Look at that, honey, isn't that just gorgeous. Seeing the bees build the honey in the Flow Frames, just got some nice full frames there. You can see the capping. They've been doing so well, this hive, collecting the honey from the paperbark flowers. The paperbark gets called the rain tree by the indigenous people here because when it rains, it bursts into flower, anytime from autumn all the way through to spring. So we get these beautiful pulses of nectar throughout the winter, and you can smell the honey as it's being made, as that nectar is being dried, wafting right through the office here at Flow HQ.
Tomorrow is World Bee Day, so we're going to be talking bees today. If you've got questions, put them in the comments below. Also, if you've got questions about Flow Hives or bees in general, put them in the comments and we'll get to answering those.
So it's amazing that World Bee Day is actually on the calendar because that recognises the crucial important part that bees play in pollination in our agriculture. It's not only the European honeybee that has the incredible work and amazing amount of pollination and honey production, it's also those little native bees. We've got almost 20,000 species of native bee around the globe, and those are crucial to pollination of many plant species that we rely on. And without that system, that network of insects and other animals pollinating the flowers, then our whole system grinds to a halt. So we certainly owe it to the bees. So World Bee Day is an important moment to actually think about the importance of these little unsung heroes of our world and recognise them for their part in the whole system that we all completely rely on.
How far do bees fly?
So a single bee might forage up to say 10 kilometres, which is quite a long way, but they generally stay within 3 kilometres or a couple of miles, so that's the distance they fly. And about half of the bees, let's say there's 50,000 bees in a strong colony like this, but half of them or more might go out to the flowers in a day. And each one of those foraging bees might pollinate up to say 2000 flowers in that day, which is absolutely incredible. So if you do the maths on that, it's 50 million flowers that are hive like this could pollinate in a day and that's why humans have dragged the European honeybee all around the world, wherever they go, because they're such extreme pollinators and honey producers. It's really this win-win where we get this beautiful thing we call honey, as well as this amazing amount of pollination, which keeps our whole agricultural system going.
If you added up all of the bee flight, let's say 25,000 foraging bees. And let's say they average about 5km of flight in the day. They can do a lot more, but let's say the average was 5km. Then that works out at something like 125,000 kilometres of flight in a day, which is roughly three times the circumference of the world. Wow. It's just incredible how, how busy bees are. And that's why the saying "busy bees" is so true.
Does keeping honeybees have an impact on wild bees?
I've been keeping both what's called the sugar bag bee here in Australia and the European honeybee. And what I've found is there doesn't seem to be any kind of conflict between them. You see them coexisting on the flowers just fine. However, you do get concern from ecologists, from specialists saying that there could be competing issues. Now, I think what we need to do, especially on World Bee Day, is recognise that it's important we're all working to protect whether it be the European honeybee or the or our native bee species. And it's really important that we don't start in-fighting if you like, because we're all working for a common cause. And the real problem is lack of habitat. And that's due to the widespread human use of land due to the way we've been farming and, and all sorts of things.
So basically it's important that we recognise that we're working towards this common goal of bringing back the habitat of learning to farm in different ways. And that's about the, what the Bee Friendly Farming project is all about, recognising the importance of bees, whether it be the native bee or the European honeybee. And making sure where we're turning back the clock to bring some habitat back because without the habitat, then we start losing species. In Germany they have recorded 70% insect loss, that is so alarming. And these kinds of stats are cropping up around the world. And if we don't do something about it, where we're in grave danger of our whole system, really heading towards collapse. So World Bee Day is to say it’s super important to look after our bees, whether they'd be the native bees or the European honeybees that do the incredible amount of crop pollination that we also depend on for our food chain.
I just installed a five frame nuc in my Flow Hive 2+, should I feed them for a while? (Tennessee, USA)
So that question is best answered by your local beekeepers. They have the answer of whether you should be feeding bees in your area. In this area, we've got general dribs and drabs of flowers all year round, so it doesn't really warrant feeding your bees. However you can, if you want to. But in some areas beekeepers have strategies where they'll get a jump on the season, or perhaps you're going to need to feed them prior to the winter and depending on where you are in the world in order to build up enough stores. So ask your local beekeepers, whether you should be feeding bees in your area.
