Monday, May 13, 2013

Get Reel!

A reel mower is real experience to behold.

My reel mower in its parking spot.

For years I have been using a reel mower to mow my lawn, and I love it! I find cutting grass with these silly machines to be far more fun, more rewarding, and a little Zen. So much so, that I thought I'd share a bit about them.

Using a reel mower is kind of a lifestyle choice. If you feel you can kick the habit for a perfect lawn, you can also be free from that gas-guzzling, smoke-spewing, money-pit of a machine which you are unknowingly a slave to. 

Take back your turf! 
Achieve lawn-care fossil-fuel independence! 
Experience Zen in maintaining dominion over your lawn. 
Viva la Reel-volution!! 

The perfect lawn and The American Dream

The manicured lawn is a staple of American pride, and the riding lawnmower has practically developed into a status symbol. I feel like this lawn care obsession has a distinct American quality to it. Further Reading.

Anecdotal Evidence: Back in middle school, some visitors from Denmark came to our small town. I’ll never forget when one the brothers asked in his quaint Danish accent if we owned “one of those little cars that evens out the grass”.  It took a moment to realize that he was referring to riding lawnmower! When we said of course, their faces lit up and to everyone’s delight we took turns taking this extremely novel machine for a spin.

 Reel mowers: Not all are created equal.

I have encountered quite a few of these lawn-mowers in my time (I would assume more than the average person), and therefore feel I can maybe yield some useful advice.

Growing up in the country we had several antique, extremely heavy, clunky reel mowers stashed in out-buildings. On occasion I would lug one of these mowers out and take it for a spin across the grass. It’s a silly machine and a novel experience and thus my affinity for reel mowers began at a young age.

When I got my first job, I bought a brand-new Scotts version at Home Depot. It was overpriced, felt cheaply built, and didn't work too well. I have also used various others purchased at thrift stores. They show up at thrift stores fairly often as if they are going out of style. We will see about that!

I bought my current one at the Ballard Goodwill for $2.99! All I did to fix it up was put some bicycle handlebar grip tape on it. It’s made by the American Lawn Mower Company. It is marketed as the “Deluxe - Full Feature” model, but goes for only about $100 on Amazon, which is a great deal compared to the price, performance, and shoddiness of all other modern reel mowers I have seen. 

If you ever run into this brand (especially at a thrift store), snatch it up, because it is the best reel mower I have seen. It’s easy to push, cuts well, and is quality built (in America!). It is a fantastic machine and I love it.

The best reel mower I have encountered.  American quality.
Second-hand consumerism: $2.99 at the Ballard Goodwill!

Reel mowers are not for everyone or every situation.

They are not ideal for:

  • Large lawns. This is where they get ya.
  • Tall grass. You need to keep on top of your mowing.
  • Lawns with junk that might get caught in the blades (twigs, dog toys!). They are more sensitive to jamming than gas-powered mowers. However, you a can run right over the hose, no problem! …which I appreciate.
  • Maintaining that pristine manicured lawn look, but I personally prefer the aesthetic that they leave behind.

But here is what is great about them

  • Quiet, calm, and overall non-abrasive, which I find makes mowing far more enjoyable.
  • Less abusive to the user. They don’t rattle your bones, vibrate your eyeballs, deafen your ears, or choke your lungs.
  • LOW maintenance! As in … there is virtually no maintenance. 
  • Requires no external energy source, except you… and consequently is good exercise! A good machine with sharp blades doesn't require much more work than pushing a shopping cart.
  • Non-limb-threatening! So Sagan can hang out in the grass while I mow. In fact, as a game I chase him around with the mower, and we both get exercise!
  • You don’t have to worry with gas, which is convenient: no gas can or funnel, no trips to get gas, so it’s available to use on a whim, with absolutely no forethought!  Just get mowin. There are also no harsh liquids, fumes, or spills to worry about!
  • They are the apocalypse-proof lawn care solution! Regardless of the cause of the coming apocalypse, be it peak-oil, a natural disaster, or zombies, you’ll be sittin’ pretty. While everyone else is out panicking and pillaging, trying to figure out how to maintain their precious lawns, you can rest assured that your reputation among the neighbors will remain untarnished.
  • Did I mention that they operate for FREE!
This what the lawn looks like about ~2 days after mowing with a reel mower.
Not perfect, but aesthetically pleasing nonetheless.
Quick Fact: 
The EPA estimates a lawnmower operating for 1 hour emits an equivalent amount of pollution to driving a car for approximately 45 miles!

