SAGA OF THE SPARKLING SPUD
The soil is perfect for growing potatoes in Idaho. (Volcanic mineral residues are known to be the best soil enhancer going. These gnarly substances are in abundance near that ancient volcano or 'caldera' that exists in Yellowstone Park and which is about to blow again, any second. Idaho also has perfect cool but sunny and clear growing conditions that mimic Ireland or the Peruvian Andes from whence the tater came.
Also, there are water sources in abundance, many rivers are fed by the melting snow from towering mountain ranges. All this makes the Magic Valleys of Southern Idaho the greatest potato growing region in the world. And gardeners everywhere who've tried to get a sizeable Spud out of their ex lawn (now a newly manured field), are feeling jealous. Not to worry! NOW with YELLOWSTONE all set to blow magna over the entire Western United States, we soon all can grow hefty potatoes.
SO, right now, get your produce manager to give you all spuds that are sprouting which he has to throw away. He can store them in a special corner in an airy basket until you show up.. Bring him a box of homemade cookies in exchange. Just cut into pieces, the eyes on each piece will become the plant. Let the pieces callus overnight in the kitchen, or a few hours in a dry morning sun, then plant them whole. In a little 2inch deep hole. Covered with soil.
Days to Harvest: 2 - 4 Months. so you don't exactly STAND BACK and have vines around your ankles.
The entire crop is ready to harvest once the tops of the plants die off. You can leave the potatoes in the ground for a few weeks longer, as long as the ground is not wet!
New potatoes are small, immature potatoes. You can harvest a few of these without harm to the plant, by gently feeling around in the soil near the plant, once the plant reaches about a foot in height.
Harvest carefully, by hand or with a shovel. Turn the soil over and search through for treasure. The tubers can branch out and digging in with a fork is a sure fire way of stabbing a potato or two. Most growers let them sit in a dry, NO LIGHT place for a few days before trying to eat them. The bitterness dispells a little.
Pest & Diseases:
Beetles & aphids defoliate. Monitor early in season, before they become a major problem. The Colorado potato beetle larva, at left, is easy to spot. Also check for egg masses on the undersides of leaves. (Photo 2.)
Thin, red wire worms attack underground. I wish I had a better solution, but rotating crops is the only thing that has worked for me. A low pH will help control scab. Acid soil is lower numbers. Alkaline soil is clay, desert sand. Acid is azalea ground, rich, black, humusy.
Late blight, the cause of the Irish potato famine, turns the foliage black, then moldy. Burn the foliage. The potatoes can still be harvested, but you should wait several weeks. Use certified disease-resistant seed potatoes.
Three Cultural Practices to Lessen Potato Growing Problems:
Buy certified disease-free seed potatoes. Planting potatoes from the grocery store is a gamble but hey it's FREE. Besides the disease problem, potatoes, like many produce isle vegetables, are often treated with a growth inhibitor to keep them from sprouting. Grow your potatoes in soil with a pH between 5.0 and 6.0. Potatoes grown in soils with a higher pH seem prone to a disease called Ďscabí, which produces rough spots on the potato. Adding compost or peat will help. Don't plant your potatoes where tomatoes or eggplant were grown the year before. These are in the family as potatoes and can attract similar pests and problems.
* Irish Cobbler - Early season potato that can be planted as soon as the ground dries.
* Kennebec & Katahdin - Good for storing.
* French Fingerling - Long, slender red-skinned potatoes that donít need peeling.
* All Blue - Fun to surprise people with. Good keeper. (Photo 3)
Growing Conditions & Maintenance:
What to Plant: Seed potatoes arenít really seeds at all. They are full-size potatoes that are allowed to start producing shoots in the potato eyes. Youíve probably seen this happen when youíve stored potatoes in the kitchen for too long.
Seed potatoes can be planted whole or cut into pieces, with each piece containing an eye or two (or three). Because potatoes can rot if the soil is too cool or wet, many gardeners prefer to allow the cut pieces to callus over, by leaving them exposed overnight. You can also purchase a powdered fungicide for dusting onto the pieces, to avoid rotting
Cold climate gardeners plant potatoes in mid to late spring. Warm climates do best planting in either late summer or late winter, so the plants arenít trying to grow during the hottest months.
