Climate Change

More Fun than Watching Grass Grow

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solar mower

"Reduce emissions to 1990 levels," is a phrase you hear a lot among global warming go-getters of various stripes. It's the goal set by the Kyoto Protocol, but it has a life of its own as a handy carbon emissions benchmark. But the truly hardcore seem to be going with something more like 1890 levels:

When my fella and I bought our house last year, we tried to make thoughtful decisions as we accessorized our new lives… So we bought a reel mower—completely manual, no gas, no cord, just a few blades and some sweat.

Anyone who has even used a push mower knows where this is headed:

And I'm here to report: Our mower sucks. It rattles. It doesn't cut all that well. It completely misses the tall, thin weeds that have populated our lawn this spring, so that even after a fresh cut it looks like we haven't touched the thing for weeks.

And people wonder why the environmental movement has a hard time getting people to change their habits. Instead of sweating and swearing in an attempt at perfect green purity, why not support innovation by mowing your lawn this weekend with relatively clean and increasingly efficient electric model, a revamped gas mower, or toss out some big bucks for a Roomba-style solar-powered lawnmower?

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  1. Or get rid of the lawn and plant wildflowers?

  2. When I was young, one of my neighbors down the block had a push mower. It had 4-5 blades that were connected in the shape of a cylinder.

    Every weekend I would see him out there, shirtless mowing his lawn. He was older, but in fantastic shape. His lawn was pretty immaculate as well. (and he had a nice tan to boot)

    Just because some people have a bad elbow-grease powered mower doesn’t mean that is necessarily the norm.

    Me — I use a gas mower, and don’t plan on switching to a push mower any time soon.

  3. Or just install an synthetic turf lawn.

  4. A reel mower has to have the blades adjusted very close to the anvil, which works better when razor sharp. Great excercise, easier on the grass and it’s nice and quiet. yes, mowing the lawn can be a moment of zen

  5. A properly sharpened reel mower does a wonderful job of cutting grass. The key word here is “sharpened”.

    It’s just tough finding someone that can do the maintenace properly. And like most things that need that kind of maintenance it costs.

  6. I used a push-mower and it worked just fine. Electric mowers can be dangerous (don’t run over that cord!), and I don’t want to have to dork around with a gas mower. Also those two kinds of mowers tend to clog, especially if the grass is damp. The only downside to a hand-mower really is if you let the grass grow over a foot, of if you have a huge lawn.

    The roomba mower just sounds like an expensive lawn ornament.

  7. “Instead of sweating and swearing in an attempt at perfect green purity…”

    …wake up and realize that all that “green” stuff in nothing but political bullshit and forget the whole thing.

    Mow your grass with a big old riding mower and don’t worry about it.

  8. brotherben made the point before me.

    Me type too slow.

  9. I made the decision when we first got our house 10 years ago to get an electric mower. Year before last, I replaced it with another electric mower.

    I like the relative quiet (can still hear everyone else’s gas mower over my mower in operation), the lighter weight for my steep slope hill, and the lack of any noxious fluids or fuels around the house. It’s easy on / easy off, shuts off entirely when you let it go but is easy to start again, and doesn’t bog down as much when I let my grass get too tall and thick.

    I don’t have a battery powered one, cord all the way, and it’s a little bit of a pain, but you get used to stepping over it at the end of each row.

  10. Oh, and just to show the superiority of the reel mower’s cut note that places that want great uniformity and a close cut (like golf courses) use them exclusively.

    Of course they’re not push mowers either so I guess it’s not really relevant to a “green’ discussion.

    My Dad had an electric mower. The secret was start near the power outlet with the cord roled up and work away from it letting the cord pay ourt as you worked. It also helped that the handle swung over the top so you never had to turn the mower you just reversed it.

  11. Push mowers are better for your lawn. Mine does a fine job. Much better than a power mower, and a lot cheaper.

    Instead of sweating and swearing in an attempt at perfect green purity maybe you should you stop trying to make your yard look like a gold course.

    Oh, wait, THAT’S not the kind of sweating and swearing for perfect green purity that KMW dislikes, is it?

  12. “Every weekend I would see him out there, shirtless mowing his lawn. He was older, but in fantastic shape. His lawn was pretty immaculate as well. (and he had a nice tan to boot)”

    Cueing overused Seinfeld catchphrase in 5.. 4.. 3..

  13. I used a push mower when I had a house with a small yard in Cincinnati. Worked well – as long as I didn’t wait too long between trims, and as long as the grass wasn’t damp.

  14. “And people wonder why the environmental movement has a hard time getting people to change their habits. ”

    Hey, and based on one whole anecdote! Excellent analysis there.

