Manual lawn mowers are better for you, your grass, your planet


The grass needs mowing. Unlock the doors under the porch. Wrench them open. Squint into the dark and locate the behemoth that is your gas-powered mower. Wrestle it out. Run over your foot. Swear a little. Drag the gas can out. What? Empty! Swear some more. Search for car keys. Wallet. Drive to the gas station.

You're finally ready. Start 'er up. Create an ungodly racket. Burn fossil fuels. Contribute to global warming. Emit reactive hydrocarbons, particulates and oxides of nitrogen. Chunk a few rocks. Dice the occasional plastic dinosaur.

All this to mow a little grass.

Here's an alternative scenario: Lift the hand reel mower from its hook under the overhang. Set it down. Stroll up and down the lawn, pushing it in front of you. Hum a tune as the "gentle crescendo and diminuendo of whirring blades" fills the air.

Which of the two mowers is the environmentally correct one?

It is hard for me to be unbiased when it comes to people-powered grass cutters. That's because I have the pleasure of owning one. And so I know, as a growing number of Americans do, that the modern incarnation of this timeless tool is racy little thoroughbred, sharp and light on its blades, that snips grass as cleanly as scissors.

Lawn care experts agree that a hand reel mower is better for your grass because it clips the blade. (Professional Lawn Care Association spokesmen say rotary mowers, the power kind of grass cutter, rip the grass blades, fraying their ends and causing the plants unnecessary distress.) Environmental experts agree that a hand reel mower is better for the environment because it requires no air-polluting, planet-warming, noise-creating, fossil-fuel-burning engine to shear your grass. (The California Air Resources Board has adopted standards regulating lawn mower emissions.)

Safety experts agree that a hand reel mower is better because it is safer. (The Consumer Products Safety Commission reports that more than 55,000 people a year are treated in emergency rooms for injuries involving power mowers -- two-thirds of them the walk-behind kind.)

Physical fitness experts agree that a hand reel mower is better for your body because the slight extra exertion it requires burns more calories. (I read in a women's magazines at the checkout stand that an hour of pushing your mower equals about 45 minutes of lively tennis.)

And so it is unanimous. If you have been considering buying a new mower, choose the hand reel kind.

If you don't need a new mower, buy a hand reel mower anyway. Buy one new, buy one secondhand, buy one with a neighbor, buy one with everyone in your apartment building. Just buy one. Retire your power mower. Save it for the first day of mowing after a long vacation, because your hand reel mower doesn't like bushwhacking.

You'll find that you have to mow your lawn more often because of this. But because the clippings will be nice and short, you won't have to hassle with raking or bagging. You can leave them as they fall, to fertilize the lawn. Experts agree (Cooperative Extension Agents, this time) that clippings do not contribute to thatch, as was once thought.

Which brings me to the final point about hand reel mowers. Yes, real men can use them -- as can women, children, grandparents and teen-agers. Experts agree that the pushing of a reel mower does not necessarily lead to the eating of quiche.

(Have a question? Write me at P.O. Box 121, 1463 E. Republican St., Seattle, Wash. 98112.)

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