If youíd like to extend your potato growing season, choose an early variety and a later, main season variety.
How to Plant: Choose a sunny spot with well draining, loose soil, so that the roots and tubers can develop. .
* Trench Method: A traditional potato planting method involves digging a shallow trench, about 6" deep and placing the seed potatoes in the trench, eyes facing up. You then cover the potatoes with a couple of inches of soil. As the potato plant grows, soil is continually hilled up along the sides of the plants. This keeps the soil around the developing tubers loose and keeps the surface tubers from being exposed to sunlight, which will turn them green and somewhat toxic. Hill soil whenever the plants reach about 4-6" in height. You can stop tilling when the plants begin to flower.
* Scatter Method: Some gardeners prefer to simply lay the seed potatoes right on the soil and then cover them with a few inches of mulch. You can continue laying mulch as the plants grow. If you have a rodent problem, this method is probably not your best choice.
* Container Method: The container method makes hilling easy and takes up less space. Plant your seed potatoes in the bottom of a tall container, like a clean garbage can or whiskey barrel. Put about 6" of soil in the bottom first, then spread out your seed potatoes. Keep adding soil as the plants get taller. Iíve tried this several times using just a bale of peat and it worked quit well.
Maintenance: Potatoes donít like a particularly rich soil. If you have some organic matter and the pH is good, the potatoes should be happy. What they do rely on is a steady water supply. Water them at least an inch a week.
How did the IRISH EAT POTATOES And nothing else? Read this:
THE WINTER I LIVED EXCLUSIVELY ON POTATOES
by Carol Deppe
Chris Voigt, executive director of the Washington State Potato
Commission, is currently eating nothing but potatoes for two months, 20
5.3 ounce potatoes a day. When I read about it, my reaction was, Hey,
what's so hard about that? Last winter, I ate pretty nearly all potatoes
for about six months. It was a feast all winter! Voigt is doing his diet
to help publicize the nutritional value of potatoes as well as to
protest the fact that the USDA has excluded potatoes from its list of
approved foods for the WIC (Women, Infants, Children) food voucher
I was doing my diet for more traditional reasons: I was short of cash. I
needed whatever I could scrape up to keep the utilities turned on. So
the garden needed to provide the food. And not just vegetables, either.
Staple foods. I'm both highly allergic to wheat as well as gluten
intolerant. And I'm sensitive enough so that I can't eat other grains
that are milled on the same mills as wheat, which includes nearly all
the corn, oats, and other grains that would be gluten-free otherwise.
Grains milled on dedicated mills are a specialty item, and are
expensive. So the cheap foods so widespread in our culture are not
available to me. I need to be able to grow my own staples. And the
staple food it is easiest to provide from a garden here in maritime
Oregon, as well as much of the rest of the temperate world, isn't grain
or beans. It's potatoes. Good thing, too! There is no food I would
rather mostly survive on for serious periods of time than the potato.
Potatoes are unique compared with other roots and tubers because they
are an excellent source of protein as well as carbohydrate. Potatoes can
be thought of as being honorary grains. Since a bite of wheat might kill
me from anaphylactic shock before the ambulance arrived, I tend to look
at it the other way round. Potatoes are the standard. I view grains as
honorary potatoes. Potatoes and grains are comparable as sources of
protein. A boiling type of potato, for example, with 2.1 grams of
protein per 100 grams fresh weight, has 10.4 percent protein per unit
dry weight. Brown rice with 7.5 percent protein in the bin, has 9.6
percent protein per unit dry weight. (Many people don't realize potatoes
are a high-protein food because they are used to seeing numbers that
compare the levels of protein in wet potatoes with those of dry grain.)
Pasta varieties of wheat have protein amounts comparable to those of
rice and potatoes. Bread varieties of wheat have higher protein
contents. But grain protein is low in the essential amino acid lysine,
so is not as usable to fill our protein (actually essential amino acid)
needs as is the same amount of potato protein. In addition, we don't
absorb wheat proteins as well as those of rice or potatoes. Taking these
factors into account, the potato is about as good a source of protein as
the higher-protein grains, and is superior to lower-protein grains such
as rice or standard commercial hybrid corn. Of annual crops, only beans
are better sources of protein.