  15. My dad had a ‘hovercraft’ type electric for awhile. It actually floated on an air cushion – it was kinda fun (as a kid) to just start walking slowly forward and swing it back and forth in front of me. Dad didn’t much like the pattern it left, and it didn’t cut very well if the grass was too high, but it was the only lawn mower, as a kid I more or less enjoyed.

    When I had a family of my own, and a 1/2 acre yard, the riding mower topped the fun factor of the hovercraft.

  16. “Every weekend I would see him out there, shirtless mowing his lawn. He was older, but in fantastic shape. His lawn was pretty immaculate as well. (and he had a nice tan to boot)”

    Bow-chicka-bow-BOWWW!!!

  17. Fools.
    I don’t have a lawn. I own a condo.
    Of course, it does have its drawbacks, like the dog shits in the living room.
    But hey, me no mowie.

  18. Ha ha, Jamie knows the secret. My condo association mows the lawns, shovels the walks, plows the driveways, maintains the pool and tennis courts, and I do Jack and shit, and Jack left town.

  19. “Push mowers are better for your lawn. Mine does a fine job. Much better than a power mower, and a lot cheaper.”

    Try that on a 1.3 acre lot with a sloping back yard so you’d have to be pushing uphill half the time and see how long you’d last.

  20. But hey, me no mowie.

    Me either. I live in Texas. I use the same lawn care method all upstanding, god-fearing, gun-owning Texans use: Mexicans. I personally don’t give a shit how they mow the grass, as long as it gets cut and I ain’t doing it.

  21. Push mowers are better for your lawn. Mine does a fine job. Much better than a power mower, and a lot cheaper.

    Damn dude I dunno what kind of power mower you’ve used. I have a gas powered, self propeled elctric start TORO. I might bog down a tad in really tall and wet grass, but hell you will never ever ever come close to the power and speed with a push mower.

    Also time is money, its cheaper to buy and operate maybe, but I can let my grass get way longer then you can. So that means less mowes per year. And once I am out there, the power mower finishes the job a lot faster then the push type.

    Why is a power mower bad for your lawn?

    P.S. In the fall I attach the bag and use my mower to pick up leafs, fast and easy. Try that with the push mower.

  22. I was just thinking, it would be nice to just have some sheep eat a lawn for me, and then I get free wool out of the deal.

    Too bad that isn’t possible in most locales; zoning laws and all that.

  23. The City of Seattle keeps sending me flyers goading me to get rid of my “gas guzzling” mower and they’ll give me a credit for one of those nice, electric, 0 emissions models.

    Yeah, right.

    My “gas guzzling” mower uses approximately one (1) gallon per year. It’s powerful and will mulch and cut through tree branches 3/4″ thick. It starts on the first pull every time, except that first time after winter. Then it starts on the fourth or fifth pull.

    The battery operated ones are full of heavy, expensive batteries that need to be replaced every few years (which harm the environment), and I think we all know what we think of the ones with electric cords. My friend had one of those. He now owns a “gas guzzling” model.

    Great excercise, easier on the grass and it’s nice and quiet. yes, mowing the lawn can be a moment of zen

    I know mowing my lawn is a fantastic moment of zen. The “gas guzzling” engine drowns out all extraneous noises, and really, it’s the quietest moment of my day. That buzzing noise that some refer to as “talking” and “conversation” is completely gone for the 40 minutes it takes me to do my yard.

    Push mowers are better for your lawn. Mine does a fine job. Much better than a power mower, and a lot cheaper.

    Not my lawn. Guess what my lawn would look like if I had a push mower?

    And as far as the ‘cheaper to operate’ thing goes, I guess it depends on how you look at it. Much cheaper to purchase, yes, I agree. But cheaper to operate? At $4.09 for the lowest grade gas, it costs me around $4.09 per year to operate. Maybe if we have an extra long summer season, it might cost me $5.00. yes, there’s oil which I choose to change every year, so add a couple more bucks. Sure, when it breaks the first time, I’ll have to add in that maintenance into ‘cost of ownership’. But if you’re aiming at your lawn mowing accoutrements as a point of thrift, you could probably save more elsewhere by avoiding Starbucks once a week.

  24. I was just thinking, it would be nice to just have some sheep eat a lawn for me, and then I get free wool out of the deal.

    Because of a quirk in the zoning laws, we can have livestock. My wife once, in a very acrimonious discussion with the city, told the city manager she would buy goats and tie them in the front yard to take care of the grass.

  25. Gilbert martin,

    That’s what the wildflowers are for.

  26. Interesting, how you guys read Gristmill and Feministing… along with Hit & Run and Boing Boing, those are my favorite blogs these days, at least from the “postings that make you think” category.

    To be fair to the original author, she says right there that she’d like to get an electric mower but doesn’t have the cash at the moment. I’ve got one, it works great.

