Winding down

Here in Scotland the season is rapidly drawing to a close. All of the summer nectar sources – the lime, blackberry and heather – have stopped yielding and the bees are noticeably less busy, other than in the warmest parts of the day.

Inside the hive the colony is segueing from summer to winter bee production. Brood rearing is still ongoing and there’s lots of pollen still going in, but the rate at which the queen is laying is very much reduced.

And, as the bees transition from summer to autumn behaviour, my own beekeeping activities are also changing. No more queen rearing, uniting or even colony inspections. The risk of swarming ended months ago.

Instead, with the winter ahead, the number of evening talks is increasing and several winter beekeeping projects are starting to occupy my mind.

But the season’s not over yet and there are still a few last minute tasks before active beekeeping stops. Here is what has been keeping me busy over the last week or two …

Talk, talk

Beekeepers are a sociable bunch and the pandemic has had a significant impact on the amount of digestive biscuits consumed and tea slurped in church halls across the country.

However, in addition to being sociable 1 they are also adaptable and inventive. Zoom and GoToMeeting talks, attended from the comfort of the sofa with a glass of red wine, have become the new normal. 

Early forays into the world of ‘virtual’ beekeeping were plagued with dodgy connections or noisy feedback.

Q&A sessions were stilted due to the lack of familiarity with the need to unmute the microphone before talking.

Some were more like a Marcel Marceau tribute act than Beekeeper’s Question Time.

But all that has changed.

I’ve experienced some excellent hosting, lively and interactive Q&A sessions and entertaining pre- or post-talk chat with beekeepers across the country. 

‘Virtual’ beekeeping talks

Increasingly this format appears to have been widely accepted. There may not be face-to-face meetings with tea and biscuits, but there’s also no need to drive half way across the county on a filthy, wet winter night.

Long distance talks – imagine the travel expenses being saved

I live in one of the most westerly locations in the UK (I’m about 15 km west of Land’s End) and have used the title ‘Go West young man’ a couple of times in previous posts. Later this winter I’ll be ‘virtually’ going west a further 7000 km and talking to beekeepers in British Columbia, Canada. They may be half way across the world, but their climate (reasonably mild and wet) is not dissimilar to the west of Scotland, and bees are bees 🙂 

It should be interesting.

Zoom and GoToMeeting

About 95% of the talks I give (or attend) use Zoom. It works well. The interface is logical and I can see some/all of the audience. Questions are often handled through the ‘Chat’ function. At least a couple of associations have invested in an add-on 2 that allows questions to be upvoted, so moving the most popular or relevant topic 3 to the top of the pile. 

‘Seeing’ the audience in the talk isn’t really necessary, and can be a bit distracting 4. But I find it really helps during the Q&A session, and certainly makes the ‘virtual’ interaction just that little bit more realistic. 

At the very least I can guesstimate the age and experience of the beekeeper asking the question, so allowing me to tailor my answer if appropriate. Of course, this sometimes goes wrong, but people are usually too polite to point out my error.

GoToMeeting is less intuitive (possibly because I’ve used it less) and I don’t think offers me a view of the audience 5. However, I think it’s more suited to larger audiences and coped admirably with ~250 who attended a recent talk to the Welsh BKA.

OK, enough virtual beekeeping … what about the real thing?

Heather honey

In the six years I lived in Fife (on the east coast of Scotland) I never moved my bees outside a 20 mile corridor in the centre of the county. The arable farmland, mixed woodland and low, rough grazing contained no (worthwhile) heather.

Therefore, despite living in Scotland, I’ve no previous experience with heather, considered by many to be the ultimate honey. However, on the west coast we have patchy heather on the hill behind the house, so the bees have almost no choice but to forage there.

After a record-breaking honey yield in Fife, anything extra in the west was a bonus.

I was singularly ill-equipped to extract it. A few of the frames I put through the extractor collapsed spectacularly, so I was reduced to scraping the frames back to the midrib and crushing and straining the honey out.

As I’ve said before, there’s always something new to learn.

Crushed and strained … I was, but I got there eventually

And I learnt that this can be a messy and exhausting process 🙁

One of many few … my first jars of Ardnamurchan honey

But, by golly, it was worthwhile 🙂

I now have to buy a larger shed to store a compressed air-driven fruit press as extracting anything more than half a dozen supers of heather honey will probably drive me round the bend.

