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Posts Tagged ‘Bee Suit’

Mary Beth and I have been trying to push ourselves to blog more often so in the past few months we’ve created several regular features. One is Sunday Zen, a photographic time-out where we go into the garden, usually ours, but sometimes other public and private gardens, and take photographs that reflect our mood. Tuesday’s Tips is where we share what we’ve learned to help make gardening and beekeeping easier and more productive. Another is Wordless Wednesday which honestly isn’t much different from our Sunday post, but we take part in this blogger tradition because we just love posting our photos.

Which brings us to the Garden Journal, which should become a more or less regular post on Thursdays. MB and I noticed that our recent postings have been short on the kinds of stories that we love to read on other bloggers’ sites — stories about the great stuff that happens in gardens. So we decided to get back to doing more of that. But, being kind of scattered, we need to actually put it on the list and have it tied to a specific day to get it done. Kind of pathetic we know, but whatever it takes, right?

Here is our first Garden Journal.

Mary Beth: I’m visiting family back East (on Block Island) and could not have timed it better — it’s been the hottest period on record. (Why can’t my luck be this good with the lottery?) Despite the crushing heat I have been enjoying myself and this morning the weather has cooled down a bit, thankfully.

If you’ll remember, before I left for Colorado I decided to put a “second story” on the TBH to make sure my bees didn’t get honeybound. I was so happy when I checked on my “girls” and saw that they’re doing so well. They’ve filled out all of the bars for except the last two of the TBH, but they seem to be having a problem going up into the second story.

I decided to help them out a bit and put one of the bars that’s full of honey up in the super. That bar of honeycomb was deeper than the super, so I let it extend down into the TBH by removing the bar below it thinking that it might even help to get them up there. They seemed to be ok with that and hopefully they’ll get the idea soon. It looks to me like they have about 50-60 lbs of honey already and the hive’s full of brood too. I only saw one bee with a mite, but other than that they’re looking healthy.

I so wanted to take a bar of honey for myself but was afraid of the dry weather the East has been having — if the nectar flow slows down they’ll need all they have collected.

I apologize for not taking many photos, and the ones I did take are not that great, but I was so hot in my bee suit. I kept thinking I should have told someone I was working on the bees just in case I went down! When I finally peeled that sucker off I was soaking wet and feeling more than a little woozy. It was a good excuse to go to the beach with my sister Pam and swim in the ocean.  The water was so beautiful and we bobbed around laughing like kids.

So happy to report the bees are doing great! They were so gentle and it was pleasure to work with them. I’ll check on them before I leave and see how they are responding to the small change I made in the hive.

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Mary Beth: It was a year ago that I got serious about beekeeping; I had just put in my order for a package of honeybees and I was so excited. But I really had no clue about what I was getting myself into (neither did my husband!). Sure I’d read a lot and spent countless hours learning as much as could, trying get a feel for what it was going to be like. And you newbies will do the same thing. Be forewarned though, all the research is very helpful, but beekeeping is really a hands-on kind of thing. No amount of research is going prepare you for the rush you’ll get when you see them for real in their screened box, or when you dump them in their new hive, or when they start to build the first honeycomb, or… I could go on and on.

As I went through this first year of learning to be a beekeeper, I kept reminding myself to make note of the important things I wanted to pass on to those of you who are thinking of getting your own hives — you’re going to make mistakes, you’re going to get stung, and there will be times when you’re going to feel seriously overwhelmed. But you are going to love those bees!

Here are more tips and some words of encouragement to all the newbies scrambling to get every piece of information you can before your bees arrive.