Look at that beautiful honey pouring out of the hive. It's just perfect, isn't it? It's untouched, it's zero processing, it's ready for the table. It's harvested from a single frame and you'll find the flavours from a single frame will differ. And that's one of the wonderful things about our Flow Hive invention is being able to harvest multiple flavours from the hive in a really easy way.
I just split my hive because they looked like they were going to swarm. One hive doesn't have a queen and one created a new queen. Should I replace the queens in both hives or just the one without the queen?
So fantastic, getting in there and making a split. We've got some greattraining videos showing you how to do that, which I'm sure you've probably looked at. So you've got a few options there. One is you can allow the bees to raise their own queen. To do that, they need young larvae or eggs down the cells, the young larvae have to be under three days old. So either eggs down the cells or the slightest little crescent moon of larvae. And that way they can raise a queen from that. They can turn it into a queen cell, feed it royal jelly for the duration of its pupal phase. And it would turn into a queen. So bees will usually do that if they've got the resources to do so, but not always. So I'm not sure where you are up to in your split, but if they don't have the resources or they didn't get it together, then yes, as you say, introducing a queen would be a great thing to do in the hive that doesn't have a queen.
You may choose to introduce queens regardless. And that would be for the reasons of getting specific genetics from a bee breeder. So breeders will breed for often traits. So being nice and calm and gentle, which makes them easier to work with, easier to do your brood inspections and so on. And they'll also breed for things like hygienic behaviour, ones that are good at keeping disease away and so on. So buying in queens is a great idea if you can. However, it is a little bit easier just to allow them to raise their own queen as well, because you don't have to go back in there and reintroduce that queen.
Wow, it's definitely the paperbark. It has that beautiful golden colour and this kind of super sweet, almost burnt toffee flavour. It's great to have that flavour coming again, aas the seasons come around and you recognise again, that honey that's coming in.
It's so beautiful, isn't it Cedar? It looks so thick. And compared to some of the other honeys that we've been harvesting that are so clear, this does look at when it's like golden syrup or something, it looks incredible.
Definitely., it looks like it's got a high viscosity this morning. It depends on the temperature as well, that'll affect the viscosity of the honey, but it looks like it's got a nice low moisture content, which means that it'll keep nicely on the shelf as well. The bees are aiming to get that moisture content down below 20%, hopefully around 18 is what commercial honey producers aim for. And that way, it's very unlikely for any fermentation to occur. If you have harvested early and it's very liquid in the jar, you may find you want to consume that before fermentation occurs or keep it in the fridge. Normally if you're harvesting when you can see the capping, then you'll get some nice honey with a low moisture content. That'll keep almost indefinitely if the lens on the jar. They found honey that’s 3000 years old in Egyptian tombs and it was still good. Hard to believe.
Could you talk a little bit about the ventilation in the Flow Hive?
What we've done with the Flow Hive 2 and now Flow Hive 2+ is add some ventilation control. Bees in my experience, prefer to vent their hive from the bottom of the hive. It’s a bit counterintuitive, but what I find is if you put vents up the top in the gable or through the roof, they tend to just block it up. They don't really like ventilation at the top and they tend to create a cycle in the hive as a fan with their wings to fan the air up and down and out. And that cycle is really important for maintaining the right humidity in the hive and for drawing out that nectar.
Now what we've done with the Flow 2, if you have a look under the shelf, we've put a vented cover on our tray. What this vented cover is designed to do is to be adjustable ventilation. So right now the vents are on the upside, which means air can flow through those vents and then up under the screen bottom boards. So there's a complete screened bottom board, which allows beetles and pests like that to drop through into a tray to catch those beetles below. If you then turn this cover around, what happens is this area comes into contact with the tray and that limits ventilation because there's little airflow now travelling up under the screen. So as it gets colder, you can switch that around if you want to.
Some people run screened bottom boards with no tray, no ventilation control in the snow and they leave it like that all year round. So there's different schools of thought on it. But the idea there is if you want to adjust that ventilation, let's say it's quite hot, bees are bearding out the front. They're clearly hot and getting out of the way so ventilation can occur in the hive, then make sure you give them some more ventilation.
There is condensation on the windows of my super. Is this a problem?
