A productive lawn and the advantages of a push mower- By Nev Sweeney the self sufficient guru

Bill Mollison of Permaculture fame refers to the suburban lawn a “green cancer” due to its lack of productivity and the amount of resources required to maintain it. I can’t help but agree in general terms, however, having been a prisoner of suburbia for many years, I also understand that to keep the peace (especially with my partner in self sufficiency – I wanted to plough the front lawn up and plant wheat, but the plan was vetoed – no sense of humour!) a nevmow certain amount of lawn is required. So for years I have been harvesting my lawn and using the cuttings to make mulch and compost as well as feed to the chooks. Now that I have a chook tractor operating, the grass clipping have become a valuable resource to be eaten by the chooks as well as dug over into the veggie patches by them. I am even starting to eye off my neighbours lawns when they get a bit high.

Up until 2 years ago I used the conventional petrol powered motor mower to gather in the harvest, but I have now invested in a push mower.

I can still remember back in the 1960’s the type of push mower that my father and our neighbours used to use – big cast iron and steel things that seemed to be lubricated with gravel. They took a fair amount of effort to use and it is no wonder that the motor mower took over. Nowadays there are much lighter and more efficient models available, they do not take any more effort to push and consume no fossil fuels. The brand that I have is Flymo but I have seen others available too, you also need to buy a catcher with the push mower so that you can collect the grass clippings for use.

nev mowing a side viewIn our local area we have a place called “Bartertown” where materials that are still salvageable are rescued form the tip and then sold off cheaply. On inspection I found that they have a plentiful supply of pre-loved push mowers of varying vintages and conditions. If you have a similar service in your area they would be worth a look. Unfortunately the grass catches do not seem to survive as well so you may still need to buy or make your own catcher, or just rake up the grass afterwards!

The advantages of the push mower are –

  1. Initial cost – The push mower is one third or less that that of a new petrol mower
  2. Ongoing costs – no petrol, oil, sparkplugs, tune-ups etc. I calculated, based on fuel and oil costs that the pay-back period for a push mower was about 3 years.
  3. No environmental damage – caused by petrol exhaust fumes
  4. Safety – the push mower can’t shoot out sticks, stones or other debris to cause injury to personnel or innocent window panes. It also can’t lop off unsuspecting fingers.
  5. Sanity – Have you ever tried to start a motor mower that just didn’t want to start?
  6. Exercise – You, as the mower power plant, gets some exercise.
  7. The mower blades are self sharpening, all you need to do is adjust the clearance between the blades and the cutter bar every so often, so little ongoing maintenance is required.

As with all things there are some disadvantages to the push mower –

  1. Push mowers are not designed for uneven ground or very long grass.
  2. If the grass is very thick it gets somewhat hard to push!
  3. There can be no more excuses for not doing the lawn such as “there’s no petrol!”
  4. While the mower does not spit out sticks, stones etc. at a great rate of knots, they do bring the operation to a screaming halt when you hit them and then you have to go around and remove the offending obstruction before continuing.
  5. Due to the design of the mower, it can’t cut right up to objects and it helps to have a pair of hedge shears or a whipper-snipper to tidy up the fiddly bits.

In my experience, the following helps in operation –

  1. If the mower is getting hard to push and/or is not cutting as well as it should, it is time to adjust the distance between the rotating blades and the cutter bar up again. This seems to need doing about every 6 months or so of moderate usage (1-2 lawn cuts per week).
  2. For very heavy grass you may need to take two cuts – either raise the cutter bar to take a coarse cut then lower it back down to take a finer cut; or only mow half the blade width on each swath, so that the area is covered by two overlapping cuts.

I suppose I am a bit masochistic, but there is something satisfying in being able to harvest the grass and have a reasonably tidy property without relying on the petroleum industry to make it all possible. So If you are stuck in suburbia like me, still want to be self sufficientish and are waiting to make the break, look into getting one of the new style push mowers, you will find it a worthwhile investment.