Based on the price of these fruit presses and the likely honey yield per year I reckon I’ll break even in about 29 years 🙁  6

The heather here on the west coast goes on yielding long after the bees in Fife have packed up and gone home.

At least, usually. 

Feeding and forage

The summer honey came off the hives in Fife in mid-August. All the colonies were treated with Apivar strips and received a full block of fondant on the same couple of days I removed the supers.

It was hard work, not least because there was a lot of honey. All the supers were brought back home for extracting, and subsequently returned for storage.

As described a couple of weeks ago, I only feed fondant in the autumn. Having checked the colony is queenright I simply plonk a block of fondant on the hive and leave them to get on with it 7.

When I checked the colonies earlier this week all had completely finished their 12.5 kg fondant block.

All gone

Although I didn’t do a full colony inspection, I did have a peek in a couple of hives to check the level of stores and brood. They were wall-to-wall with capped stores except for 2-3 frames in the centre of the brood box which contained about a hands-breadth of brood. Much of this brood was capped and there was still a little bit of space for the queen to lay … but not much.

However, several boxes also had brace comb in the super above the empty bag of fondant. None of this contained brood as I always support the block of fondant on a queen excluder. 

Bees don’t draw comb on fondant … or do they?

I suspect this comb building was triggered by the availability of ivy nectar. In previous years I’ve not seen comb drawn when feeding fondant. However, it’s been quite mild and the bees have probably been taking advantage of the warm weather to supplement the fondant.

Avoiding another sticky mess

I don’t want to leave the bees with a third of a super of ivy honey, particularly when the rest of the super is a big empty space they would have to heat. However, I also don’t want to mess about cutting it all away or – worse – wasting all their efforts.

A small hole

Therefore, having removed the queen excluder and the empty fondant wrapper I placed a new crownboard and empty super back on the hives with brace comb. I modified the crownboard to reduce the hole to about a single bee width.

Regular readers will know that modified almost always means either gaffer tape or Correx.

I’ve branched out this time and instead used the side of a cardboard box of fondant for one hive. If this works I’ll claim it was a well thought out experiment. If it doesn’t I’ll claim I was pushed for time and had no Correx or gaffer tape with me 8.

Having done all this I added back the original crownboard with the attached brace comb and closed the hive up securely.

The intention here was to make the stores in the brace comb appear as though it was outside the hive. I expect the bees to relocate the nectar from the brace comb – none of it was capped yet – to the brood box, as and when space become available.

No top ventilation please

Finally, reinforcing the point I made recently about the dislike bees have for top ventilation, every single Abelo crownboard “vent” was gummed up solidly with propolis. 

I’ve got the message loud and clear. No matchsticks needed here.

Scratch and sniff reposition

Apivar strips need to be placed in the edges of the brood nest, at least two frames apart and in diametrically opposing corners of the hive.

But in mid-August the brood nest is a lot larger than it is a month later. As the brood nest shrinks, the strips get further and further away from the main concentration of the bees in the hive.

In an active hive stuffed with bees this probably isn’t a major issue. However, to achieve maximum exposure of the bees – particularly the young bees that Varroa like to hang out with and that are concentrated around the brood nest – it makes sense to reposition the strips midway through the treatment period.

Apivar strip placement as the brood nest shrinks

Apivar treatment takes 6-10 weeks. The actual wording is something like “The larger the brood is, the longer the strips should be left in the limit of 10 weeks”. I usually treat for 9-10 weeks; my colonies are all pretty strong at the end of the summer.

But strips left for that long in the hive often get gummed up with propolis and wax.

Apivar strip efficacy is probably impaired by all that propolis and wax

I therefore spend a few minutes scraping the strips clean of gunk 9 and then reposition them in the hive, adjacent to the – now shrunken – brood nest.

There are studies showing that this scratching and repositioning of the Apivar strips marginally increases the devastation wreaked on the mite population.

Apivar scratch and sniff repositioning studies

And that can only be a good thing™.

More heavy lifting

I returned to the west coast after two long days of driving, beekeeping and meetings 10 having collected a further 125 kg of fondant en route. 

The following day a pallet of jars were delivered from C Wynne Jones. I get the square jars I like – and, more importantly, my customers like – from there. Because of my remote location the ‘free delivery’ comes with a hefty surcharge, so it makes sense to buy a reasonable number at once.