So that typically happens when you've got the cooler times and the bees have a humid environment inside their hive as they dry their nectar and so on. And whenever you get a cool surface next to humid air, you'll get some condensation. Windows typically will get more condensation because you've got slightly less insulation around the edges here, as there's a gap all the way around. So it's pretty normal when it gets cooler, but it's also a sign that the bee numbers are a bit low in your hive. If you've got lots of bee numbers, then what you'll find is that you won't see that. So it could be a good idea to check in and make sure everything's okay, perhaps your bees are just building up. And you'll probably find you can do nothing and the bees will build up and occupy that space in the condensation will go away.
There's different schools of thought. Some people say that condensation is an important part, it's a water source for your bees, particularly in those cooler times when the bees in those cold places where they're hibernating. What you want to avoid is excessive condensation dripping from the roof. Cause that means you could get wet bees. So if there's crazy amounts of condensation, there's water running down from that inner cover onto your bees, then you might need to do something about that. But if it's just on the walls of the hive, a bit of condensation, then it could even be helpful for your bees in those cooler times.
I'm just looking over here, look at this little scene going on. There's one bee trying to rip a drone bee's wings off. It’s amazing when you stand around and watch bees, the things you notice. So, right then it looked like a drone was perhaps being sacrificed. Now drones are the male bees. They don't actually do much work around the hive. They tend to just get fed by the bees and their job is really to share the genetics around. They'll fly off to a drone congregation area and wait for a queen to fly past. And then there'll be a high-speed arial mating flight that takes place. Now, if a hive is struggling a bit, there's not enough nectar to go around, the worker bees will actually rip the drones wings off and kick them out of the hive to die. Which is pretty brutal, but that's what they do in order to save the colony is limit the amount of food that's being needed by those drones.
Can you recommend any books about bee behaviour for beginners?
There's all sorts of great books out there. There's honeybee democracy which is kind of more advanced. The one that I used to read going back 20 or so years ago was called the bee book. And that was just a general outline of beekeeping here in Australia. We've actually got a whole library inside of bee books.
If you want to watch it in video form, check outTheBeekeeper.org, it's free to try and it's also a fundraiser. And in there we go through the very basics of beekeeping, talking about all the roles the bees play, talking about the different things they do. Like just the whole process of creating honey is extraordinary in itself and bee bread and so on. And it's in a very visual format with my sister's amazing macro footage of bees. So check that out too. There’s a lot of great learning there. And in that programme experts from around the world pitch in to help us all learn about the different types of beekeeping all around the world. And in the end, the idea is with that programme, is it takes you from square one, right through to a deep scientific knowledge in beekeeping. People are raving fans of that educational content. So head over toTheBeekeeper.org and check that out.
When is it too late to start a hive? We’re currently at the height of the wildflower season. Can I start now, or should I wait until next spring? (Texas, USA)
That’s best answered by your local beekeepers. Here where we are., you can start a hive almost all year round. If you have the choice, springtime wherever you are in the world is the prime time. That's when most flowers are flowering, that's where you're going to get the most action and a really quick start to your hive building up in numbers. However, you can start later and certainly around here we're still splitting hives, even in the autumn. But in some places you wouldn't be doing that. In places that get long, cold winters, you'll be starting your hives in the spring and the summertime.
It also depends which way you start. Some people will start by grabbing a whole existing colony and transferring that into a Flow Hive. Now, if you're going that way, then you could just about do that anytime of year, because all you're doing is changing the wooden ware and adding our invention, our Flow Frames on top. So you could do that anytime if you're starting with a bigger colony. If you're starting with a really small one, like a package, then it's more sensitive and you might have to feed it if you've started late in the season.
What are your thoughts on the polystyrene beehive box?
There's all sorts of hive types in the world. And in the end, if you're interested to try something, just try it. The idea is you see what works for you and your bees. For me, I don't love the idea of polystyrene. I don't think it's a great contribution to our world. And that is why I choose not to use the polystyrene. And I don't like the idea of my bees being inside a polystyrene box. You know, when you open one of those poly boxes that broccoli comes in or whatever, and there's kind of this smell to it, it's like a chemical smell to it. I don't really want to keep my bees in that. That's a personal thing. Certainly a lot of people enjoy keeping bees in styrofoam boxes as well. My favourite is wood because it's nice and natural and mimics that home in tree hollows and so on. And it's also something we can do sustainably is harvest wood and make really useful things with them.
Can you add a Flow Hive super to a polystyrene box?
