Bee watching at Olive Library

Blake Overton (photo by Dion Ogust)

Blake Overton (photo by Dion Ogust)

People are already saying, “Let’s go to the library and watch the bees!” At least they are if they live in striking distance of the Olive Free Library in West Shokan, where Blake Overton has completed his Eagle Scout project by designing and installing a glass-enclosed observation hive of honeybees in a back corner of the main room.

“I wanted to teach the community about bees,” said 17-year-old Blake at the August 22 reception welcoming the public to the new installation. With honeybees threatened by parasitical mites, viruses, and Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), Blake hopes that by boosting awareness of the threat to pollinators, people will act to protect bees. “Bees pollinate a lot of our fruits and vegetables and allow them to grow bigger,” he explained. “In China, there are not many honeybees left, and they have to hand-pollinate plants, which is very expensive and time-consuming.”

If you stand near the hive, you can hear it humming. Windows on both sides show the bees crowded together, most of them on the uppermost of the three frames upon which they have built their network of wax cells. Bees cling to the glass, back to back with others sitting on the cells, intermittently ducking their heads inside a cell. A plastic pipe leads from the base of the hive, past a jar of sugar water that the bees can draw upon, and out the window so the bees can forage among the flowers. Blake used a computer program to design the case enclosing the hive. He worked on the project for two years and attended many library board meetings as he persuaded the board members that it would be safe to house the hive in the library.


A statement by library director Katie Scott-Childress remarked, “We have witnessed the excitement and fascination of children bringing their parents to see the hive. It’s inspiring to see a young person apply his skills to benefit the community.”

A computer slide show, built into the installation, displays facts about honeybees and teaches viewers to identify the queen, the workers, and the drones. Among the most surprising facts: the queen mates with several drones over the course of a few days or weeks, and then she never mates again—but she continues to lay fertile eggs for three years.

At the library presentation, people crowded around to ask Blake questions.

“What will they do in winter?”

“They’re collecting nectar now to make honey, and they’ll stay in the hive all winter and eat the honey.”

“Do you think they’re aware of us?”

“More than likely, but by now it’s been established that we won’t bother them.”

“How many bees are in there?”

“Probably a couple thousand.”

Blake’s father, Rob Overton, is an avid beekeeper in Olivebridge and the founder of the Bee Group that meets monthly in the library basement. “Beekeeping used to be simple,” he said. “You’d just go out once a year and take the honey. In Olive, there was someone on every block with a hive. In the late 80s, the mites came along, and the hives died out if you didn’t treat them to kill the mites. It was too much work and too expensive for most people.”

When CCD was identified and publicized as a threat, interest in beekeeping was rekindled. Rob began to search the wild for survivor stock, seeking to draw them into his hives, but the transportation process was difficult. Due to his day job as an engineer at IBM, he was able to invent a vacuum that would suck the bees into his frame hives. When he shared his invention on the Internet, people wanted to buy their own. Finally, he began to build bee vacuums as a side business, selling about 200 a year.

He also collaborates with the Wildlife Pro network, which helps people deal with nuisance animals — the skunk that holes up under the porch, the raccoon in the attic. Rather than exterminate bees that are lodged in inconvenient places, the professionals invite Rob to come in and remove the bees to a hive.

The Bee Group has no membership fees or officers. “We’re just people sharing our thoughts and experiences, helping each other out,” said Rob. About 20 people attend each month, some traveling from as far away as Sullivan County. He noted that before CCD, most beekeepers were men, but now many women and couples attend the meetings.

Rob has also consulted for the Liberty Science Center in Jersey City, where an architect needed help designing an observation hive. The architect then contributed to the design of the Olive Library hive, so the section containing the frames could be safely removed for maintenance without having to transport the entire installation outside.

Blake dedicated his project to the late Charles “Skip” Weidner, who had been a mentor to local boy scouts.


The Olive Free Library is located at 4033 Route 28A, West Shokan. See for opening hours. The Bee Group meets the third Monday of each month at 6:30 p.m. at the library. To view their newsletter or subscribe to their email list, visit