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Local Leaders – Mitchell Pearce (Canberra Urban Honey)

By 25 August 2014 3

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Aged 18 and sporting a blonde mohawk, Mitchell Pearce is a fourth-generation beekeeper on a mission to make Canberra a more sustainable city.

He is Australia’s youngest urban commercial beekeeper and the director of Canberra Urban Honey, a community project that aims to re-populate Canberra’s bee population by supplying local backyards with hives. What began as Australia’s first agricultural crowd-funded project in 2012 is now a self-sustaining small business with 35 hosted hives across Canberra.

“We’re always looking for people who want to get involved and who live in areas that are suitable for bees. We put the bees first – healthy bees make more honey,” Mitchell says.

In Canberra, this generally means placing hives in established suburbs with smaller houses, bigger blocks and lots of vegetation, such as Kambah. For people who live in less-developed suburbs, the best way to attract bees is to plant flowers.

“People always ask me what type of flowers are best for bees, and the answer is that any type of flower is good. While some flowers like sunflowers and rosemary are well-known for attracting bees, I sometimes joke that the only type of flower that bees don’t like is the Venus fly trap. Just plant anything that flowers,” he says.

Mitchell’s family has been in the beekeeping business since the 1920s, so he says it isn’t surprising that he decided to work in the industry full-time after finishing school.

“I wasn’t really interested in going to uni, and I had a specific list of things that I wanted from a job, like being able to work outside and be my own boss. Beekeeping was an obvious choice.”

His mum, Carmen Pearce-Brown, founded Canberra Urban Honey when Mitchell was in Year 11. By the time he was in Year 12, the project had grown and needed someone who could take on the additional workload.

“I thought, this is something that I can do, and also something that I want to do,” he says.

In his first year of urban beekeeping, Mitchell produced the first urban honey to ever receive an agricultural excellence award in the National Honey Show at the Royal Sydney Easter Show. He is also the winner of the 2014 ACT Sustainable Cities Award from Keep Australia Beautiful and the vice president of the ACT Beekeeping Association.

Mitchell says that his day-to-day work varies with the seasons. During winter, the bees are less active and he stays busy with administrative and maintenance work, such as repairing hives and selling honey.

This changes in the summer, when a strong hive can produce several kilograms of honey in just one day. When the honey flow (a term used by beekeepers to indicate that major nectar sources are in bloom) is on, he works almost exclusively with the hives, extracting honey and making sure the bees are healthy.

 

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3 Responses to
Local Leaders – Mitchell Pearce (Canberra Urban Honey)
MBird 11:46 am
26 Aug 14
#1

Good on you Mitchell! Great to read about an 18-year-old who is so passionate about his work.

It’s great that these articles are highlighting some of Canberra’s quiet achievers in industry and business so more of us hear about them.

Maya123 3:00 pm
26 Aug 14
#2

Good work. I would happily have a beehive in my garden, but my new garden is not grown enough yet. A smaller house on an average inner-city block of land. (About 645sq metres) One day when my 20 plus fruit trees, food bushes and vines are grown, and the native bushes too, it would be great to have a local beehive. At my last place in the same suburb, I always knew there would be bees, because a house across the street had a couple of beehives, and later the house behind my fence had a whole row. I could smell the honey when I was in my backyard.
The way some of my plants are going though, particularly with the natives, it might be awhile before my garden is grown. The exotic fruit trees, etc are doing well and have noticeably grown, but a high number of my native plants died in the recent frosts, even the hardenbergias, and I thought they were tough. They looked so healthy and were putting on nice growth and then the frosts happened. Now, dead, falling leaves.

Ryoma 4:03 pm
26 Aug 14
#3

Mitchell does a great job, and I’m happy to see he is getting kudos for his hard work and his passionate love of bees.

In my small courtyard, we do get bees most of the year, although only in small numbers. We’ve done our best to ensure there is always something flowering, but in an apartment complex, it’s a little harder to set up a hive, due to issues with neighbours and body corporates, etc – and the fact that in many of these places (due to our dopey, backwards-looking local building industry) there is no access to the roof.

At present, many of Canberra’s new suburbs are a “food desert” for bees, as many of the gardens are ornamental, low-care, and pretty much sterile. It does improve over time, of course. In the meantime, planting a variety of trees, shrubs and ground covers in gardens and parks would help.

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