Monday, June 14, 2010

Lawncare Interventions

Scotts 2000-20 20-Inch Classic Push Reel Lawn MowerAs you know if you stop by the HEP Spot regularly, I recently bought a house. We finally moved in over the weekend (after an exhausting week of improvements--if you ever want to lay laminate flooring, ask me for advice!). I haven't been responsible for a lawn since I was a kid--though I did some mowing with a push mower as a grad student. I grew up in the country on about an acre, and we had a riding lawnmower. (However, my dad did push mow the acre for some time before he could afford the tractor.) Since the good ol' days, apparently riding lawnmowers have become the status quo even in residential neighborhoods. My house is somewhat in the country, but we live in a small single-loop division of houses just outside of the city limits. Our backyard meets up with a pasture with a nice line of trees along the fence. The lot is just under a half-acre. We have two beautiful mature trees in the backyard (perhaps I'll post pictures soon) and thus tons of shade.

Anyhow, a riding lawnmower was just out of the question for me, both because of the cost, and because my country frame of reference led me to conclude that a riding mower simply wasn't necessary. I assumed I'd buy a gas-powered push mower. Then I started looking into reel mowers (which is what the Scotts Classic 20" pictured above is called). I was concerned about whether this gadget would do the job, but after reading many  reviews and watching some videos of it in action, I decided to go for it. It weighs thirty pounds (much less than a push mower, and much less than your grandpa's old school reel mower), makes a delightful, comparatively quiet sound when cutting, and if you overlap your rows appropriately does a fine job cutting--unless you aspire to practice putting on your lawn. The Scotts Classic has a 20" cutting width, which is just an inch less than standard gas-powered push mowers--it's the widest one you can get, which was important for me given the size of our lot. It's also the best for thicker grass because it's heavier than some of the smaller reel mowers. It requires minimal adjustment, and just a squirt of WD-40 to keep the blades clean and sharp. We've used it twice, and the second time, it took my wife about 30 minutes to do the front yard (which is smaller but has thicker grass), and about an hour to do the back (which is bigger, but the trees keep the grass lower). It's decent exercise, too, which is something my wife and I could both use. I bought a Black & Decker cordless electric trimmer--on sale at ACE for $50--which has just enough life to do all the trimming  (and again, no gas, oil, etc.).

Anyhow, here's the funny part. In just shy of a week, we've already had two "interventions." The day we pulled out the reel mower to give it a first spin, one of our next door neighbors offered (to my wife--poor woman, I guess) to mow our lawn, on the grounds that it would "take forever" to do it with the reel mower. That was last week. Yesterday, a different neighbor, a few houses down, rode his mower to our house, parked it in the driveway, and said (I paraphrase), "have at it." I thanked him many times over, and said I'd just bought the reel mower and wanted to figure it out, give it a shot. When I finished mowing (with the reel mower), I rode his back over to his house. (Noting to myself that I could push the reel mower about as fast as the rider could go.) I'm sure it looked bizarre to have the rider parked in the driveway while I buzzed along with the reel mower.

What I'm trying to figure out is whether our neighbors think we're terribly foolish, or if they feel threatened by the reel mower. Perhaps they can't figure out how to square the sound of the table saw that blared from my garage for two days with the sight of the reel mower? Do I contradict myself? Very well then.

(Another aspect of the impetus to try the reel mower was reading an excellent paper by one of my environmental ethics students on just how much CO2 pollution is caused by lawncare. Gas mowers and trimmers emit something like 8-10 times as much CO2 per gallon of gas than cars, and there's also the nitrogen fertilizer and other chemicals used to create that "perfect" lawn to take into consideration.)

So if you have a push mower and it breaks, buy a reel mower. Or just buy a reel mower, and save the gas mower for the times when you go on vacation and the grass goes out of control while you're gone. You'll love it, I promise.

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