Down on the farm at Rouse Hill
At Sydney Living Museums we care not only for houses and buildings, but also for a series of gardens and landscapes. Rouse Hill House is surrounded by a remnant rural landscape - one that is becoming increasingly precious as Sydney’s north-western suburbs continue to expand.
These fields, with their criss-crossing fence-lines are an evocative reminder of the estate’s rural past, which extended unbroken from founder Richard Rouse in 1813 to his great-great-grandsons Roderick and Gerald Terry.
Today they are also home to our small herd of cows – including kids’ favourite ‘Pudding’ - and our horses, Larry and Sprint.
Over the past few years we have been experimenting with pasture improvement in the ’sheep paddock’, which is around 2 hectares (5 acres) in size. Our farm manager Lawrence Kersten says there are two reasons for this: ensuring adequate stock feed throughout the year, and repressing weed growth, as the area is highly prone to invasive fireweed and Scotch thistles.
Last year we ‘ripped’ the paddock with a coil tyne - a process in which the ground is furrowed and turned. This process was kept deliberately shallow, only penetrating 100mm deep, to preserve any sub-surface archaeology. It was highly successful and regrowth was strong, but it was ultimately deemed too invasive for use across the estate.
The option we are now pursuing is aerating, which ‘punctures’ the soil to allow expansion and the penetration of water and nutrients. The soil at Rouse Hill absorbs water very quickly, even when baked in a hot summer and, as we have discovered when excavating, there is a surprising amount of sub-surface water. Over the past few years we have learnt that in mid-January the heat and moisture levels provide the best conditions to sow for summer pasture.
Carefully timed for the expected rain, Lawrence first slashed the paddock's grasses, then aerated the soil. Then, with the storm front rolling in on Thursday 14 January, and a 90% chance of rain predicted, he swung into action.
First the paddock was mowed a second time, to less than an inch (<2cm) high. Then a mix of fertiliser, rye, fescue, prairie grass and lucerne was loaded into the hopper and – as the rain appeared a few kilometres away – was over-sown across the field. The careful timing of this was vital; Lawrence explained that on a large farm, where hundreds of acres are being sown with vast amounts of seed, mistiming the weather or a shift in the rain can spell economic disaster.
A check the next day showed the seed was well-embedded.
With a 10-day germination period we’re now waiting for a flush of fresh green leaves over the coming weeks.