tops that look like trees). While we love it in stir-frys or simply sauteed with olive oil and garlic, broccoli’s got a very distinct flavor and intense, crunchy texture that makes it slightly less versatile than other veggies. (Hence its reputation among children everywhere as the example of vegetable yuck-factor.)

In the nutrition department, broccoli shines. It’s high in fiber and a long list of vitamins and minerals, and also contains more protein than most other vegetables.

Broccoli Rabe

Also known as rapini (you might see it called that on the menu at an Italian restaurant) and sometimes spelled “raab,” broccoli rabe is from a different family altogether. It’s most closely related to the turnip, and in cooking, it helps to think of it the way you’d think of turnip or mustard greens. Its leafy greens have an earthy, nutty flavor, and you can eat nearly the whole plant, so there’s less food waste.

The best part: broccoli rabe is incredibly versatile in the kitchen. You can use it in hummus or soup, put it in a quesadilla, or even blend it into an energy-boosting smoothie.

It’s also a nutrition superstar. Eating broccoli rabe will satisfy over 50 percent of your daily recommended value of vitamin C and vitamin A. It also delivers iron (and vitamin C helps with absorption), plus vitamin K, which is important for bone strength.

Can you tell we’re fans?


Broccolini kind of looks like baby broccoli, but it’s actually a cross between broccoli and Chinese broccoli (another broccoli-esque veg we’re not even going to get into!). It has a more mild, sweeter flavor than both broccoli and broccoli rabe. Compared to broccoli, it’s smaller and softer, so kids might notice less if you throw it into a dish.

Broccolini provides vitamin A and C (although not as much as broccoli or broccoli rabe) and iron and calcium.

Congrats! You’re now an expert in broccoli terminology, and grabbing the veggies you want at the supermarket just got a tiny bit easier.

This blog was created in partnership with Andy Boy.


I’ve been meaning to check this one out for awhile: the difference between broccoli and broccolini. Let’s find out.


  • Broccoli: a form of cultivated cruciferous plant, Brassica oleracea botrytis, whose leafy stalks and clusters of usually green buds are eaten as a vegetable
  • Broccolini: a cultivated variety of cabbage, Brassica B. oleracea, which resembles broccoli and is eaten as a green vegetable

Breaking It Down

Broccolini is actually a hybrid of broccoli and Chinese broccoli, which is kale-like. It has longer stalks than broccoli and a milder flavor.

Broccoli is a versatile vegetable than can be cooked in a number of ways – steamed, sauteed, roasted, even raw. Broccolini does not taste as well raw.

Although the entire broccoli plant is edible most people go for the florets; with broccolini, folks are more likely to eat the stems and even the leaves as well.

A Glance at Nutrition

Broccoli isn’t considered to be one of the superfoods for nothing. It’s high in fiber and contains a lot of vitamins, minerals, and protein. Broccolini has vitamins A and C, although not as much as broccoli, and also packs iron and calcium.

What About Broccoli Rabe?

While broccoli and broccolini are in the cabbage family, broccoli rabe is more closely related to turnips. It has thin stalks with dark green leaves and small buds that look like broccoli florets.

Broccoli rabe has more of a bitter, earthy flavor to it than its two counterparts, and it’s often cooked by sauteeing or blanching. When it comes to nutrition, it’s up there with broccoli, offering over 50% of your daily recommended value of vitamins A and C.

In Conclusion

Broccolini is a hybrid of broccoli and another vegetable. Broccoli is more versatile and nutritious than broccolini, although perhaps not more delicious.

Learn about the difference between onions and shallots >>


  • In Season: What’s the Difference Between Broccoli, Broccolini and Broccoli Rabe?
  • The Kitchn: What’s the Difference Between Broccoli, Broccolini, Broccoli Rabe, and Chinese Broccoli?
  • Nutritious Life: Broccoli Basics: Do You Know the Difference Between These Nutritious Veggies?

Broccoli Rabe: Bitterly Delicious

Every week we get Down & Dirty, in which we break down our favorite unique seasonal fruits, vegetables, and more.

1. Yellow leaves or flowers? Take a pass in favor of better, greener options.
2. Does the thought of eating broccoli rabe leave you with a bitter taste in your mouth? We have ways to help.
3. Trim here and get cooking. Get ideas for every day of the week!

Shop the Story

Broccoli rabe (pronounced “rahb”) seems like it should be a type of broccoli. Its flowers look like tiny broccoli florets, and if you stripped its stalk of leaves, you might swear it’s broccolini. You’d be wrong, but not so far off — broccoli rabe is a member of the brassica family, although it’s more closely related to turnips than broccoli. And don’t be fooled at the market: broccoli rabe masquerades under a variety of names, including broccoli raab, rapini, bitter broccoli, turnip broccoli, and broccoli di rape.

What to Look For
Choose firm, small-stemmed specimens with compact, tightly closed, dark green florets and leaves that aren’t wilted, and make sure to avoid yellow leaves and flowers. As with broccoli, the florets turn yellow as it ages, so yellow flowers are a sign that your bunch of broccoli rabe is past its prime. For extra insurance, give your stems the sniff test, and pass on any with an unpleasant smell (think off-putting cabbage aroma).