You certainly can. So this hive is a bit of a conglomerate of a few different things, and that's an example of how you can add one box on top of another. So this is our Flow Hive Classic Araucaria super on top of a Western Red Cedar lower hive. So we've just done that to show that you can do that really. And sometimes you find that there's not a perfect match in size, but it's good enough to add a box on top. So you can just get a super like this and we sell those just as the super with the frames and add it to any standard beehive. However, there are some things you'll need to look out for. One is the sizing. So the Flow Frame 6 and 7 match the Langstroth hive sizes of 8 and 10. So we've tried to do our sizing so it matches what's out there already. The Langstroth hive, which is this size and shape is the most common beehive in the world. And we've matched our equipment so that you can do just that by adding a super.
One thing to look out for though, is typically hives will slope forward so rain doesn't come in the entrance, and that means you may need to slope it back when it's time to harvest. It also means it messes up this little leak back system. So it's better. If you can have the hive sloping towards the rear, this is about a three degree slope and our levels in the side help you set that up. And the reason why it's good is we've got a system here that allows honey to drain back into the hive.
If I take it out a little cap here, then you can see that the bees block it up sometimes for a start, but there's a point there where any remaining honey can drain back into the hive for the bees to reuse. Depending on how the bees seal the Flow Frame parts would depend whether you get a little bit of honey buildup in that area, and sometimes you do. Now, if you had the hive sloping forward, it would build up at the wrong end and couldn't return to the hive. You may get a bunch of muck coming to the back. If you're in a humid climate, fermented honey that you'll have to drain away before you harvest, if you're using a super on a hive that's facing forward.
Long answer, but yes, you can. Many beekeepers do add a Flow super to their conventional hive and they work with that. If you've got a screened bottom board, you could still maintain the tilt facing backwards because any water that doesn't enter could go down through the screen and not pool in the hive. You don't water pooling in the hive. And that slope is about three degrees. So you can measure that with an app on your phone, or it's about one inch from the front to the back. If you started off with a level, you would raise the front just one inch.
When is a good time to add your super to the brood box? Should all the frames be completely drawn out or is it okay if they are partially drawn out?
It's best to wait till they’re all drawn out. Down in the bottom box here, you've got conventional wood and wax frames. The bees are just drawing their comb as they've done since the beginning of time. And if you put the super on quite early, what you're doing is giving them a home that's a bit larger. There's a lot more for them to look after. And what you'll find is it might just slow them down a bit. And particularly if you're still getting really cold nights, it'd be harder for them to keep it warm. It'll be harder for them to raise their young, because they like to keep the brood nest at about body temperature. So best to wait until they've completed all of the brood frames in the bottom box, by drawing out their wax in them and there’s a lot of bees before you put your super on. So that's just a tip. As you get started, start with the bottom box, let them really build up and then put your super on. The super is the name for the honey collection box. And in this case, it's a Flow super, which allows you to harvest the honey in this gentle easy way.
How long can bees get nectar from a flowering grey box tree?
Different species have really different nectar flow patterns. And I'm not a hundred percent sure on the grey box, but some species will be producing nectar for many weeks and other species might only produce nectar for a day and then it'll go away again. And a few days later, it might come back again. Other species like the bloodwood will have a pulse of nectar in the daytime and when that's all used up that there's no more nectar flow for that day. But then at nighttime they'll pulse again for the bats, because they know that there's those nocturnal pollinators that also are coming for nectar. So it's very tree-specific. And yeah, it's really intriguing. This paperbark has this pattern where for about three days, you'll have an abundance of nectar, sickly, sweet smell, just wafting through the office, extreme amount of nectar coming in. And that's what this honey is. And then it'll disappear again, might be another week or two, a bit of rain comes and sets it off again and away you go again for another three or four days of that paperbark nectar coming in.
I am going to add an ideal super for winter. Will the Flow Hive 2 roof fit over an ideal box? (Victoria, Australia)
They will, but sometimes you'll find, in fact here's a good example of it. If you, if you've got the Flow Hive 2, just make sure the inner cover that comes with it is up in there. And you'll see, like this, the inner cover is sitting up a little bit and that's because the Flow Hive 2 roof doesn't actually telescope over this box. It does on the Flow Hive 2 super, but it doesn't on this one. So it'll just sit up a bit on top of that ideal, most likely. So that's okay too, but it's just something to be aware of that it won't slide over the top of all shapes and sizes of box.
