Saturday, October 16, 2010

Mowing the Lawn, Mowing the Lawn

When I was a kid, the old man would point me to the push mower and order me to mow the lawns. I don't think we had more than 500 square feet of lawn in the front and back of our house, but from behind that cast-iron unpowered reel mower, it felt like 5,000.

That thing was a miserable design. Heavy. And like as not, the wheels would just slide on the grass without spinning the blades. Using it wrecked my whole day. As I pushed and yanked and hauled that damn thing around the yard, I cursed and sweated and rued the day I was born.

Later, we owned a gasoline-powered reel type mower, which weighed about 100 pounds, and then a gasoline-powered rotary mower which packed up with cuttings after trimming about six feet of lawn and had to be turned on its side and scraped out by hand; and later we had an electric rotary mower. It was was light and quiet, but I spent more time wrestling the cord out of its path than actually cutting grass. It, too, required constant cleaning out. All in all, we just owned crappy lawn mowers.

This didn't bother the old man, because he wasn't mowing the lawns. But out under the hot Napa sun, I vowed I would never, ever mow a lawn again.

When we got older, my folks cut back on the grass lawns and planted dichondra, which requires little maintenance. And since then, I managed to avoid mowing lawns either by craftily living in places with no lawns, or hiring mow, blow, and go guys to handle the job. 

Okay, fast-forward to now. This house here in Bend has about 1,400 square feet of lawn, and every week or two in spring and summer, someone comes by and mows it. They scatter fertilizer every so often. Seems to work well enough, I guess.

But Mrs Elliott cares a lot about how the it looks and often declares that she wishes it was prettier.

So I've been thinking about how to achieve a proper House Beautiful look, but on a budget. Mowing, feeding, weeding, de-thatching, and aerating are all important. (Though I owned houses with lawns since about 1990, I never heard of de-thatching. Lawns in the Old Country don't need it, I guess.)

A couple weeks ago I read an article about preparing a lawn for winter in this foreign country. It said,
Gradually lower the mowing height of your mower to eliminate the young growth that is most vulnerable to dry out after the first winter winds come through. This will help reduce the appearance of a brown lawn. Be sure to do this in several steps to avoid suddenly removing all the green leaf tissue and damaging the turf.
I knew we could not afford to have our lawn-mowing guy come by every few days to lower the turf, so I figured that I'd have to do it myself.

After careful consideration and thoughtful planning, I determined that the first step was to acquire a lawn mower. But what kind?

I frankly despise the racket caused by internal-combustion engine mowers, and they pollute -- a lot. Electric mowers are a lot quieter and have zero emissions. The choices are corded or cordless. I've already done enough lawn mower cord-wrangling to last a man a lifetime, and the rechargeable electric cordless ones are quite expensive.

The last technology standing was manual reel-type push mowers. Like what the old man made me use.

Buoyed by a completely unfounded faith that mowers, like all nearly all yard and household appliances (save the electric can opener, for some reason) have improved significantly over the 47 years since I last touched one, I did my research, read the consumer reviews and settled on a highly-regarded mower that retails for about $120. I ordered it online and it arrived earlier this week. After assembling it, a task that took about 20 minutes, I took it out for a test drive on the little 300 square feet front lawn.

Wow. What an improvement. Compared to the steam age beast that my old man had, this mower was nimble, easy to push, and clipped the grass neatly (reel mower cut the grass, rotary mowers shred it). Mowing the front lawn was so easy that I went ahead and tackled the big lawn in the back yard.

The mower made short work of that, too.

One of Mrs Elliott's employees, a young man in his 20's, watching me mow the lawn through the window, said that at first he thought I was using a little push fertilizer spreader. Wasn't quite sure what I was doing.

"Mowing the lawn," I said. "That's how we do it, old-school."

Today I took another pass at the lawns, with the blades a bit lower. And followed that with a push-type fertilizer spreader filled with Scott's Turf Builder (Fall blend), because that same article said,
In late fall, give your lawn a final fertilization. Inactive during winter, your lawn won’t use the fertilizers immediately. Much like mammals bulking up for the cold, your lawn will store these nutrients in its root system and take full advantage of them at the first signs of spring.
(I wonder if the author had me in mind when he wrote about mammals "bulking up" for the winter.)

Now, I'm not sure when "late fall" is around here. No one seems to be sure. Ma Nature is mighty unpredictable in these parts. But, by gum, I'm doing what I can so Mrs Elliott will be happier with her lawn.

De-thatching and aerating equipment is expensive so I'll pay someone to do that. But I'm tempted to just do all the lawn feeding and the mowing myself next year.


  1. "Now, I'm not sure when "late fall" is around here. No one seems to be sure."

    This is late fall -- the latter half of October. On Nov. 1, winter arrives. But I'd wait until the last week of October to apply the fertilizer; otherwise you might run into a rainy spell and get an unwanted spurt of growth.

    Someday I intend to have a lawn small enough to mow with a push mower again. Mine requires a goddamn combine.

  2. "De-thatching and aerating equipment is expensive so I'll pay someone to do that."

    That makes sense. Shouldn't cost much for a lawn your size. Aeration makes a huge difference; dethatching, not so much.


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