If I am eating nothing but 2,000 calories per day of potatoes, for
example, which is about 5.8 pounds of potatoes (taking boiling potatoes
as the standard), I would get 55 grams of protein. The RDA for protein
for adult women, adult men, and pregnant or lactating women is 46 grams,
56 grams, and 71 grams per day respectively. However, RDAs are set at
somewhat above the needs of the average person so as to cover most of
the population, including those with above average protein needs. This
means that 55 grams of protein per day would be adequate for many but
not all people. Those for whom the protein was a bit short would not be
very short. A little milk or an occasional egg or bit of cheese, meat,
or fish along with the spuds would be all that was needed.
Potatoes are also unusual for a root or tuber crop in containing serious
amounts of vitamin C. A 2,000-calorie allotment of freshly harvested
potatoes would contain about 680 milligrams of vitamin C. The vitamin C
levels drop during storage. But even after 6 months of storage, 2,000
calories of potatoes would provide about 230 milligrams of vitamin C,
still well over the RDA. That amount of potatoes would also provide more
than the RDAs for several other important vitamins and minerals-thiamin,
niacin, B6, folate, iron, phosphorus, potassium, magnesium, manganese,
and copper. It would also provide significant amounts of many other
vitamins and minerals, including 184 grams of calcium.
An all-potato diet comes as close to being nutritionally balanced as any
all-one-food diet you can imagine. It isn't a complete diet, however.
Most notably, it lacks fat, including essential fatty acids. It also
lacks Vitamin A/carotene. (It may also be low in calcium. Calcium needs
are controversial.) I was also eating kale, cabbage, sauerkraut,
carrots, winter squash, and eggs from my free-range (backyard) laying
flock, however. In addition, once or twice a week I bought a bit of
cheese, meat, or canned fish to eat along with my spuds. And I bought
and used butter as well as a full range of spices. So I wasn't short on
vitamin A/carotene, fat, essential fatty acids and other vitamins and
The store-bought foods weren't nutritionally essential, given the eggs
and garden. But I wasn't trying to prove anything by depriving myself
more than economically necessary. I was just trying to get through some
hard times and stay maximally functional in the process. Eating well
helps a lot. No single food can provide a complete diet. But a serious
potato patch, a modest vegetable garden, and a few free-range layers in
the backyard can provide a complete diet. My laying flock are ducks,
incidentally, because ducks are better adapted to year-round
free-ranging in the maritime Northwest. They are the ecologically ideal
livestock for our region. They love cold rain and lots of large slugs.
Chickens are miserable and unproductive in cold rain and can't eat large
slugs. If I lived in a region where the ground was frozen for large
parts of the winter, necessitating keeping the birds indoors for months,
I would keep chickens instead. Chickens are a better confinement animal.
As staple crops, we also grew polenta corn, corn-bread corn, and dry
beans of several kinds. But except for an occasional batch for variety,
I was saving those other foods for after the potatoes ran out. We also
had plenty of winter squash of gourmet varieties. But we had got burned
out on winter squash the year before when we grew 1,500 pounds of one
variety as part of a breeding project. It's pretty easy to eat half a
ton of potatoes and enjoy doing it. It turns out it isn't all that easy
to eat half a ton of squash. Gourmet varieties or not, we got too sick
of squash to get over it in just a year.
Chris Voigt prepared for his two month 20 Potato Per Day ordeal, and an
ordeal it clearly was to him, by pigging out on foods he expected to
miss, resulting in his gaining weight just before starting his diet. I
began my Nearly All Potato Winter right after Nate finished harvesting,
and we stood in our attached garage gloating over an entire wall of
shelves full of bags of potatoes-about 1,200 pounds, of 18 varieties.
"Whatever else," I said happily, "We're going to eat well this winter!"
"I can hardly wait to make a batch of hash-browned Azul Toros!" Nate said.