How to Store and Prep
Similar to most greens, broccoli rabe stores well in a plastic bag in your crisper drawer for 3 to 5 days. The stalks, leaves, and blossoms of the plant are all edible — you’ll just want to trim off the base of the stem, as it can be woody. If you end up with thick-stemmed broccoli rabe despite your best efforts otherwise, simply shave or peel a bit of the stem like you would with beefy asparagus stalks.

How to Use Broccoli Rabe
Broccoli rabe is really at its best when cooked, though nothing should stop you from tossing a few very young leaves into a salad. Its flavor is nutty, similar to mustard or turnip greens, and bitter in varying degrees — it can change depending on your taste buds, how it’s prepared, and its age. Bitterness is part of broccoli rabe’s charm, but if you’d like, you can cut some of it by blanching before proceeding with your recipe. Check out our spirited discussions for other suggestions on how to quell the bite, and try recipes that balance the bitterness with sweetness or acidity. And if you still find broccoli rabe too bitter, well, all the more for us.

Laurie Colwin’s essay on broccoli rabe in Home Cooking convinced us that like her, perhaps we too could happily eat broccoli rabe every day of the week without tire. Want to play along? Let us know how you’ll be using broccoli rabe! Here’s our plan:

Saturday: Broccoli Rabe Potato and Rosemary Pizza
Sunday: Porcini Fried Rapini
Monday: Sicilian Sardine and Broccoli Rabe Pasta
Tuesday: Amanda’s go-to recipe, Broccoli Rabe in Lemon Cream
Wednesday: Broccoli Rabe with Savory Pine Nuts and Meyer Lemon
Thursday: Tuscan Ricotta and Broccoli Rabe Pie (Erbazzone)
Friday: Burrata Bruschetta with Broccoli Rabe

Photos by James Ransom

Useful Tips on How to Grow Broccoli

If you’ve read the main page of Step-by-step advice on growing broccoli, then all should be brocco whoopee for you.

BUT any little woes, no problemo. With the help of the magnificent tips below, your plants should fire on all cylinders.

These EXTRA tips are for the many people who want to know how to grow broccoli without it bolting to flower, or producing minuscule ‘buttons’ instead of decent heads… and more….

When transplanting seedlings

Don’t leave it too late to transplant seedlings. This is especially true if when you transplant them, the really cold weather sets in. They need to get well established first, otherwise they may just sit and sulk and bolt to seed later.

How to grow broccoli without it bolting

The number one answer to the perennial question of “Help, I want to know how to grow broccoli without it going to flower too soon?” is do NOT STRESS the plants.

Transplant carefully, keeping as much soil on the roots as possible and the hole deep enough, and plenty of water, and not during the heat of the midday or afternoon sun.

Don’t buy these seedlings

If you don’t sow your own broccoli seeds, but buy seedlings, make sure they are not past their prime. Leggy, pale, withered or overgrown broccoli seedlings will never recover, even if you coddle them like mad. Never!

They will bolt to flower then seed because they have been STRESSED, and stressed plants then think they had better quickly reproduce, before they keel over and die.

Unlimited pickings

Here’s how to grow broccoli, and grow it, and grow it… Once you’ve sliced off the first top head as explained in harvesting in the main page of growing broccoli, then new side shoots will grow from the leaf axils — lots of eager, tender babies.

If you want less babies, but larger ones, when you slice off the top main head, cutting well down the stem, leaving fewer leaf nodes.

Is broccoli annual or perennial?

Supposedly broccoli is an annual plant… grown, harvested, then kaput at the end of the season. BUT some gardeners have been able to have perennial broccoli that produces year after year.

The secret is to plant sprouting varieties, and you may have to experiment with the different types. Then it is most important that you never stop picking the florets. If you miss and let the flowers open, tough!

Give it a go, keep watering and occasionally apply a weak fertiliser and you could be the envy of all with your perennial, never ending broccoli.

The most suitable type for you

If you’re buying broccoli seeds, do read seed catalogues to find out what and when to grow broccoli for your area and climate. Your local plant shop can also advise. Odd weather patterns or the wrong variety growing in the wrong area, can stress your broccoli plants.

For example they may “button”, which means they simply form small “button” heads if the weather fluctuates from cold, then warm, then perhaps two weeks of really cold temperatures, then blow-me-down turns into sunbathing weather.

Nitrogen when and how

Here’s another little tip to make sure you know how to grow broccoli successfully. Although broccoli like very fertile soil with good nitrogen content, don’t add more nitrogen fertiliser when planting — wait until the plants are just beginning to produce heads.

Why? Because you don’t want too much leaf and small heads, and you don’t want hollow stems.

Depending on the initial richness of your soil, you can apply organic fertiliser, as suggested on the growing broccoli main page, under Nutrient Requirements.

Ouch! Leave my roots alone

Broccoli have quite shallow root systems. They have a multitude of fine root hairs close to the soil surface, so don’t even do shallow cultivation around them.

Mulch to keep cool, conserve moisture and reduce weeds. Weeds will rob the soil of nutrients and upset the broccoli roots if you have to disturb the soil by weeding them out.

True to seed

There are so many new hybrids of broccoli that it’s not worth trying to keep track of them all. The heirloom and established open-pollinated varieties will breed true to seed, but you will have to buy new packets of seeds each year for the F1 hybrids.

So if you want to save money and protect the valuable qualities of natural selection broccoli, don’t buy new hybrids and save your own broccoli seed each year.

Growing Broccoli — Main page with every broccoli thing you need to know.

List of Vegetables — Lots more vegetables to grow.

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