Will the Flow Frames ever leak? Is that a problem or will the bees just lick up the honey?
Sometimes they can, depending on how the bees have capped the frame, and also depending on the viscosity, sometimes you'll get yet a thinner honey above thicker honey and things like that. And what that could and end up doing is the honey leaks into the hive while you're harvesting. If you have a lot of that happening, then do get in contact. There could be a reason why, perhaps the slope on your hive isn't set, right, or perhaps there's actually an issue that's happening with your frames. Perhaps the bees have got a whole lot of wax buildup down in the bottom cell due to the frames not being closed perfectly, things like that. So we can help you troubleshoot that, that issue.
However, it's normal to get a little bit of spillage inside the hive and the bees will simply reuse that. The problem only really happens when you go to harvest all your frames at once and you can end up sometimes with a bit of honey building up and catching in the tray below. So that's just something to look out for. Obviously, if you just harvesting a frame, then that doesn't cause any issue. Not really much honey will make its way down to the catchment tray below. So it's also a bit more efficient to do it that way. So if you do have that problem where you're worried about spills inside the hive, then just harvest one, two or three frames and leave the rest for the bees and that way it'll limit that issue.
Any tips on cleaning your Flow Frames if they've got propolis in them?
Okay. So propolis is that material that's collected from tree sap and the bees use it. You can actually see some down here where it's this brown little pieces of tree sap that they’re placing around the place. So you can tell the difference because of the colour and texture. It's also slightly softer. You can actually just really easily scrape it and mould it. And if you get a big lump of it, it's actually a good thing to chew on a bit like chewing gum. It doesn't taste like chewing gum. It's usually a lot more bitter, but it’s good if you've got a sore throat or something like that.
If you've got propolis then in your Flow Frames, generally the bees are going to coat all of the surfaces of the Flow Frames in wax. And sometimes propolis is mixed in and it's actually very hard to get off and you don't necessarily need to get it off. It's more a case of making sure the parts are moving. Just make sure your parts are still moving down to thecell-formed position. And to do that, you put the key in the top and just leave it there for a little while. So if you have got excessive buildup in the parts, if you move from this back into the cell formed position, and then the bees will clean out any excessive propolis that might've been building up below.
If you've just done a quick close and the parts are sitting up a little bit, you can get a bunch of propolis down in this area that when you go to harvest restricts the channel for honey to flow out. So a tip there is if you've got excessive buildup, leave the key into the top slot. In the extreme case, you can take the frame out and leave it in the sun, or in a black plastic bag in the sun with the key in the top. And that will move all the parts into that cell-formed position. Put it back in and the bees will then chew away any excessive propolis build up in that lower cell.
How often should you inspect the brood box to check for comb and eggs? (New Hampshire, USA)
If you've started with a nuc or a package or split, then it's a good idea to get in there, depending on which type of frame you're using. We promote the naturally drawn comb, keeping it perfectly natural for the bees, just the wooden frame, the comb guide, and the bees are drawing their comb. So I would get in there every couple of weeks in the beginning just to make sure they're building nice and straight, because if they're building nice and straight, then it makes it easier later. You don't have to go through a process of straightening the comb out, which can be a bit tedious. And once they've built nice and straight they'll tend to follow suit. And the whole thing becomes easier to manage later.
If you're using foundation and you don't have to get in there quite so much, but you have to go through that tedious phase of waxing and wiring the frames in the bottom box. And that will generally keep them building straight, but not always. It's also a nice thing as you start in beekeeping, just get the feel of opening up the hive and looking at what's going on. Every time you look in, you'll see something new, you'll learn something new, and the curiosity will be there to find out more about beekeeping. And it's an important step because then you feel comfortable to go and do your brood inspections later.
So here in Australia, beekeepers are doing a fullbrood inspection, going through every frame at least a couple of times a year, checking for disease issues. Now that's an important thing as a responsible beekeeper to do, but if you haven't gone through that process in the beginning of learning to do your inspections, it might be a bit daunting. Not the end of the world, just get someone to help you as you get into that bottom box and inspect your brood frames.
