Now for a Reel Workout

I got a message the other week. It was the start of the grass-cutting season, and I was preparing my power mower for its annual tear around the garden. I’m a push-mower enthusiast now, but for the last few years I have brought out the heavy artillery for the first cutting of the year – usually, because I’m late getting at it and the lawn is looking more and more like a prairie.
This year it was different. I checked the oil, put in some gas, and yanked the cord. And I yanked on it again. And again. But it wouldn’t start!

Man mowing lawn cartoon
What to do? …

I looked over at my trusty American Lawn Mower Co. reel mower eager for a season of work, and I swear I heard it chuckle.

handover cartoon

My untested theory was that the reel mower couldn’t get through the long stuff and I should do the first cut with a “real” mower. Well, my real (or push, as we call it) mower and I went to work on the lawn, and all I can say is Not a problem. We cut the grass with ease. No fuss, no noise, no spilled gas.

Speaking of spilled gas, reel-mower users can feel a little smug knowing they do not contribute the estimated 75 million liters of fuel spilled each year in North America re-fueling power lawn equipment.

If we care to look at the big picture and consider fossil-fuel emissions and climate change, reel-mower users can feel positively virtuous. In California (they’re way ahead of us in worrying about this sort of thing), they calculate that the pollution put out each year by gas mowers is equivalent to three-and-a-half million cars driving 26,000 km each.

Power mowers, for sure, are not loaded up with pollution-control devices. Using my power mower for one hour to tidy up the lawn is the equivalent of jumping in my car and driving 560 km. This is reason enough to leave it in the garden shed.

car pollution cartoon
But if you use a reel mower regularly any sense of righteousness soon fades, making room for feelings of pure pleasure. It is quiet. The rhythmic clickety-clack as you move along is reassuring, even soothing.

Mowing the lawn is productive physical activity out in the fresh air. It saves making a trip to the gym for a stint on the Stairmaster. A real workout, in short, is the essence of active living.

The reel mower is also efficient and easy to use. When we had a lawn and garden assessment done last year, I was reminded that leaving the clippings on the lawn after mowing returns 25% of the required nitrogen, one essential nutrient for healthy grass. This is easily done by not using the catch-basket. Let’s just say it’s slightly messier and more erratic if you leave the catch-bag off the power mower.

Those who have grass to cut and are using a power mower do not have to go cold turkey. Necessary steps toward a healthy lawn and a clean environment come from leaving the grass longer and mowing it less often.

There are many other beneficial things we can do in the garden. We can go more of our property untamed, put in more native plants, and water less often and less generously.

The recent water problems in Walkerton – and studies indicating tenuous future for fresh water in Canada if we’re not careful – show how important it is for us to take steps to protect water quality and quantity.

We can also kick the ‘sides’ habit – for health and environmental reasons. Good folks in Halifax are leading the way here, with their call for a total ban on lawn and garden chemicals.

Climate change, water conservation and misuse of chemicals. These are crucial environmental issues each one of us can do something about it right in our backyards.

Now, about my power mower. A little tune-up and it’s ready to go. If you’re in the market for one, give me a call. I’ll happily sell it at a reasonable price.

Just promise you’ll use it sparingly.

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