Unfortunately the courier transported them on a 36 ton artic, and there was slightly less than no chance whatsoever that it would be able to negotiate our ~300 metre, 1 in 5 driveway.

I’d had a barely decipherable call (wrong mobile network) from the driver in the morning as he arrived on the peninsula but heard nothing more. I presumed he was still negotiating the ~18 miles of single track road to get here.

Either that or he’d got no phone reception.

I was right on both counts.

He knocked at the door having been unable to call me, but had abandoned the lorry in the road and walked up the hill to the house. 

What a star.

With thanks to Palletline

In exchange for a jar of honey – to restore his flagging blood sugar levels – he unloaded the pallet in the road and I made four trips by car to collect the boxes.

Beekeeping is a high-volume pastime 11 … everything takes up a lot of space.

I think I need to find another location for the canoe that occupies one side of the shed.

In between all the heavy lifting …

And canoeing with the dolphins in the loch is the other thing I’ve been enjoying now the majority of the beekeeping is winding down for the year.



  1. At least most of the them … I can think of a couple of notable exceptions.
  2. Or, that’s my recollection … it’s last year since I saw this functionality and my memory may be playing tricks with me. It might not even be Zoom at all. Put me right in the Comments if you know …
  3. Or glaringly highlighting the thing I’ve described particularly badly.
  4. For those of you who join these talks while eating a late dinner, please turn off the microphone and webcam!
  5. At least, it hasn’t the last couple of times I’ve used it … but the day this post appears I’m talking using GoToMeeting to the High Wycombe BKA, so perhaps I’ll be proved wrong. This talk is also notable as some of the audience will be in a church hall … hopefully well provisioned with tea and biscuits.
  6. Though the new shed will take a further 327 years …
  7. It’s a little more complicated than that, but still takes no more than 2 minutes per hive.
  8. Which, whilst true, would also highlight the shambolic nature of my bee bag … so you might not hear anything more about this again.
  9. For new beekeepers this is a catch-all technical beekeeping term you are well advised to learn.
  10. With just enough time for a cup of tea and piece of toast (and honey) before my evening talk to the North Shropshire BKA.
  11. Obsession?

28 thoughts on “Winding down

  1. Linda Sealey

    your post brought back memories of our trips to my parents’ house in Salen, driving along the single track road as dawn was breaking with four sleeping children in the back. Wish they hadn’t moved, we all remember lovely times there.
    lucky you!

    1. David Post author

      Hello Linda

      Yes … it’s a stunning part of the world. The light on the hills, the clouds, the changing colours of the trees, the wildlife and the coastline. It’s wonderful.

      Loch Sunart

      It’s remote but remarkably civilised these days. Fast fibre, Morrison’s deliveries, reasonable mobile coverage and excellent honey for sale in Salen Jetty Shop 😉


      1. Linda Sealey

        Thank you for the wonderful photo David, my parents’ bungalow was just before the jetty shop with the garden going down to the Loch
        Happy days!

        1. David Post author

          Hi Linda … the only problem with that spot would be the gasping sound you’d hear when I try and portage my canoe from the slipway back to the car 😉
          Happy Days indeed.

    1. David Post author

      Hi Kerry

      LOL indeed … and guess how I learnt how much easier this makes things?

      The hard way, like everything else 🙁

      I only use strong framed wire QE’s for this. The floppy plastic ones aren’t much use. If I’ve not got enough of the strong QE’s I simply cut a 1″ wide slot in the plastic on the side of the fondant block (rather than opening the entire block face down). The bees still have access, but there’s less to get stuck down onto the top bars of the frames.

      But I much prefer to use the QE … it makes going back into the colony (for example to recover the Apivar strips) so much easier 🙂


  2. Janey Bolton

    Another informative and interesting article – thank you. Regarding the Apivar strips – I need to reposition and scratch them this weekend but I’m loath to go into the brood nest at this time of year. Which do you think is the higher risk, removing a frame to get some space to slide the other frames about to do the repositioning, or just pulling the strips out and jiggling them back in between two different frames – with the worry of damaging the queen if she happens to be in that exact spot? Many thanks.

