The weather's warm, and my dormant Bermuda grass that appeared brown and dead all winter now is green and growing. Here in the Southeast, we've been mowing for weeks. We have a John Deere riding mower (for which we paid way too much) that requires annual service (which is also costly) and gas (also costly). It's too large for some narrow sections of our lawn, which means we also need a push mower.
Because we've been through three gas-powered push mowers in the last six years—all have given up the ghost—I persuaded my husband to buy a reel mower this year. It took some arm twisting, sharing some childhood memories, and the price of gas to convince him that the reel mower was worth a try.
When I was growing up, we visited my grandmother in Richmond, Ky., every summer. Mama Moores had a beautiful yard of lush grass. She also had a reel mower. My sisters and I fought over who would be allowed to cut the grass. There was something very appealing and even therapeutic (something I realize now) about the whirling blades, the grass flowing over the blades, and the whirring, ticking sound made by pushing the mower. This was BVG (before video games), when children spent much more time outdoors and didn"t have to be coerced into cutting the grass.
Mama Moores had a reel mower out of necessity. Neither she nor my grandfather drove, so buying gas for a gas-powered mower was out of the question. Little did she know that her mower also decreased her carbon footprint on this earth, something that would become vitally important in the future that is now the present.
The People Powered Machines Web site has some interesting statistics from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). According to the EPA, a traditional gas powered lawn mower produces as much air pollution as 43 new cars, each being driven 12,000 miles.
Seventeen million gallons of fuel, mostly gasoline, are spilled each year while refueling lawn equipment. That's more than all the oil spilled by the Exxon Valdez in the Gulf of Alaska. Besides contaminating groundwater, spilled fuel evaporates into the air and volatile organic compounds (VOC) spit out by small engines make smog-forming ozone when cooked by heat and sunlight.
Until 1995 lawnmower emissions were unregulated. Older more powerful, less efficient two-cycle engines release 25 to 30 percent of their oil and gas unburned into the air. Gas mowers emit hydrocarbons (a principle ingredient of smog), particulate matter (damaging to the respiratory system), carbon monoxide (a poisonous gas), and carbon dioxide (contributing to global warming). The health toll includes cancer as well as damage to lungs, heart, and both the immune and detoxification systems. Plus smog inhibits plant growth. EPA regulations are beginning to reduce mower emissions.
More than 5 million gas-powered mowers still are sold in the U.S. every year. A typical 3.5 horsepower gas mower can emit the same amount of VOCs—key precursors to smog—in an hour as a new car driven 340 miles, say industry experts.
Last weekend, my husband decided to leave the John Deere parked and cut the entire front lawn with the reel mower. It took him about an hour. He got his exercise, worked up a sweat, and—drumroll—the lawn looked great. I heard no loud noise from inside the house and the neighbors heard none. The cat, who normally is spooked by the power mower and wants to stay inside, kept my husband company outside as he cut the grass. We didn't have to put the gas can in the car and drive to a station to get fuel for the mower. None was spilled on the ground or evaporated in the air. Bottom line, it was a good experience on all fronts.
Earlier this year, I had talked my daughter, a first-time home owner who is very environmentally conscious, into buying her own push reel mower. She makes it a point to cut her grass when her neighbors are out, hoping they'll take the hint.
Push reel mowers may not work well in all situations. The "Guide to choosing and using a manual reel mower" lists four disadvantages: They don"t mow tall willowy weeds well. If you let your grass get too tall, the mower will be harder to push and won"t work as well. It takes a bit longer to mow with a reel mower instead of a power mower. A real mower is best suited for 8,000 sq. ft. or less.
The reel mower works well for the Bell family, and we feel good about using it.