In the Beginning

by Lynette on April 2, 2010

Top Forty Orchard was purchased by my late Father Leo Rideout in 1948 as forty acres of virgin bushland for a grand sum of 100 pounds.

Leo began work on the property clearing by hand, by 1950 he had a site ready to start to build a house for his young love (my Mum) Audrey Gapes. In 1952 Mum & Dad married and began to plan for the planting of the orchard which was Mum’s dream, they worked hard together making the property a home and farm, they cleared little by little, felling the trees and removing the stumps with explosives.

Eventually they had enough land cleared to begin improving the soil with green manure crops in readiness for planting the young apple trees, while the trees grew (it would take about nine years until they produced a commercial crop) Mum and Dad grew vegetables and flowers between the young trees. Mum worked the farm full time, tending the young trees, vegetables and flower crops with only basic equipment.

Dad also worked as a timber getter and in later years a coal miner doing night shift so he could work the farm by day, his hours were long, he would leave home at about 10pm to start his shift as a fitter work all night, returning home by 7.30am to have breakfast with Mum and plan the day of farm work. Dad would be lucky if he got to bed by 4pm to catch a few hours of sleep before he had to be up ready to go back to the mine.

Eventually the orchard was fully planted out with apples, peaches, nectarines and plums. Dad left the mine in the late 1960’s to work the property full time as the Orchard was now in full production and required his full time labour.

Top Forty Orchard is part of the local government area known as the Wollondilly Shire. In this area throughout the 1960’s, 70’s and 80’s this area was known as the food bowl of Sydney, with good roads and transport networks to Flemington Markets which were the main whole sale markets for Sydney and the east coast of the state of NSW.

In the Oakdale area there were 150 orchards and as many vegetable farm/growers.

In the peak of production in a good season this orchard would send 500 cases of apples (weighing about 21 kilos each) to the markets every weekend throughout the apple season .

Of recent times the area has changed a lot with the focus moving away from farming. Ironically the very thing that made this area desirable for growing fruit and vegetables (proximity to Sydney 50km to the CBD) has also made it attractive for families to settle and commute to work in the city. Many large farms have been sub divided for housing and new residents moved in to make their homes here, most of the residents of this area now commute to Sydney and suburbs to work.

With changing trends in marketing, many of our of our old orchardists retiring with no desire of their children to take over the farms and the pressure of urban development there are now only 2 working orchards in Oakdale and only a handful of vegetable growers.

Top Forty Orchard no longer sends produce to Flemington markets, we have had to changed our ways and now sell direct to the public, at local farmers markets and conduct talks and tours to groups. We still grow Apples and Stone fruit but now have a wider range of varieties as well as less common fruits and vegetables and have diversified into Christmas Trees.

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Farm Visit: The Wollondilly Harvest Experience | Harvesting North Sydney
April 26, 2014 at 10:32 pm

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slave April 11, 2010 at 7:06 am

Nice new website! It’s good to see it up and running. I’ve told all of the people I know to have a look and hopefully all of the people of the public will drop in too. You hear that public people?!.
I am trying to help with the comments so good luck!

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