Garth Madison can mow his yard at the crack of dawn if he so chooses — bird song in the background instead of neighbors’ chirping complaints. This seeming miracle of modern science is actually thanks to an old-fashioned contraption: the reel mower.
Garth Madison can mow his yard at the crack of dawn if he so chooses — bird song in the background instead of neighbors’ chirping complaints.
This seeming miracle of modern science is actually thanks to an old-fashioned contraption: the reel mower.
"It’s great for the environment, great for gas prices and very low maintenance," says Madison, a Peoria, Ill., attorney who switched from a power lawn mower to a reel mower as he and his wife, Laura Petelle, sought out more earth-friendly ways to garden.
"You probably want to mow a little more often. Really tall grass — it has a hard time chewing through it."
But even more frequent mowings doesn’t bother Madison because "I find that I enjoy mowing a lot more. It’s incredibly quiet. You still hear the bird song. Basically, it’s like taking a walk through your yard. It really works great. I’m very pleased with it."
Not to mention the fact that he’s no longer contributing to air pollution.
Operating a typical gas-powered lawn mower for one hour produces the same amount of smog-forming hydrocarbons as driving an average car for nearly 200 miles, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. And the exchange of 1,000 gas-powered mowers for electric has the potential to reduce volatile organic compound (VOC) emissions by 9.8 tons annually, the equivalent of taking 230 cars off the highways.
"Most people do not associate air pollution with mowing the lawn. Yet emissions from lawn mowers, snow blowers, chain saws, leaf vacuums and similar outdoor power equipment are a significant source of pollution," the EPA said. "Today’s small engines emit high levels of carbon monoxide, a colorless, odorless, poisonous gas. They also emit hydrocarbons and nitrogen oxides, pollutants that contribute to the formation of ozone. While ozone occurs naturally in the upper atmosphere and shields the earth from harmful radiation, ozone at ground level is a noxious pollutant.
"Ground-level ozone impairs lung function, inhibits plant growth, and is a key ingredient of smog. Emission control for small gasoline engines has not been a crucial design consideration until now. Consequently, small engines are big polluters."
Given this research, many cities and states — Baltimore, Los Angeles, Phoenix and Portland, Ore., to name a few — have instituted lawn mower buyback programs, giving homeowners rebates for purchasing electric mowers.
The only minor glitch Madison has found with his reel mower is that sticks can stop the blades if they get caught in the reel. But that just means he spends a few minutes prior to mowing picking up larger sticks.
After much research, Madison and Petelle settled on a German-made Brill reel mower, which they purchased online for a couple hundred dollars. Madison added that people are always surprised at how light and easy to maneuver it is.
"It’s a beautifully crafted piece of equipment. I’m sure it will outlive me," Madison said.
Jennifer Davis can be reached at (309) 686-3249 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
REEL MOWER TIPS
- Walk at a good, steady pace. With a manual reel mower, you are the engine; the mower will tend to bind up and skid if you walk at a snail's pace.
- Overlap your rows. This will make the mower a bit easier to push because you’re mowing less grass, and it will also help catch any spots you might have missed on the previous row.
- Experiment with mowing patterns. Different types of grass and have different growing patterns. The direction in which you mow can make a difference in the quality of the cut.
- Don't let the grass get too tall. Manual mowers are harder to push when the grass gets too tall.
- Mow early. This is one of the neatest advantages of having a reel mower. You can get up at the break of dawn and mow, and you won’t wake your neighbors.