They Laughed But She's Still Mowing Strong

By Sylvia Ulloa
Mercury News
San Jose Mercury News
August 4th, 2007

My family started making fun of me as soon as I told them I had fired my lawn guy and bought a push-reel mower.

I said I was saving $100 a month, helping the environment and getting some exercise.

My brother said I was spending $250 to mow my lawn one time, then I was going to call my lawn guy back.

Well, after that first painful mowing I was afraid my brother might be right.

I did my homework on push-reel mowers before I bought one. Using a reel mower eliminates a lot of greenhouse gases. According to the state Air Resources Board, 30 minutes of gas-powered mowing emits as much greenhouse gas as driving a 1995 car for 100 miles.

I also found out that reel mowers are friendlier to lawns. The spiral blades of the reel mower trim the lawn like a nice snip at the barber shop. The whirling blades of the rotary mower tend to tear the grass, leaving a jagged top that's open to infection. Another bonus: If you mow regularly, you can leave the clippings on the ground, where they will decompose and feed the lawn. And it's one less thing to haul to your curb come garbage day.

I ordered my reel mower, a Brill Luxus 38 - think the Lexus of lawn mowers - from a Web site that specializes in manual mowers (www.ecomowers.com). Maybe it's more the BMW of lawn mowers, since this green-and-red machine is made in Germany with welded steel blades that are supposed to keep their edge for seven years. It's only 16 pounds, easy for a wimp like me to carry and push. It has a 13-inch cutting width and adjustable cutting height from 0.7 inch to 1.8 inches.

My biggest hurdle was that first trim. It took longer than I expected for my mower to arrive and when it did, my grass was easily three inches tall.

This was going to be a problem.

I also had to assemble the mower. It had Ikea-like picture instructions, and I put it together in about half an hour, though by then I was no longer in the mood to mow my lawn.

That weekend, I rolled up my sleeves. Since the grass was pretty tall, I put the mower on the highest setting and attached the optional grass catcher. Cutting too much of the grass at one time will hurt the lawn.

I put my head down and started to push. And push. And push. I'm not going to lie: It was brutally hard with three inches of lawn to attack. I would get stuck and have to pull back. I emptied bag after bag of grass clippings. It took well over an hour to mow my 10-foot-by-15-foot patch of lawn. The next morning my abs were completely sore. Goal No. 3! Getting some exercise.

I was undaunted.

Midweek, I decided to have a second go at the lawn to get it to a maintainable level. I lowered the cutting height by a quarter inch or so and trimmed some more. It was a bit easier.

I've had my new push-reel mower for about three months now. I have officially saved enough in lawn services to pay for it. And since I am faithful about mowing every Sunday, it takes only about 15 minutes to do my small lawn, and the mower is much easier to push.

All in all, I've accomplished everything I wanted to do with my lawn mower, and I earned greenie points. Now for that native plant landscaping. . . .

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