Ray building the Top Bar Hive

  • Consider a Top Bar Hive, you’ll spend a lot less time and money preparing for your bees. Did I say a lot more money?!  I cringe at what I could have saved if I’d known at the beginning what I know now about the TBH.
  • Have your hive set up before the bees arrive.
  • The hive entrance should be facing the south to southeast if you can.
  • Bees will fly into and out of the hive in the direction that the entrance is facing, so make sure the bee flight path is directed away from sidewalks, streets, etc.
  • If you have to deal with close neighbors or walkways, etc., place a fence or a barrier a few feet away from the hive entrance. That will make the bees fly upwards and out of harm’s way.
  • Spray the right amount sugar water on your bees before dumping them into the hive. It’s not a soaking spray, but it should be enough that they will be too busy licking themselves off to start swarming around your face and distracting you as you get them into their new hive.
  • Use your protective gear. I tried not using any protective gear that first day. Although the bees weren’t aggressive — they didn’t have anything to protect yet — I got so nervous when I was dumping them into the hive that I had to stop what I was doing to run for my suit. The whole operation would have been much smoother if I hadn’t been so worried about getting stung.
  • If you’re using a smoker don’t rush preparing it. It’ll take 20-30 minutes to get it going and to have a decent amount of coals to get you through your inspections. There’s nothing worse than seeing the girls lining up to take a shot at you and finding that your smoker is out.
  • When it’s time to inspect the hive, think about what you’re going to be looking for BEFORE you open up the hive. Are you saying, “DUH, Mary Beth!”, right now? Well maybe, but I was often so fascinated, distracted, or rushed to get things done that I didn’t remember to check for important signs during the inspection. Write it down so you’ll remember. I stressed myself a few times, realizing after I’d closed the lid that there was something I forgot to do and you really don’t want to have to go back in again. It’s not good for you or the bees.

The most important thing to remember as you do your research is an old saying that goes, “Ask 10 beekeepers the same question and you’ll get 11 different answers.” Keep in mind that every region has different challenges be it pests, weather, nectar flow, or any number of other things. Your best bet is to absorb all the information you read and then use your best judgement and follow your gut. That’s the way to make sure you’re doing your best for the bees.

A lot of this information, plus pictures illustrating the process from building the hives to installing the bees and more, is in earlier posts on this blog, along with some great resources that I found very useful.

One thing I know for sure is that you are going to really enjoy this journey. Good luck and, please, if you have any questions, just ask. I would love to help you out.
The Hippie Shack Bee Update

I checked on the bees through the TBH window and found it was warm enough today for them to break cluster. I also noticed they still had food left. They were feeding and roaming around slowly, and a few were taking a cleansing flight. I was happy to see that there seemed to be quite a few bees in the hive. I went inside feeling very hopeful that they will survive this cold winter!

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Bees from the third swarm moving into Green Hive.

Bees from the third swarm moving into Green Hive.

Mary Beth: Crazy days! For a couple of weeks things were so chaotic that I got the point where I didn’t want anything to do with my bees. Thankfully they’ve settled down, but those bad girls sure gave me a run for the money. At the end of the swarming, four in all, I ended up with three hives — the original Old Blue, home to a much smaller, much crabbier bunch of bees; Hippie Shack, the Top Bar Hive which houses the very laid-back bees from the first swarm; and Green Hive, the bees from the third, much smaller swarm. The second swarm was the one that got away.

I’m not sure what will happen over the winter, but based on what I’ve seen in the last few days I’d predict that the Hippie Shack will make it through just fine. I’m a little concerned about Old Blue, but if they can expand their numbers enough I think they’ll limp through. Unfortunately Green Hive looks underpopulated and there really isn’t very much activity in the hive, so I’m thinking that they may not have the resources to survive the long, cold Block Island winter.

Old Blue on the left and Hippie Shack to the right.

Old Blue on the left and Hippie Shack to the right.

Swarms aside, the thing I’ve found most interesting about this first bee season is that the honeybees haven’t been hanging out in the garden much. I had high hopes that I’d be watching the girls working hard to pollinate my vegetables, fruits and ornamentals, but that hasn’t been the case.  It’s most likely because I don’t have large enough patches of any one type of plant. Honeybees typically visit only one kind of plant during each outing and, while my garden has lots of plants, they are probably too scattered to make it worth their while. So instead of heading to the garden, the girls been gathering nectar and pollen from the plants in the swamp and beyond.

Rose petal in the swamp behind the hive.

Rose petals floating in the swamp behind the hives.

This week the milkweed is in full bloom and the bees are going crazy for it. They are working this area all day. One very curious thing I’ve noticed is that some of the bees get stuck to the leaves. They eventually work themselves free, but the poor things kind of flop around for a while until they get their feet unstuck. Has anyone else seen this?

One of the girls working the milkweed.

One of the girls working the milkweed.

Poor little bee with her foot stuck to the milkweed leaf.