Lawn mowers, although small, contribute a noticeable piece (about 5%) of the worlds exhaust plume. This is due to a historical lack of regulation (although better in recent years) and therefore lack of lawnmower exhaust treatment. 

Baby steps towards fossil fuel independence people, baby steps. Don’t let your beautiful lawn become a burden on the world. BONUS: Since they reduce our dependence on foreign oil, they also contribute to homeland security!

So at the risk of being labeled “un-American,” I humbly suggest we consider if the maintenance of our yards is as enjoyable as the joy the yard itself returns. If the burden of upkeep is more than the reward, then shouldn't we seek out more satisfying alternatives? Possibly reducing the mowable portion and/or incorporating the concepts of xeriscaping and/or permaculture into the landscape. Or take a reel mower for a spin!

Cutting your lawn can be fun again if you get reel! Your ears and lungs will thank you. You will be happier & healthier. But most importantly, you’ll have more money to invest in solar panels for your house! 

John and Yoko support it!   (Or at least they do in a world with Photoshop.)  

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Composting makes me Happy. Seattle makes me Proud!

My food scraps and yard waste sold back to me! 

This year we are adding some compost to our garden to help the plants live to their full potential. The compost we chose is from Cedar Grove, one of the massive-scale compost facilities that handle Seattle’s municipal food and yard waste recycling, which I think is very cool. 

I can’t yet attest to how good this compost is, but from the tar-black color, mild earthy smell, and dense crumbly texture, I have a feeling that things are going to flourish.

Look at the stark contrast between the compost to the normal soil!

I have great respect and admiration for the biological cycles that govern the world, such as nutrient and growth- decay cycles. I love incorporating those cycles into my life to harness their potential. I love the possibility that my very-own banana peels and coffee filters are making their way back to my garden. I relish that the weeds of yesterday are the soil amendments of today. 

Composting: a nutrient cycle.   (picture compliments of the Cedar Grove website)
I truly appreciate the ease of Seattle’s composting program. If the city didn't take my scraps away and turn them into soil-gold, I would have my own compost pile in the yard. It’s funny that I pay the city to haul away my organic material, and then buy it right back, but I’m proud to have the opportunity to do just that. It's just too easy.

I was recently lucky enough to tour a facility similar to Cedar Grove, down near Portland. I was courting this composting company: [I wanted to work for them and they wanted to hire me. But work was too slow to hire a new employee. Things are still in limbo with that]. Composting is something that greatly interests me and I would love to work in the compost industry. Anyway, I ended up getting to visit this facility, which I really enjoyed as a biological systems engineer nerd.

A large-scale composting facility I visited, similar to Cedar Grove, Seattle's food and yard waste facility.

Seattle and Recycling

In the tradition of the west-coast green mentality, Seattle has been a national leader in recycling and composting programs for decades. 

Seattleites collectively diverted 53.7% of our waste from landfills into recycling and compost in 2010!   That statistic makes me very proud of the city.
Seattle’s full 2010 Recycling Report.

It's nice that we can recycle quite a few things.

A brief timeline of Seattle’s progressive waste reduction history:
Curb-side recycling program began in 1988.
Yard waste collection program began in 2000.
Food scraps were accepted in 2005.
Plastic bags were banned in 2012. They are no longer a choice at grocery stores.

Anyway, in summary I love living in a city with a progressive, all-encompassing, simple, and successful recycling and composting program. Thanks Seattle!  I hope to report back on the results of the compost.