Looking out my window today, across out our front perennial beds, I was again struck by the sheer volume of lawn in my subdivision. So I will be embarking on a brief series of posts about yards, their costs, and the beautiful solutions to the ‘traditional’ American lawn. First in the crosshairs will be the ubiquitous gas lawn mower.
In an article this spring the NYtimes posted these stats: “Gallon for gallon — or, given the size of lawnmower tanks, quart for quart — the 2006 lawn mower engines contribute 93 times more smog-forming emissions than 2006 cars, according to the California Air Resources Board. In California, lawn mowers provided more than 2 percent of the smog-forming pollution from all engines.” Putting that in perspective the typical lawnmower uses a 1/2 to one gallon a month, it is contributing about as much as the homeowner’s car in the same period. Even with my bias that number staggered me a little. The kicker is that the solution is simple-add a catalytic converter. We aren’t talking the big $200 ones on your car-these are cute little buggers that will only cost about $30 to add on at the factory. If you asked the average American if paying an extra $30 for a measurable (2%) improvement in air quality the vast majority would agree. What gets my goat is that Briggs and Stratton is fighting this tooth and nail. Why? If the EPA mandates it all mowers will need the converters so the playing field will be as level as it is today. Lobbyists are killing our country.
Right now you can’t go buy a converter to add to your mower, so how do you keep you lawn snazzy and your air clean? When we lived in our last house we had a small .1 acre yard that I mowed with a reel mower (great info @ clean air gardening), and when we moved out to our larger .5 acre yard I vowed to keep that little mower. If you keep the lawn short, it mows very well with less effort than horsing around an 80lb gas mower. It’s safer-I typically mow while our two small children play very nearby. It’s quiet-I can mow at 6am on a Sunday, or watch finches at the feeder oblivious to mpresciencece. In fact I find the soft whoosh-whoosh of the spinning blades very soothing-can’t say a Toro ever did that! It’s dang cheap-we paid under $100 for our Craftsman and the only maintenance is a sharpening (takes 20 minutes and if you can turn a crank clockwise you’re qualified) once every 2-3 years. Downside? Taller weeds don’t get cut, and the lawn needs to be kept under 2″ tall-shorter than is healthy for an organic lawn. Reel mower not tripping your trigger? Try a rechargeable one from Black and Decker-if seen them at Menardies for $350, or get one with a cord for half that. Still whisper quiet and low maintenance-though they cost 2-4 times as much and have some safety concerns around the kiddies. Unless you are off grid they are using energy for lawn maintenance, but it is a fraction of a gas mower and you can grow the grass longer reducing your watering and weeding.
But if you are considering the electric route because the Reel Mower will take too long, the answer is beautifully simple, and simply beautiful-reduce the lawn area with other plantings or even (gasp!) the need to mow at all.