Poor little bee with her foot stuck to the milkweed leaf.

Another thing that I’ve noticed is that the real workers in my garden have been the bumblebees. These plump fuzzballs have been feverishly pollinating the garden while my prissy honeybees wander off in search of greener pastures. I’ll have them to thank for my tomatoes, squash, beans and the like. Kudos to the bumblebees!

Marybeth puts sage and lavender into the smokepot.

Marybeth puts sage and lavender into the smokepot.

Barbara and I suited up and opened Hippie Shack to see how the hive was doing. We were so relieved to see how very hard at work they’ve been building their new hive, which is about halfway full of comb. And my worries about a virgin queen were laid to rest when we found lots of larvae in the comb cells. There was also a decent amount of honey.

Workers tending to bee larvae on the TBH comb.

Workers tending to bee larvae on the TBH comb.

The Top Bar Hive, what some call a more natural hive, is designed to let the bees build their combs without a foundation. Most of the combs in the Hippie Shack were nice and straight and there was only a little wild burr. What little there was was easily removed with a small tool I made from a piece of copper.

MB lifted out a few of the bars so we could inspect the comb. This one is still a work in progress. A finished TBH comb extends all the way to each side and tapers to a squared-off bottom, matching the shape of the hive box.

MB lifted out a few of the bars so we could inspect the comb. This one is still a work in progress. A finished TBH comb extends all the way to each side and tapers to a squared-off bottom, matching the shape of the hive box.

When I removed the burr a little honey got on my glove, the tool, and the wall of the hive. The girls rushed in to recover it — no way they were letting any of it go to waste.

The bees were determined to recover every last bit of honey that got smeared onto my tool and glove.

The bees were determined to recover every last bit of honey that got smeared onto my tool and glove.

My biggest challenge with the TBH was putting the hive back together without squishing anybody. As you can see from the pictures, the bees were everywhere and that made it really hard to slide the bars back together. Unfortunately I did crush one of the sister bees and everyone, including me, got all worked up. I had to smoke them a bit more to get them calm enough to close up the hive. Too bad that smoke doesn’t work on me. I get really upset when that happens, but the bees seemed to take it in stride and they were back to business as usual a few minutes after the top was back on.

Trying to move the bars back into place without crushing any bees was extremely challenging.

Trying to move the bars back into place without crushing any bees was extremely challenging.

My girls have their work cut out for them. Over the next few months they’ll need to reproduce enough workers to lay in a nice amount of honey to get them through the winter months. Hopefully it’ll be smooth sailing from here.

One of my largest garden beds.

One of my largest garden beds.

Deer News: From looking at Tweets and search keywords it appears that deer troubles have increased a lot in recent weeks. The deer fence that Ray and I built around our garden has kept the deer out of the vegetable garden, but the flower beds are still vulnerable. For these areas I use an organic spray recipe that I got a few years ago in my Master Gardener class. I’ve had great results with it and highly recommend that anyone having trouble with these pesky, destructive animals give it a try. I’m not guaranteeing anything, with deer you never can, but this concoction will give you a fighting chance. Be forewarned, its pretty stinky, but it’s definitely worth the trouble. Try it out and let me know how it works for you.

Deer Spray Recipe:

There are many recipes for homemade deer spray online. Here’s how I make it.

4 raw eggs
1 tablespoon or more of hot sauce, the hotter the better
1 teaspoon dish soap
2 teaspoons of garlic juice or garlic powder
2 teaspoons of white pepper

1. Blend all ingredients in a blender with a quart of water. It helps to strain it before putting it into your sprayer because it will clog it, which is really annoying.

2. Pour in a gallon sprayer, add more water to top it off to a gallon and let it sit out of the sun for a couple of days so it gets good and smelly.

3. Spray your plants with a fine mist to coat all the foliage and flowers.

4. Respray new growth and after it’s rained.

I no longer measure anything out because I make gallons of this stuff every season. I use it on my gardens and all of my client’s gardens as well. I think the secret is to switch it up a bit from time to time, because deer will get used to the spray after a while and it won’t be as effective.

