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Rejuvenating the Hawkesbury Lowlands: One Paddock at a Time

Sep 22, 2023

The sun is out, and Spring has sprung. I love it. 

We’ve been warned of an upcoming hot summer, but I don’t care. I know our area cops it when it comes to high temperatures, and I can already feel myself bracing for what’s ahead. But let’s enjoy Spring while it’s here…as well as…start to put in some measures to help look after our little part of the world. 

And yes, you can call me Darryl Kerrigan but I love the Hawkesbury – planes flying over and all. Find me another LGA where it’s so easy to venture out with a buddy, a bike, a dog, a boat or whatever…to enjoy our beautiful semi-rural surrounds. We are so close to Sydney and yet we have turf farms, cattle farms, horse farms, chicken farms, veggie growers and the like… all peppered around 5 historical towns.

The Hawkesbury is truly a little slice of heaven. 

Reflecting on the seasons that have already past, I think it’s Late Autumn that is my favourite time of year for our area. I have a little farm in The Richmond Lowlands and as the sun comes down around that 5:30/6 o’ clock mark, I love watching the Blue Mountains transition into a silhouette. By the end of May, it’s the leaves that I love most. They’ve mostly fallen from our small row of London Plane trees, which makes for a fantastic crunching sound as we walk through our paddocks. 

And so this is actually where I would like to begin…in one of our paddock.

Our farm is a small 13-acre horse farm and part of our property has six separate ½ acre holding paddocks. Sadly, over the years I have slowly watched them resemble concrete more than the green pasture that they once were. The cause…a combination of always keeping horses in them (i.e. never truly having a fallow period) and enduring the weight of however many cubic tonnes of water that sat on the land during the floods.

 

What we are now left with is seriously compacted soil. So this year, I couldn’t help but look at our farm and wonder what we could do to help this once lush alluvial landscape.  

I’m not sure if we’re the only kids on the block that have this problem, so I thought it helpful to share our journey – successes and not – of how we are starting to make a difference in regenerating our land. I also think it’s possible to not only repair the damages from the past, but also prepare for the harsh times ahead.  

So with a simple rake and a burning desire to make good use of our Autumn leaves, I started my journey back in May to try my hand at improving our soil. My enthusiasm was met with A LOT scepticism, so to get my family on board I only chose one of the six ½ acre paddocks to play with. (Which I highly recommend to anyone looking to do a project like this. Start small to see what works.) And luckily, my trial paddock project worked! So voilá…I now had a live showcase of what impact a little bit of TLC can do for our soil. The best part, everyone is now on board to do the whole farm. 

Notes to share so far:

  • Raking and setting aside all your leaves to make a leaf mulch will bear fruit… but be patient…it will take more than a year.
  • Sowing a winter seed mix in Autumn to create a cover crop for those dry cold Winter months proved to be gold. This can be done at the end of Spring, too, with the right seeds, to prepare for Summer. 
  • Collecting our horse manure and grass clippings has become the start of a great compost that I can’t wait to use in a few months’ time. 
  • To aerate the soil, I included some brassicas like radish and turnips in my seed mix.  These did an excellent job in creating space underneath the ground without having to use any heavy equipment. (i.e. many dollars saved)
  • Biggest take away- let the seeds do the work for you. Choose a good mix of legumes, grasses, cereals and brassicas and you’ll get life back into your soil.

When I compare the soil from my trial paddock, I can already see and feel the difference in its texture to the other paddocks (i.e. I can actually get the first third of a shovel into it fairly easily) Considering this felt like concrete before, I am pleased. My goal, though, is to get my soil looking like chocolate cake – soft, dark and spongey. We’re not there yet but I can tell we’re heading in the right direction. Looking forward to our next check in.  

All the best, 

C.W.McGregor

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