A pure passion
At fewer than 5 acres, Don Burda’s orchard may be small, but the Woodstock man has a crew of about 300,000 working with him.
In addition to growing apples and other produce, Burda, co-owner of Homestead Orchard, 11802 Charles Road, is a beekeeper who credits his five hives of 60,000 honeybees each for their help in keeping his orchard blossoming.
“The bees that should be here in nature [pollinating plants] are not here in any large quantity, so my honeybees accent that,” Burda said. “They work with the wild bees. They pollinate everything.”
Burda, who owns the rural Woodstock orchard with his wife, Barb, has been a beekeeper for 15 years.
“I took an interest in beekeeping, just for a hobby,” Burda said. “I had an interest in getting honey just for myself.”
His hobby soon turned into a more serious pursuit when he purchased what had been an abandoned orchard in 2000.
“I found out that I needed more bees to pollinate my apple blossoms — more bees than in nature and more bees than I had myself,” Burda said.
He set up five hives totaling about 300,000 bees, a population Burda called “just the right size” for his orchard. He said the difference his bees make in the growth of vegetation is clearly evident.
“I noticed, this year especially, when we had our cherry blossoms and before I’d gotten my shipment of new bees, I didn’t notice a lot of wild bees to pollinate,” he said. “As a result, we had our lowest production in pie cherries ever. Our harvest was down by maybe 50 percent.”
A member of the Northern Illinois Beekeepers Club, Burda and other members buy “packages” of bees to form their hives. Each package of about 2,000 bees — including the all-important queen — is the foundation of a hive that will eventually swell to 50,000 to 60,000 insects. The honeybees forage for nectar which they later turn into honey, and they also pollinate trees and other vegetation within a 4-mile radius, making them an integral part of the agricultural process.
“Location determines what harvest you’re going to get,” Burda said. “Before Woodstock North [High School] was built, those were farm fields. One year, because there were sweet peas in that field over there, I had the largest [honey] harvest I’ve ever had in the 15 years I’ve been beekeeping. I got 1,000 pounds, compared to 450, which is what I’m getting now.”
At Homestead Orchard, the bees’ honey production is as important as their role in pollinating plantlife. Burda prides himself on his bees’ honey, which he not only extracts but bottles and even labels himself.
“There aren’t many places that bottle their own honey,” Burda said. “When you come and buy my honey, you can bet I did all the work.”
His effort — along with that of his bees — pays off with a natural product Burda said his customers appreciate.
“When they find we have pure honey, they’ll usually pick up a bottle or two.
“I felt really proud of myself when a lady came in and said, ‘I bought some honey from a store’ — I won’t say the name of the store — ‘and it eventually turned brown. I can’t wait to take your pure honey home.’ So that made me feel good,” Burda said. “I can produce a product that is 100 percent pure, and people really like it.”