    1. David Post author

      Hello Janey

      Removing the outer frame and then splitting the rest at the Apivar strip should cause no problems at all. The Q won’t be anywhere near the outer frame as it should be wall-to-wall sealed stores. Remove the strip, scrape it down, re-split next to the brood nest, insert the strip (gently) and close them up. Job done!


  3. Becky

    Hi David,
    Thanks for your great blog, it is now my ‘go to’ for any beekeeping information. I put my apivar strips in in September 1st, so I should be able to remove them around the beginning of November. Do you think I would still need to treat with oxalic acid if there is a brood break around that time? Or should I leave the Oxalic acid until December? I am in Hampshire and it has been very mild and very dry so the bees have been active and the queen is laying well. Thanks for the great varroa talk you gave our association last month😁

    1. David Post author

      Hi Becky

      The ‘midwinter’ treatment should be when the colony is broodless or when it has the minimum amount of brood in the winter. If that coincides with early November then there’s probably not a lot to be gained by waiting … the Apivar will not be 100% effective, no miticide is. However, if there’s brood present I’d keep a close eye on the weather and the cappings dropping through the OMF and try and work out when the sealed brood is at a minimal level.

      Delighted you enjoyed the Varroa talk.


  4. Helen

    I used to live in Lancashire circa 800 ft above sea level …. yes the bees were in reach of the heather,… my very first attempt to extract my very first harvest …. . all my precious first frames carefully uncapped, I was getting quite good by the end …. popped into the manual extractor …. vast effort to spin it … and … nothing came out . I did not have a heather press . I hand squeezed all those frames …… I never ‘did’ anything at the local honey shows …… my honey was lovely but a mix of floral and heather no good for the heather class, and rejected out of the other classes for the presence of the heather, now here in Scotland I am still a mix hey ho !!!!!

    1. David Post author

      Hi Helen

      I seem to remember that spinning clear summer honey in my first manual extractor involved a vast effort as well 😉

      You make a very good point about mixed forage … it often makes for really lovely honey, but falls foul of the artificial restrictions that honey shows impose. I’d encourage your local beekeeping association/county to have a “best in blind tasting” category. You just need some sleeves to hide the honey.

      Or, do what I do, ignore the honey show altogether and just enjoy eating, gifting and selling your lovely honey 🙂


  5. Jon Sealy

    Hi David

    I have been reading your blogs for several years now and they have been hugely helpful. Thank you !
    As regards your latest post and how you propose to deal with the uncapped honey in brace comb I seem to recall you previously suggesting that you should nadir it underneath the brood box? Which is more effective?

    1. David Post author

      Hello Jon

      If it was a full super with frames I’d have nadired it. However, this is brace comb hanging from the underside of a crownboard. If I put it under the brood box there would be a crownboard between the bottom of the frames and the hive entrance. I don’t see an easy way to do this that wouldn’t disrupt normal hive activity. Placing it in an empty super hanging down would leave a large, empty and probably undefended space (part full of honey) below the brood box. Inverting it in an empty super under the brood box would result in the honey running out under gravity (it was uncapped). Both would have left a board with no holes in it – though I could have opened one – between the bees and the entrance.

      I regularly leave bees wet cappings, or wax/honey from crushing and straining, above the crownboard (above the broodbox) and they take it down very well. As long as it’s separated from the brood nest the bees get the impression it’s ‘outside’ and move it ‘inside’.


  6. Gregor Bell

    Hi David. Great blog but footnotes inserted at the end lose context and therefore relevancy. Plus can’t be @sd scrolling up and down.
    Upvoting questions can cause those with questions relevant to them or their area being brushed aside. The best questions are rarely the most asked. Look forward to your next blog. ATB cheers cheers. Gregor

    1. David Post author

      Hello Gregor

      Check again how the footnotes work … the superscripted number is hyperlinked to the footnote and at the end of the footnote there is a little hyperlinked ‘return arrow’ that takes you right back to the place you started. Simples. Footnotes are a necessity for asides, quips and references.

      You’re right about the upvoting of Q’s but with finite time for a Q&A session it does at least ensure that the Q’s most in the audience are interested in will get tackled. With small audiences it’s usually possible to answer all the questions. With 300 compromises usually have to be made …


  7. Jeremy Quinlan

    On your recommendation I tried Apivar this year. The strips can be hung either using the V cut in their tops or by using cocktail sticks. I used the V. Only trouble is, it doesn’t then hang vertically but rests on the comb. Where it does, I found the comb nibbled away & hard & black. That small area won’t be of much use next year. I didn’t like to see that so probably won’t use Apivar again.