"I can't wait to sink my teeth into a baked Amey Russet!" I responded,
continuing, "And I really can't wait to begin taste-testing the new
Happiness is 1,200 pounds of gourmet-quality potatoes tucked away for
Meanwhile, Chris Voigt, at the one-month half-way mark in his 20 Potato
Per Day Diet, has lost 13 pounds. This is in spite of his diet including
potato chips and more fat than he planned originally, though he is
clearly trying to limit fat. His energy levels are fine, he reports. He
isn't finding it easy, but he seems to think his diet is working. And so
it is, if the purpose is to prove that even huge amounts of potatoes
without much fat or fatty toppings are not fattening. But the stated
purpose was to demonstrate that potatoes are nutritious. For that, Voigt
needed to be able to maintain his weight on the diet. And he hasn't. At
the rate he is losing weight, if he were to stay on his diet for another
16 months he would vanish entirely.
Voigt's diet has also slipped a bit. He started off planning to eat only
potatoes and seasonings, with just a little fat. He did allow certain
things with no nutritional value, such as coffee, tea, diet soda, and
artificial sweeteners. He allows potatoes in all forms, including French
fries, chips, jojos, instant mashed potatoes, dehydrated potatoes, and
potato starch. He could, undoubtedly, gain weight on the diet if he
wished by simply eating more potato chips and French fries and fewer
fresh potatoes minimally dressed. But he is obviously trying to limit
By mid-point, Voigt's diet includes more fat as well as occasional doses
of potato chips, chicken bullion, little packets of fast-food hot sauce,
and even some fast-food fries. There are, in addition, clear signs of
desperation. "Pickles" made by soaking sliced raw potatoes in pickle
juice. A concoction of "potato ice cream" made from riced potatoes,
cocoa powder, and artificial sweetener. By now Voigt's diet is a nearly
all potato diet, just as mine was from the beginning. Voigt's non-potato
component, however, is of relatively low dietary and culinary value. My
non-potato components turn each meal of potatoes into a feast as well as
ideally complement the spuds nutritionally.
Chris Voigt's diet is partly aimed at publicizing his objection to the
fact that potatoes are excluded from the foods that can be purchased by
those on the USDA WIC program. Potatoes are the only fresh vegetable,
fruit, root, or tuber excluded. Why isn't obvious. It's fresh potatoes
we're talking about allowing or not allowing WIC participants, not
frozen French fries. And while you can do fattening things with spuds,
you can do so with bread also. So why are only the spuds disbarred? When
Voigt inquired, he was told that Americans already eat enough potatoes.
This reason doesn't work for me. Bread is not excluded just because
people already eat plenty of bread. Cereal is not excluded just because
people already eat lots of cereal. I think there genuinely is an unfair
and inappropriate bias against the potato. In fact, in the popular diet
and nutrition press, potatoes often seem to get a bad rap.
Some of the bad rap for potatoes comes from recent diets that feature
lots of fats and as close to no carbohydrates as possible, such as the
Atkins diet. I don't think such diets are healthy. And if they were, I
don't think I could tolerate them for very long. A second problem is
guilt by association. Potatoes fried in lots of oil are fattening.
Potatoes drenched with large amounts of butter or sour cream are
fattening. Oil, butter, and sour cream are fattening. Potatoes aren't.
Boiled potatoes have only about 80 calories per 100 grams fresh weight.
(100 grams is slightly less than 1/4 pound.) Baked potatoes run about
90. Mashed potatoes with milk and butter are still typically only
90-100. The same weight of bread, depending upon the recipe, has about
240-290 calories per 100 grams. A single slice of bread is about 80-110
calories. Most common unsugary cereals range from about 100-400 calories
per 100 grams. Even cooked brown rice with no butter or fat is about
120. A single tablespoon of butter or other oil or fat, however, has
about 100 calories. So putting a tablespoon of butter on 100 grams of
spuds more than doubles the calorie content.
There is one legitimate nutritional concern about potatoes however.
Potatoes have a high glycemic index. We digest them as fast or faster
than almost anything, and turn their carbohydrates into pure glucose,
blood sugar, the sugar our bodies are designed to run on. A food that is
maximally easy to digest and whose carbohydrates are turned almost
totally into exactly the form that our bodies can use most
easily-shouldn't this be considered the epitome of excellence in a food?