Ask your local beekeepers what they do. And depending on that, there could be things you need to do. Let's say you've got Varroa mite in your country. Then you may need to go through some management plan with those mites as well, which might mean getting into the brood box more often, depending on what strategy you're using.
Do you ever get stung? If you do, does it mean that more bees will then start to sting?
I do get stung a fair bit, but it's mainly through complacency. I don't mind getting stung too much. And you might've noticed one bee stung me on the lip earlier on when I was standing here talking. When I came out here this morning, I noticed that there was a little bit of aggressive behaviour and I thought, okay, I better make sure I get a veil already. If you are new to beekeeping, protect yourself wear your beesuit when you're around your hive. That will limit the stings and make beekeeping more enjoyable as you learn and get going. As you get more experienced, you'll probably work out whether having a few stings is a problem for you or not. And then you will perhaps get beekeepers tend to get a little blasé. My good friend, Pete Wilkins does a lot of beekeeping here at the office as well. And he doesn't wear a bee suit at all, but his tolerance for stings is much higher than mine. I'll definitely be wearing my beesuit if I'm doing inspections.
How much space do I need for a beehive?
So the wonderful thing about beekeeping is it's a very small footprint. So it allows you to create real produce from a very small footprint in your backyard or your balcony. My sister kept multiple hives on a balcony in the middle of Berlin, and that's amazing that she was able to have real produce, have her connection to the world, the interconnectedness of all the flowers and trees and bringing that nectar back into your hive. So I think beekeeping, one of the reasons why it's so popular is you don't need to go and buy a farm to do it. You can either keep them in a small backyard or even on your balcony or on your rooftop in the city. And the bees will then go and find the flowers.
Now having said that, there can be some issues with bees. So it's with particularly the flight path, particularly if you get bees that have an aggressive trait. However, that can be fixed by introducing new genetics, by changing the queen to a new queen. And so you will need to consider pets and humans as they pass, particularly in front of the hive.
The way we've set up these hives here in this top row, here at the office, isn't particularly good. And it's probably the reason why I got a sting earlier, because all of the bees' flight path is coming past us this way. It's better if they can fly straight out of the entrance in a way, and they're less likely to accidentally run into you and give you a sting. So there's things to think about.
We've got videos about situating your hive that you can look at on ourYouTube channel, on ourFacebook live streams, and also atTheBeekeeper.org. And you'll find lots of training material and answers to your questions. And if you've got answers to the questions people are asking below too, and answer them as well. It's a fantastic thing to be able to help everybody learn beekeeping, and to be able to pass on your knowledge. That's part of your obligation as a beekeeper is to help the new beekeepers learn.
Any suggestions or tips on how to celebrate World Bee Day?
So World Bee Day is about celebrating these extraordinary little insects that are such a crucial part of our food chain, our flora, of the interconnectedness of nature that we all completely depend on, right? So it's not only the European honeybee, but all of the native bee species. And one of the best things that we can all do is create some habitat for some of the little bees. Here in Australia, you've got the fire-tailed resin bee, you've got the blue banded bee. You've got all sorts of native bee species that often have a very short range and creating a bit of habitat in your yard will give those species stepping stones across the urban landscape. So you can do that simply by not maintaining part of your yard. You can do a good thing by doing less work and just letting a space be wild.
When you have a wild space, that is what our bees call home. You can do that by creating habitat, by getting a whole load of little bamboo tubes and cutting them up. Every year, we run a fundraiser with offcuts of our Flow Hives created into these little pollinator houses. You can make your own by just cutting up a whole lot of little tubes, bamboo tubes or reeds, or even cardboard tubes. And you'll find different bee species will move in and use those tubes and call it home. You can even get a drill, get a bunch of different sizes, go to town on a piece of wood drilling holes. And that will create some amazing habitat as well. Even just leaving mulch around, some species will be nesting in leaf mulch and others like a muddy bank to dig a hole. So any of this is fantastic habitat for bees. It's also a great thing for educating our children about the importance that all of these insects play. And that's a great window into a world that we all completely depend on.
Thank you very much for asking all the questions. It’s World Bee Day tomorrow. Think about habitat. Get out in your backyard, make some plans to create some. Take up beekeeping if you're interested, it's a wonderful hobby. You can produce real food from your backyard. It's ready for the table. It needs zero processing. Everybody loves honey, and it's something you can share around your neighbourhood and it creates wonderful conversations.
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