    1. David Post author

      Hello Jeremy

      They’ll patch up the comb as the broodnest expands and during the first strong nectar flow of the season (when they ‘build comb for fun’). By June it probably won’t be obvious which frames the Apivar strip was adjacent to. I’ve seen the very same thing but consider it a small price to pay – actually insignificant as they’ll make it good – for effective mite treatment. As you suggest, you can avoid this altogether if you hang the strip on a cocktail strip or from a small piece of wire.

      Every miticide has pros and cons. You have to weigh these up and come to a judgement as to which overall benefits the colony the most. In my view, for my bees, in my environment, Apivar is currently the best option by a significant margin. I would always favour better mite control as I remain convinced that mites – and the viruses they transmit – are the greatest threat to colony health and productivity.


  8. Bridget Clyde

    Hi David
    During removal of heather honey recently we noticed one hive had no brood or even capped brood. We don’t usually “ inspect “ at this time of year, supers off, treatment and feed on and that’s it so never seen this before. Checked the hive again after 10 days and still nothing, temper excellent, polished cells and adequate stores. So checked another 4 hives and all the same except one that had a handful of capped brood on one frame. They can’t all be Q- but all hive strong and couldn’t find any Q’s. do you think this is an early brood break? I’ve been told the Q may not now lay for quite some time and virgins can be taken by the hive through winter till drones are about (saw a couple of drones still in one box). Any thoughts? It’s been such an amazing honey harvest for us this year, I’d hate to think I’m loosing my best hives. (3 of them were in the bee shed) 2 outside.
    Many thanks

    1. David Post author

      Hi Bridget

      I don’t have enough experience with bees that forage on heather I’m afraid. I’ve only got 5 colonies on the west coast and this is the first season they’ve really been established here. I checked them all when I removed the (disappointingly few) heather supers on the 13th of September. All had laying queens, with brood in all stages. I confirmed the presence of eggs even if I didn’t bother actually searching for the queen. At most they had brood on about 5 frames, but it wasn’t wall-to-wall on any of them. Now, a fortnight later, they’re still out and about and bringing in some late pollen which I suspect is ivy. In the heat of the day (Ha!) there are good numbers of bees out, including obvious orientation flights.

      I’d be surprised if your colonies are all queenless simultaneously. That sometimes happens during the swarm season if things get out of hand, but I can’t see all superseding this late in the season. It sounds like an early brood break, presumably induced by the heather finishing and there being nothing to replace it. Is there pollen still being collected? Do you have any ivy nearby?

      I’d be surprised if a virgin Q could overwinter. At least, I’d be surprised if she could overwinter and then successfully mate. For two reasons … the first is that, after emergence, queens mature before going on a mating flight. There is then a ‘window’ of a few weeks after which she is too old to get successfully mated. I don’t know what stops working, and I’ve no idea physiologically why this happens. During the summer season I usually reckon a queen that’s not mated 4 weeks from emergence is probably dud, and if 5 weeks is reached then there’s no chance. Maybe this maturation could be slowed during the winter? I don’t know. It’s certainly never happened in my hives.

      The second reason I think she would not successfully get mated is the availability of drones early enough in the season. There are usually one or two good mating days long before the drones really become available. Even if there were drones available on a warm April day, there probably wouldn’t be enough to successfully populate the DCA’s to ensure a) that the queen finds them and b) to ensure that she mates with sufficient drones.

      If you’re feeding fondant perhaps you could supplement it with a jar or two full of thin syrup in a contact feeder to kick start the impression there’s still a nectar flow. I’ve not enough experience with feeding thick syrup to know how much stimulatory effect this has on queen laying.

      Post an update if you work out what’s happening.


      1. ian Robinson

        Hello David

        I have enjoyed your recent varroa articles, here, in BBKA News and I was lucky enough to be allowed access to your talk to WBKA. I have a linked question on which I would appreciate your thoughts.
        One of the challenges you discuss with the use of Thymol products such as Apiguard for varroa control is the need for a reasonable ambient temperature. My assumption though is that the temperature at the top of a brood next where the product is placed is going to be quite a bit warmer than the external hive temperature, particularly if one uses an insulated crown board. I appreciate that ideally a study would be needed to assess the effectiveness of the product at differentt hive temeratures but I would appreciate your thoughts about how hive temperatures may allow the product to be used later in the year.