Why are all the foods that are harder to digest or that contain or turn
part of their carbohydrate into other less directly useful sugars be
considered superior? By this reasoning, a food that is so hard to digest
that it provides no food value ever and raises blood sugar not at all
should be considered best. (Rocks, anyone? Yum yum!)
I prefer to view the high glycemic index of potatoes as proof positive
that they are the epitome of excellence in a food. Practically speaking,
of course, if you eat a large amount of potatoes all at once with no fat
or other ingredients to slow down your digestion, you'll get a big spike
in blood sugar. That can be problematic for some people, people with
carbohydrate sensitivity, of whom I am one. The big spike in blood sugar
can cause the addition of sugars to proteins where they don't belong. In
addition, it can trigger a spike in insulin production that may then
drive your blood sugar down to below normal levels, resulting in hunger,
shakiness, and food cravings shortly after eating. I have such problems
if I don't pay attention to what I eat. That doesn't mean I eliminate
potatoes from my diet. Instead, I learn how much potato I can eat at
what times of day without getting the sugar jags and shakiness that
indicate a blood sugar spike.
Of course, additional lower-glycemic-index foods eaten along with the
potatoes also slow down the digestion. And in addition, we can also
avoid blood sugar spikes by spreading our potato intake out in time. Two
smaller meals of potatoes may work fine even though the same amount of
spuds in one meal might cause problems. If we take these kinds of
factors into account as well as our individual reactions, even those of
us with serious carbohydrate sensitivities can make full use of potatoes
and other foods that have high glycemic indexes. (I make no
recommendations for diabetics, as I am not knowledgeable enough about
Even those who aren't concerned about glycemic indexes often seem to
discriminate against the potato. I think it is a result of subtle
biases. Grain was the staff of life in Europe prior to the Little Ice
Age. Climate change and unpredictable weather associated with the Little
Ice Age made it much more difficult to grow grain, with widespread
resulting famines and disease. The potato, a New World crop, was
introduced in this period, and became one of the major saviors of
European peasantry. Potatoes were easier to grow and much higher
producers of both carbohydrate and protein per unit land or per amount
of labor than any other temperate-climate crop. They are also much
easier to process and cook than grain. But above all, potatoes were much
more reliable than grains in the face of unpredictable, stormier,
wetter, colder, or more erratic weather. In the Little Ice Age, peasants
increasingly ate potatoes. Only the upper classes could still eat mostly
When the USDA denies WIC-program women, infants, and children their
potatoes, in spite of the potato's known excellence as a food, in spite
of how much we all like it, I think I detect a subtly Euro-centric as
well as classist message: "The right way to eat is like upper-class
Europeans, not like New Worlders or peasants." The problem is bigger
than failing to recognize that Americans are not all Europeans, that
even most European-Americans now embrace food traditions from many lands
and cultures, and that most of us are closer to being peasants than to
being medieval European royalty. To reject the potato is to be several
hundred years out of date. Rejecting the potato represents a failure to
learn some of the most important climate-change lessons of the Little
Ice Age. I think the USDA should revisit its potato policy.
It's fall again. Once again the shelves in the garage are full of bags
of potatoes, this time about 1,600 pounds of potatoes of 23 varieties.
Now we have plenty of polenta corn and cornbread corn, enough to eat it
year round instead of needing to hold back until the spuds run out. But
our corn is still mostly on the ear, still being processed. The squash
patch was a bust this year. In between the coldest summer I've ever
experience and a rototiller that quit at the wrong time, the squash
patch really just didn't happen. There are plenty of duck eggs. And
there are lots of dry beans this year, enough to eat good amounts
through the year. And we have finished processing our dry beans and have
started eating them. They go great with potatoes. Best of all, there are
another half dozen new potato varieties to try out, to cook with all
possible methods, to taste test, to explore, to discover the special
virtues of. Happiness is 1,600 pounds of potatoes tucked away in the
garage, with another half dozen new varieties all in baskets or bushels.
At least for me. Maybe for you happiness is you warming up the
truck to take them from your barn to gourmet specialty markets in town.
Different strokes for different folks.
Carol Deppe. Authoress.The Resilient Gardener: Food Production and
Self-Reliance in Uncertain Times. (Oct. 5, 2010, Chelsea Green) Visit
her website www.caroldeppe.com.
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