  27. toss out some big bucks for a Roomba-style solar-powered lawnmower?

    Having had some experience with Roomba-style lawnmowers, I will attest that “tossing out big bucks” is exactly what the unfortunate home owner will be doing. You’ll experience a lot less pain with the reel mower.

    Like the Apple Newton, robotic lawnmowers are a great idea that just ain’t ready for prime-time yet.

  28. Gil,

    Mow across the slope, not up and down it. Sheesh.

    That’s the problem with capital-intensive operations; they just throw brute force at the problem.

  29. val,

    The way a laterally-spinning blade cuts the grass causes more trauma to the plant than the scissors-actions of a push mower. It rips the blades of grass, as opposed to slicing it.

  30. It rips the blades of grass, as opposed to slicing it.

    That’s why god made blade sharpeners and high-speed gas mowers. Cuts that stuff off like a sharp cutty thing that cuts very well.

  31. It’s the type of cut it makes, Paul, regardless of the sharpness.

    Imagine chopping a sword through something, vs. drawing the edge across it and slicing it. The former leaves a bigger, more ragged edge. There’s pushing and crushing involved in how a spinning blade of a normal lawnmower cuts the grass.

  32. Joe, understood… but I can pretty much guarantee that if you looked at the health of my lawn, it would be indistinguishable from that of my neighbor who struggles with his dull push-mower.

    I think we’re quibbling over diminishing returns. oh, and on the cheaper front? I just saw the Ad at the top of Reason for a push mower: $139.00

  33. Dude, you do not have to spend $139 for a push mower! You can get one for half that at Sears.

  34. Oh, and I can also guarantee you that if I sharpen up my ornamental samurai sword and take a whack at a piece of bamboo, it’ll create a very, very clean cut. Even without the properly trained ‘drawing’ technique. Just sayin’.

  35. Dude, you do not have to spend $139 for a push mower! You can get one for half that at Sears.

    I would certainly hope so. ‘Cause damn…DAMN!

  36. Our landlord, 20 years ago, gave us a craftsman reel mower. Hickory handle, cast iron wheels, ball bearing reel. Weighs about 40 pounds. He said he thought it was 40 years old at the time.

  37. Sometime in the 1990s, they discovered that you can, in fact, make a reel mower out of something other than solid pig iron.

  38. What’s wrong with you people? Arguing over lawn mowers like idiots. I got a goat. Works for free, year round. Cheaper than a Mexican.

  39. Goats: lawn mowers

    with benefits.

  40. Lord, I apologize for that

  41. xerascape…

    That is all.

  42. What Neu said.

    But if you want to have a trim lawn and a trim form may I suggest a scythe?

  43. Instead of sweating and swearing in an attempt at perfect green purity

    This whole thing makes a whole lot more sense if you think of at least part of the “green” movement as a new semi-scientific religion. Some like the asceticism of a life of sacrifice, as above, some like gaudy displays of virtue (like a stained-glass cathedral window or a lexus hybrid), some are called to preach, and some do just enough that they won’t be burned at the stake. (In this case, at the focus of a giant solar oven)

    The sacrifice is part of the appeal.

  44. Yeah, reel mowers, like computers, have improved over the years. This thread reminds me of the occasional Reason rant against CFLs (or any newfangled “green” technology that is suppose to suck, but is really not too bad at all).

    Reel mowers are fine for modest lawns. And they do have some theoretical advantages as far as cutting is concerned. Interesting, the gardeners around here seem to like powered reel mowers. Self propelled, too. My uncle was a gardener, and used one of those, a machine I envied, as my task at the time was to maintain the small golf course of a lawn my folks decided to get. All I had was the bottom of the barrel side discharging rotary blade mower.

    I’m currently in the market for a mower, and am seriously considering a manual reel machine. I currently use about a gallon of gas a year. But maintenance costs far outweigh gasoline. Rubber and plastic engine parts, gummed fuel lines and such have been an occasional headache. In addition, I don’t have very much lawn, it’s all pretty well behaved, and flat.

  45. I wish I had a goat.

    But I REALLY wish I had a scythe.

  46. joe,
    there are scythes available for purchase in the u.s.
    some very nice ones.

  47. A $60 push mower is a “gaudy display.”

    While a $1200 riding mower with more engine power than a Honda Civic is, apparently, evidence of modesty.

    That’s why they’re bright orange and come with cup holders.

  48. Thanks brotherben, now I know what those Craig’s List ads mean by “GWB”.

  49. My last house had a hill for the front yard that was, no kidding, about a 45 degree slope. I hated that house, just for that reason. I had to use an electric, as a gas mower would just flood out.