        On a different topic, just a couple of thoughts on the comment from Bridget last week about colonies being broodless when they come back from the heather. I take my bees to the heather in Northumberland and for the last 4 or 5 years they have always come back totally broodless suggesting the queen went off lay at least 3 weeks previously. I don’t know if this is caused by the cooler temperature on the moors or just major focus from the bees on exploiting the heather. I find that the queens tend to come back into lay during late September/early October once they are back from the moors and use the opportunity of the broodless period to treat the colonies with Apibioxal. I have “peaked” into the colonies at the end of October and find that by then they tend to have 1-2 frames with sealed brood by then. I was initially worried about the potential lack of winter bees since the colonies go to the heather at the end of July/early August but they always come through the winter well after a trip to the moors so I have stopped worrying.

        1. David Post author

          Hello Ian

          There are some neat studies of the temperature inside the hive outside the brood nest but around the cluster. The temperature drops quite rapidly if I remember correctly. The temperature minimum for Apiguard is defined by the need for the colony to be active. If you took your argument to a logical conclusion the temperature near/next to the brood nest on a freezing day outside should still be enough to exceed the 15°C or whatever that is needed. But the reality is that the colony will be tightly clustered and therefore essentially inactive, the thymol won’t be spread around the hive/cluster and the mites will escape … laughing manically like Dick Dastardly no doubt (sorry if you’re too young to appreciate that cultural reference).

          Vita tell me that Apiguard “has been proved to work well at lower daily temperatures but mite kill is slower, depending on honey bee activity, and treatment duration is longer.” Unfortunately I’m not sure that this data is available (I don’t have it) and I’m not sure how much slower or how much longer. I’d also start to be concerned about issues with the queen not laying for long periods.

          Interesting comments about the broodlessness of colonies coming back from the heather (and subsequent ‘recovery’). I have a lot to learn. I hope that puts Bridget’s mind at ease 🙂


        2. Bridget Clyde

          Well that’s reassuring. I’ve now asked the question of the 4 most experienced bee keepers I know, who probably together have at least 150 years experience of bees on heather and have had five answers (including this one from Ian) all saying the same thing “don’t panic Mr Mannering”. It seems like it’s quite common, they have all seen it before.
          Phew – thanks folks and that old saying, ask three beekeepers and get three different answers is thankfully wrong!

          1. David Post author

            For readers not familiar with the quote it’s from Dad’s Army (1968-’77), a TV sitcom. Captain Mainwaring (played by Arthur Lowe) was the fictional Home Guard Captain – and part time bank manager – holding the gun below:

            Don't panic

            Lance Corporal Jack Jones (on the left) was played by Clive Dunn and had the catchphrase “Don’t panic”.

            You had to be there 😉

            Pleased you can stop worrying now Bridget …


  9. Paul Lindstrom

    Canoeing with dolphins sounds lovely. We are just back from the Hydra island in Greece, and my wife saw a dolphin at a distance, but I missed it. But instead I saw a lot of interesting looking fish when snorkling, including a quite big octopus. Nature is amazing.

    1. David Post author

      Hello Paul

      No photos of the dolphins as – for once – my camera was out of reach and the loch is over 100 metres deep. I didn’t fancy ‘an early swim’ (coupled with the near-inevitable hypothermia) so just sat grinning like an eejit as they head and tailed around me 🙂

      I’ve done a lot of snorkelling …

      Powder blue surgeonfish, Maldives

      … in warmer waters 😉


      1. Paul Lindstrom

        Next year I have decided to invest in a GoPro underwater camera and try and get photos and videos of the more spectacular fish I hope to encounter when snorkling. And possibly re-encounter the Cormorant I saw hunting fish at the bottom of a cave I swam into. But some of those moments might never come back, and we have to store them safely in our own analogue memory.

        1. David Post author

          Hi Paul

          Sometimes the analog memories are the best … no murkiness in the water, no pesky jellyfish photobombing your shot of the manta ray. The GoPro’s are impressive, but I reckon I don’t “Go” enough and am certainly not “Pro” enough to do them justice.

          Have fun


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