So you should add things like a few drops of clove oil, peppermint oil, cinnamon oil, or 1 cup of milk, etc. to change the smell and taste a little. I’ve been adding a sliver of Irish Springs soap to my batches lately and this seems to work really well. I find that the deer may take a bite here and there, but after tasting the spray they move on.

We’ll be posting more photos from the garden soon. Meanwhile, Barbara’s back on the West Coast working on a special post about farmer’s markets. Until then, bee well!

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Mary Beth: How is it when you think your life couldn’t get anymore hectic, it does? It’s been raining like crazy in these parts and that’s messed up my schedule in a big way. I’ve been trying to squeeze my clients in on the days it doesn’t rain, but there’s way too much work to do and not enough time which is just driving me to distraction. So, on this rare and very busy sunny day guess what my hive decided to do.

I went home for a lunch break and walked down to the hive to say hello to my bees. Hmm, something wasn’t right. Little clumps of bees were scattered on the ground near the hive, which I’ve never seen before. I touched the clumped up bees and they didn’t fly, they just kind of scootched out of the way still holding on to each other. And, strangely, in spite of the nice weather, there weren’t many bees flying in and out of the hive.

I wondered, “Are they sick? Did someone spray chemicals nearby?” I started to go back to work, but something was really nagging me. I looked at the clover near the hive and there were no bees working the flowers. Walked down to the swamp to look at the blackberry blooms, again no bees. Really odd!

As I was making my way back to the hive I heard buzzing, a lot of buzzing, and, really, because I have been so exhausted lately I thought, “Wow I’m losing it. Now I’m hearing bees buzzing in my head!” I stopped and looked towards the swamp. Holy S**!

My bees?!

My bees?!

There was a swarm clustered on a branch hanging over the water and it was bigger than I could’ve imagined. Lots of bees — too many. Were they from my hive? Denial briefly took hold, “It can’t be. Bees usually don’t swarm the first year.”  Then panic seized me, the adrenaline started pumping, and my only thought was, “I’ve got to get my bees back!”

Even though I’ve read a lot about catching swarms, let me assure you the theoretical situation is WAY different from being confronted with a boiling mass of bees. Every bit of information I’d stored away was lost in my panic. That panic ramped up as my Internet connection crawled and then I was too worked up to read through any information.

I tore into the shop, running in circles and smashing into stuff. I took a few breaths to compose myself. (What I really needed was someone to slap me like you see in the movies.) I grabbed a super and attached some strips of wood saying a little prayer that Ray wasn’t planning on using that wood for a project. (Of course, he was. Sorry, Honey.) I added a piece of plywood for a bottom, then made a top with screen-covered holes.

My "in a hurry" hive.

My "in a hurry" hive.

I grabbed my suit, muck boots, gloves, loppers and ran down to the swamp. Stared at the swarm. Damn! I needed something to put the supers on. Back to the shop. Ran around in circles a few more times. This time my dogs joined in. “Look, Mom’s playing a new game, let’s chase her!” Grabbed a garbage can and a pruning saw. Ran back down to the swamp, dogs chasing me. Ugh, poison ivy was everywhere and the bees were attached to some of it. Sh**, sh**, sh**!

I pulled on my suit and my muck boots and splashed into the swamp. Splashed back out of the swamp and dragged the dogs into the cottage. (The last thing I needed was for them to get stung.) Barreled back down to the swamp. Turned the garbage can over, dropped the super on top and tried to shake the bees into the box. Didn’t work so well and things got a bit wild with the bees flying and crawling all over me. (Breathe! Remember to breathe!)

I sawed through the poison ivy and bayberry branches and carried everything onto dry ground. Wrangled the bees into the box and put a super with frames of foundation on top of that. Next I drilled a hole in the bottom and attached a feeder on top. A little overboard I know, but I wasn’t thinking clearly. So far so good, but then I remembered the poison ivy. I stripped down and took a shower. I hate poison ivy!

I called Ray, “Um, Sweetie, what time do you think you’ll be home tonight?”  Ray asked, “Why?” “We need to build a hive.” Silence. “What?!” I told him the story and it was painfully obvious that he wasn’t happy about coming home after work to do more work.

Coming in for lunch, Ray took one look at me and said, “What’s up with your eyes?”  “Oh no,” I thought, “poison ivy rash already?!” “They’re the craziest green I’ve ever seen!”  “Adrenaline, I think.” And we started to laugh about our crazy day.