    I put a U bolt at the bottom of the rear of the mower and threeaded the cord through that for leverage. Stand at the top of the hill, let it down, reel it back up using the cord. I went through about 2 cords a season doing that and usually looked like a complete idiot, but it was the only way to get it done. We moved before I could get ground cover planted.

    This house? The electric mower “broke” and Sears had a very nice gas mower for me to buy. Electric yard tools suck, for the most part, but they have their place.

  50. anytime overkiller, anytime

  51. Our push mower works great, and has done so for about 12 years. Easier to store.

    I wouldn’t even have commented if the OP was just a standard 2 minutes hate about those dumb environmentalists, but this bit

    Anyone who has even used a push mower knows where this is headed

    is just bullshit, as I and clearly many other commentors can attest.

    Libertarianism is about letting people be free to make their own choices, yeah? Choices like mowing their lawn with a push mower? Lately it seems libertarianism is about anti-left spite. If the environmentalists like something, hate it. If liberals want to ban smoking, pretend that cigarettes are delicious and full of vitamins.

    Knock it off and stick to the noble pursuit of freedom.

  52. Say, is that a front-mounted taser on that thing?

  53. All I can say, brotherben, is “Wow.”

    An organization devoted to promoting the use of the scythe.

    That’s something you don’t come across every day

  54. Knock it off and stick to the noble pursuit of freedom.

    Sidereal, I like the name but dude (or dudette), I think you need to have a drink… or smoke a bowl… or something… Lighten up.

  55. “Gil,

    Mow across the slope, not up and down it. Sheesh.”

    It’s slanted both ways – but that’s beside the point.

    You wouldn’t be mowing a yard that size with your push mower whether it was slanted or not.

  56. I use a coal-burning lawnmower.

  57. Joe,

    you know what they say, “scythes matter.”

  58. Gee, who’d have thought civilization would turn out to so popular?

    Anyways, most of this is just modern-day comet pills.

    Warming is a near-certainty, a significant anthropogenic component to that warming is likely, significant net negative consequences by 2100 from that putative anthropogenic warming are unlikely, the lack of catastrophic consequences in that time frame is a near-certainty.

  59. Grass doesn’t have big brown eyes, so it’s not alive.

    Eat it, fatsos.

  60. On the plus side, Al Qaeda has a plan to reduce carbon emissions to AD 700 levels.

  61. 1) Goat cheese is yummy.
    2) Goat curry is tasty.
    3) Goats mow lawns for free.

    Oh, and anybody who’s been reading Shikha Dalmia knows that a Humvee lawn mower is better for the environment than a hybrid lawn mower.

  62. I suppose ya could just get ya self one of them grass whips to cut the grass with. Whip it – whip it good.

  63. how is this “the environmental movement’s” fault? Has Greenpeace been advertising this shitty lawnmower?

  64. “The way a laterally-spinning blade cuts the grass causes more trauma to the plant than the scissors-actions of a push mower. It rips the blades of grass, as opposed to slicing it.”

    {glow} I know. It takes me about an hour and a half to rip up two and a half acres around here with the John Deere 316 and 48″ mower-deck. When it’s done, though, I’m here to tell you that the screaming of the grass is just glorious.

  65. Twenty acres; of which I mow exactly zero. I suppose you could call my sea of grass “xeriscape.”

    As for goats- pffft. Yearling buffalo are pretty reasonable.

  66. I have the best lawn care service.

    My wife mows the lawn. And she usually does the backyard in a bikini.

  67. SugarFree,

    To support your claim of “best” we will need a linky link with pics please. thank you

  68. Instead of sweating and swearing in an attempt at perfect green purity

    Anyone concerned with “green purity” isn’t going to have a suburban lot with lawn in the first place. Sheesh.

  69. ” I went through about 2 cords a season doing that and usually looked like a complete idiot, but it was the only way to get it done.”

    Could have spent $10 on some pulleys and a rope. That would have made the pulling even easier, and saved wear & tear on the power cord because, while you’d probably have to pull and feed it, it wouldn’t have been bearing the weight of the mower.

  70. On the plus side, Al Qaeda has a plan to reduce carbon emissions to AD 700 levels.

    Hey, didn’t Al grow a beard recently?

    Hmmm.

  71. Push mowers? Electrics? Riders? Don’t you people own any Mexicans?

  72. Wouldn’t they produce too much methane?

  73. “didn’t Al grow a beard recently?”

    Technically, yes. But, he didn’t actively grow it – he just sorta let himself go, in general.

  74. brotherben,

    She hits me in my sleep. I can’t risk it.

  75. I suppose you could call my sea of grass “xeriscape.”

    I prefer “zeroscape.”

    We have a neighbor who replaced her grass with gravel so she wouldn’t have to mow. Now she has plenty of time to work in her garden.

    Go figure. She’s happy.

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