Sunday, October 19, 2014

Consider the push mower

People spend a lot of energy on their lawn. Whether it's energy to supply the copious water they require, energy for fertilizing, aerating, pesticides or mowing -- lawns use a lot more energy than a comparably-sized native garden.

We have a small lawn at our place. It's about 1/6th the size it was when we moved in and we kept some for the kids to play on. It's probably 20 - 25 square meters. We needed a lawn mower, and since I'm a strong believer in 1950s approaches, I was keen to investigate a push mower.

I was hesitant though: I've never known anyone to use a push mower -- there must be a really good reason why no one uses them. Perhaps they're really hard work? Maybe they don't work well?

Test run of a push mower

Then, one day as I was riding off on my bike, I discovered that our neighbour uses a push mower. I asked him if I could borrow it to try it out and he was very happy to loan it (thanks, Peter!), so I tried it on our back lawn.

It was so easy! It is no harder to push a push mower than a "normal" petrol mower. I think it's because a petrol mower is so much heavier that the advantage of the motor is completely lost.

My push mower

I went and bought one almost immediately. The push mower I bought is a Flymo H40 (new ~$140, I bought second hand for $50) and it uses a scissor-like action to cut the grass, which is very efficient.

Here are some great things about it compared to a petrol mower:
  • Small and light (I can easily pick it up with one hand)
  • Simple
  • Cheap to buy, no maintenance costs
  • Easy to use
  • quiet
  • no fumes, no fuel

Why aren't push mowers the norm

Given this big list of advantages, why are push mowers not ubiquitous? I've been thinking about this since I bought one. This is complete speculation, but here goes:

In the mid 20th century, when push mowers were the norm, internal combustion engines (ICEs, the kinds of motors that burn petrol, diesel, etc) were relatively uncommon. Cars were rare and hence ICEs themselves were rather foreign. As cars started to penetrate the suburbs, ICEs would have been associated with a certain amount of prestige and I suspect it was this perception that drove the uptake of petrol mowers -- they were a status symbol.

Since I've been thinking about this kind of thing more (ie. "where do opportunities exist for us to cause less destruction to the natural systems that support us?") I've come to realise that, oftentimes there are huge opportunities for improvement that exist from doing things in a completely different way (outside common thinking boundaries -- eg. don't just get a more efficient ICE lawn mower -- dispense with the motor altogether!) -- often these are methods that our ancestors discovered, but subsequent generations had abandoned (often for reasons that were questionable at best).

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