Ray asked me how much it would cost to just buy a hive. “Too much.” I sighed. I told him it would be easier for me if he’d build a brood box so I could just slip the bees onto the new hive. But no, he told me he only had time to build me a Top Bar Hive. Ohh. Hmm. Okay…

Ray building the Top Bar Hive.

Ray building the Top Bar Hive.

Two nights later, it’s pretty much done. I need to make more bars, but this will do very nicely for now. It’s beautiful and Ray wondered why we didn’t we do it this way the first time. Compared to the Langstroth Beehive, the Top Bar Hive was fast, easy, and no expense because he made it from scrap wood. Let me say this, if you’re thinking about getting a new hive, make a Top Bar. It even has a little window to so you can look inside and watch your bees. Aside from it being one more thing to distract me from work, it’s brilliant!

The new Top Bar Hive that Ray built is a beauty.

The new Top Bar Hive that Ray built is a beauty.

Peeking into my contraption of a holding box, I saw that the bees had built some comb and that feisty little queen had started laying eggs less than 48 hours after swarming. Amazing! I shook each frame in to the new TBH and filled the cool little feeder we made, copying a clever design we’d found on the Internet.

Cleverly designed feeder for Top Bar Hive.

Cleverly designed feeder for Top Bar Hive.

Now I have two hives just as I’d hoped when I started out. A word of warning here, be careful what you wish for because it may come at an inconvenient time! I was planning all along to have a Langstroth Hive and, eventually, a Top Bar Hive. Just not this way.

My bees seem happy with their new home.

My bees seem happy with their new home.

Looking through the window the next day it seemed like the swarm was planning to stay. I saw lots of flecks of wax on the floor of the hive and the bees have spread out over the bars. I’m crossing my fingers and hoping they stay put.

Oh, and the old hive? Stay tuned.

Two Hives!

Two Hives!

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MB: Wow! The last two days have been a jumble of excitement and nervousness. Even though I obsessively watched videos and read my books and websites over and over, I was still afraid I would do something wrong, like forget what to do in the middle of putting the bees in the hive. It felt kind of like those dreams you have about studying for a test in college, but then forgetting everything on test day — oh wait, that actually happened. You know what I’m talking about, same feeling. But mostly I was excited that the bees were finally here and I would finally be a beekeeper!

When I picked up the bees on Saturday night I was mesmerized, there were so many and they were one big ball of energy. They were all huddled up, clinging to each other, and their queen, making a lovely, low thrumming sound. There were even a few bees outside the cage who must have been left behind when the cage was nailed shut, but they held onto the outside of the screen the whole way to Block Island.  As we drove home, I held the cage in my lap. Oh! I love my bees already!

They spent the night in the workshop next to my seedlings. I thought the grow mat that was under the seedlings would give off some warmth, which it must have because they moved closer to that side of the cage.

This is how they were shipped.

This is how they were shipped.

On Sunday morning we were lucky to have an invitation to watch an experienced Island beekeeper install his bees into his new hives. It’s always good to get a visual and some great tips from someone who’s done it before. That said, it did not prevent me from making a small, but critical mistake when I went home to install my bees.

Back in the garden, I decided not to wear my bee suit or gloves. I was very organized and things were running smoothly until that moment when I realized that the bees were a bit more active than they should have been. I put the queen in the hive and began to empty the cage full of bees into the hive. (See the step-by-step pictures below.) Quite a few bees started to buzz around and some landed on me. They didn’t sting or even seem aggressive, there was just a lot of them flying around. When one landed on my cheek, I thought, “Oh boy, my face is going to look great if this girl decides to go for it!”  To my surprise, I wasn’t scared of them crawling all over me, but I was a little freaked out that I had spent too much time getting them in the hive. It was at this point that I realized that I had not sprayed enough sugar syrup on my little bees and I decided that it would be best to put on the bee suit. Doing that helped me concentrate on getting the job done.

It was a little overwhelming having bees crawling all over me and waiting to get my first sting, while trying to concentrate on getting the hive back together. Adding to the stress was the presence of my sister Pam (Yes, another sister!) who I’d asked to take pictures. She is deathly afraid of bees, but trusted me when I promised her that the bees would not be flying around that much, nor would they come near her. Oops!

