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Fri, 08 Apr 2005
Lawn Boy. Not.

Tonight after dinner I hopped into our van and hauled myself off to Silverdale, the no-ferry-involved shopping mecca for Bainbridge Islanders. You see, on Wednesday I postponed dinner and went to try and cut our grass, which has grown enormously tall due to a combination of some fertilizer, some unexpectedly warm spring weather, and lots of famous Pacific Northwest rain.

Ever since we've owned a home, I have used one model or another of Black and Decker cordless electric mower. We had one in San Jose that was starting to run down just as we moved up here, and when we bought our house, I decided to give the cordless mower one more try -- I wanted to do what was good for the environment. The cordless mowers are also super convenient -- there's much less maintenance involved. They are also enormously more expensive than a comparable gas powered mower, and as they get older and the batteries wear down, they have a harder and harder time cutting the grass.

I will digress at this point and mention that we have serious lawn genes in my family. Well, at least my father and brother do. The gene seems to have skipped me altogether. When I was growing up, some friends once teased me by saying "your Dad is out there cutting his lawn with tweezers". That was a slight exaggeration, but working on the lawn and yard was my Dad's hobby, and he was pretty good at it. Consequently, we had a very fine lawn growing up. Of course, it didn't hurt that we lived next to a gardening contractor either. My brother has inherited the gene from my father, so he got all the skills for dealing with a lawn (not to mention a house, a car or any other mechanical device). What I got was a good idea of what a healthy flourishing lawn looks like. That's mostly been good for guilt, because my lawn is definitely not measuring up to the family standard.

So Wednesday evening I set out to make the grass at least a presentable height (it is a beautiful color), only to discover that the Black and Decker had weakened to the point where it barely cut 1/3 of my tall lawn before the needle visited the bottom of the battery gauge's red zone. Last year I had a few instances where lawn mowing turned into a 2 evening affair because I needed a recharge in order to finish. The prospect of 3 evenings worth of cutting, combined with a bleak rain forecast, and a *very* *full* calendar finally pushed me over the edge and over to Silverdale.

Thus I found myself at Home Depot at 8pm, buying a gas powered lawnmower. The lawnmower guy at Home Depot seemed to think that most lawnmowers were good for about 5 years, unless you moved up to the self propelled Hondas that were twice as much as the mower I was looking at, not to mention overkill for the size yard that I have. The Black and Decker is 4 years old, so I suppose that's not too bad. The salesman and I had our moment of commiseration about how they don't make things the way they used to, and then I got on with the dirty deed. I've been through two of the electric mowers now. I've paid the eco-friendly price (and time) premium. But this time around, I'm going with the gas mower. Maybe in 5 years there'll be the Prius of lawn mowers. At least I didn't buy an SUV.

[01:05] | [places/us/wa/bainbridge_island] | # | TB | F | G | 17 Comments | Other blogs commenting on this post

I agree with Darryl.  If you even half way take care of a gas mower, it will last a long time.  I wonder if the Home Depot guy realizes that you need to sharpen the blade occasionally? :)

One thought that might help ease your mind a little.  With a more powerful mulching mower, you will need much less fertilizer.  As Martha might say, that's a
good thing.  I've actually been thinking of using some of the new seed mixes that will add flowers to your yard.  Then your yard is more like a prairie and you can get away with mowing it a lot less.  You can also do like my neighbor and let your grass grow really tall in the name of moss erratication. :)
Posted by Ed Hager at Fri Apr 8 09:39:57 2005

I'd rather have a robot do it. Have you looked at http://www.friendlyrobotics.com

I don't have one yet but I'd like to get one. Then I will just need a robot to clean the bathrooms
Posted by Christopher Fulford at Fri Apr 8 10:19:30 2005

Hmm, google hybrid lawn mower and evatech company turns up which seems to create remote control hybrid lawn mowers.  It looks like they sell blue prints for converting your lawn mower to a hybrid, so maybe the next time your brother visits the two of you can do a little project together.

Actually, this thing looks expensive and small, so maybe it's really the Honda Insight of lawn mowers.
Posted by Jon B at Fri Apr 8 20:42:09 2005

In my opinion, the best way to mow a lawn the size of yours, Ted, is with a really high quality scythe, NOT the kind you'd be able to get at Home Depot, several folks at DR have had them custom made to their height for $200-300.

With a good scythe, you keep a whetstone with you, sharpening every 5 minutes or so, and with very little physical effort, your lawn is clipped to whatever height you like.  Of course, there is SOME physical effort, and it take a bit of skill, but some of my friends can mow a one acre field in about 3 hours this way.  The scythe will last many, many decades with good care.

Aside:  eschewing batteries because of their high embodied energy is sometimes the right choice, but certainly not always.  Large lead acid batteries can generally be refurbished or recycled many, many times, with relatively little waste of materials or energy. 

The metals in smaller rechargable batteries are generally more challenging to recycle usefully, so they're not generally a very good trade off from an energy intensity perspective (thought they're certainly far superior to disposable batteries).

There's a second order energy-intensity benefit to using battery powered devices:  the manufacturers are generally forced to use more efficient engines and circuitry to provide usable battery life.  For a lawn mower, I suspect this benefit isn't very high :)

At Dancing Rabbit, we've used hand mowers for sections of land we rent from our neighbor and need to keep mowed.  I hate hand mowers, but then, I'm not a big fan of lawns!

On our own land, we've tried to plant native, naturally 2" - 3" high grasses, that's worked quite well, but it likely wouldn't match your aesthetic.

Posted by
Jeffrey Harris at Sat Apr 9 13:11:35 2005

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