She was a trooper, though. She toughed it out and took great pictures with a steady hand. That’s a primo example of sister love! Thank god she didn’t get stung! It would have been another family story told too many times!

The real lesson here is that I should have SOAKED the bees with sugar syrup, not just mist them a few times as I did. The syrup makes it hard for them to fly around and they are focused on cleaning themselves and their sisters, distracting them from what is happening. I strongly recommend giving those girls a good heavy spraying a few times. Believe me, this a must!

Something you should know about me is that I’m a worry wart and if something is in my care, I take it very seriously. All day long I kept going outside and to see if the bees that had lingered inside the cage had made their way into the hive. I worried that something had gone dreadfully wrong. It was a bit of a relief to see a few of the bees lined up at the entrance of the hive with their butts in the air. It looked funny, but I believe it meant they were releasing a pheromone that tells all the other bees that a safe home had been found and to come on in!  Towards dusk the bees seemed to be calm and almost all of them were inside the hive. I put my ear up to the box and it was humming — a very good sign.

It’s Monday morning. The sun is rising and, praise be, it’s shining on the beehive. On the other hand, there’s ice in the birdbath and it is very windy! Don’t you love April in the Northeast! Hopefully, the bees will get warm enough to want to explore their new surroundings and start building a happy and healthy colony!

Many thanks to all those who have helped me with this wonderful journey into beekeeping!

Things I needed to get started.

Things I needed to get started.

Taking the top off the bee's cage.

Taking the top off the bees' cage.

Taking the top of the cage off reveals the can of sugar syrup that kept the bees fed during their journey and the little box that contains the queen. You can’t quite see it, it’s on the far side of the can.

Punching a hole in the candy plug.

Punching a hole in the candy plug.

Beekeepers use a very ingenious method of keeping the queen, and a few attendants, in her little cage during the trip to the new hive — they insert a little candy plug in the end of the box. I poked a small hole in the plug before I put it into the hive. The worker bees will chew through it and release her.

Positioning the queen's cage in the hive box.

Positioning the queen's cage in the hive box.

I removed several of the foundation frames and hung the queen’s cage in between two of them. I’ll remove the cage in a few days after everyone’s settled in.

Spraying the girls with sugar syrup.

Spraying the girls with sugar syrup.

Here’s where I ran into trouble — though I didn’t know it quite yet. I sprayed the girls with sugar syrup for the second time, but I didn’t use enough. I should have sprayed a LOT more than I did. Note that I’m not wearing my bee suit or my gloves. That won’t last long!

Removing the feeding can.

Removing the feeding can.

Here I’m removing the feeding can. The bees are still pretty mellow, though you can see that they’re eager to get out of the cage. They’re wondering where their queen went.

Pouring the bees into the hive.

Pouring the bees into the hive.

The bees are supposed to kind of pour into the hive. They need a little encouragement. A shake or two should do it.

Bees are flying everywhere!

Bees are flying everywhere!

Whoa! I think we’re in trouble. Sound the alarm. Bees flying around — way too many!! Get the suit!!!

Safe inside the bee suit.

Safe inside the bee suit.

Pouring out the rest of the bees.

Pouring out the rest of the bees.

A closer look at the bees in the frames.

A closer look at the bees in the frames.

Even though some of the bees were flying around, it’s pretty amazing how all they really want to do is get in the hive to be with the queen.

Replacing the frames.

Replacing the frames — very carefully.

Positioning the feeding pan.

Positioning the feeding pan.

The bees need to be fed sugar syrup until the nectar begins to flow and that won’t happen until the weather warms up.

Pouring in the syrup.

Pouring in the syrup.

Putting on an empty super and the hive top.

Putting on an empty super and the hive top.

Some bees remain in the cage.

Some bees remain in the cage.

Not all of the bees wanted to leave the cage. The only thing I could do at this point was to place it close to the hive opening and hope that they would find their way into the hive.

Bees gather at the hive opening.

Bees gather at the hive opening.

And there you have it.  The next step is to do nothing. I’ll need to leave them alone for a few days to get acclimated, to get settled in and to build out the combs so their queen can begin laying eggs. Life in the hive begins!

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