“Mow Green” Takes On The Loud Guys

by Melinda Tuhus | May 14, 2009 2:55 PM | | Comments (35)

natalie%20mowing%20uphill%202.JPGIt was an unintentional but friendly battle of the lawnmowers, two houses apart on Livingston Street on a sparkling, birdsong-filled spring day.

On one lawn was Dave Taddei, with his helper and his $100,000 worth of equipment — ride-on mowers, trimmers, blowers, rakes.

On the other was Natalie Coe, with her 30-pound non-motorized reel mower and a bag for collecting the sticks — even tiny ones — that can stop a mower like that cold.

The two happened to be mowing lawns in East Rock at the same time Wednesday, with two very different sets of machinery. If Coe has her way, it was a contrast between the past and the future.

Taddei has put in almost a quarter century as the owner of Hamden-based Mountainview Landscaping.

natalie%20cu.JPGCoe (pictured) is just starting out in East Rock with a business called Mow Green . She is partnering with a man who started the business in Fairfield two years ago; the motto is “quiet, clean and green.” She said she had the same idea at the same time, but it took awhile to get up and running.

Taddei said he has nothing against the newcomer’s efforts: “I’m not knocking her; I think it’s great.” But he can’t imagine how someone with so little equipment could get a similar result for a customer.

Taddei (pictured) also made a confession.

“I can’t stand the sound of these machines when I’m gardening, and I’m very hypocritical about that; I’d be the first to say it. When I’m behind them, it’s like you’re in a different world — you don’t hear them.”

dave%20with%20truck%20cu.JPGTaddei (pictured) said he also didn’t notice the fumes. As for concerns about greenhouse gas pollution — at least 5 percent of which in the U.S. comes from lawn care equipment — he shrugged and said, “I’m not an environmentalist.”

dave%27s%20truck%20and%20trailer%20and%20dave.JPGCoe said the inspiration for her new profession came indirectly from her son, when she was trying to get him to nap and the neighborhood was exploding with those engine sounds from trucks and mowers that Dave Taddei also hates when he’s looking for some peace and quiet.

mary%20mowing%20uphill.JPGA reel mower offers both advantages and disadvantages to its operator. On the plus side, it’s, well, quiet, clean and green. Coe pointed out that she can hear her cell phone ring or even carry on a normal conversation while working. She can also hear the birds. There’s no gasoline to pour in the machine (which often results in small spills), no toxic fumes, and no carbon footprint. The mower clips each blade of grass, rather than tearing it as she said a power mower does. And, as part of the deal, she doesn’t use any chemicals on the lawns she mows, which is safer for her and for her customers, “especially if they have pets or children.”

There’s also the advantage of exercise in the fresh air. Coe said she spends about 90 minutes on each lawn, about twice what the big guys spend.

On the down side, that exercise in the fresh air can turn into a sweaty slog uphill that most people would not want to spend more than a few minutes doing before fleeing to a self-propelled power mower. The grass must be cut often, because if it grows more than a few inches long, the mower blades will just pass over the grass without cutting it. A reel mower is also intolerant of bumps in the lawn, making it an unlikely choice for any lawn that doesn’t approach putting green smoothness.

natalie%20and%20mary.JPGHiring Mow Green seems to have mostly advantages for homeowners. At least it does for Mary Schwab-Stone (on the right in picture). Her home just off St. Ronan Street has a lawn that offered quite a challenge to Coe, who said she alternates mowing each week from side-to-side to up-and-down, to avoid creating lawnmower tracks in the grass. On Wednesday she was going up and down the hill in the back yard, and the going was a little tough. Schwab-Stone took a turn herself (pictured).

But she said she’s happy with the quiet, clean lawn service and opined that her lawn is looking better than ever. She pays the same ($30) or a little less than when she hired a traditional lawn care company. “They’d come in with these huge machines that would smoke. They would over-mow the lawn so it was too short. Since I grew up mowing lawns, I knew you could do better, but I didn’t have the time to do it, and then Mow Green’s flyer showed up in my mailbox.”

And she loves the fact that this weekly task is not contributing to the problem of climate change.

Coe said, “Old habits die hard, and a lot of landscapers have invested so much money in their equipment. I talked to one landscaper who thought it was a great idea but he said he couldn’t just switch over. And some people don’t believe they can have a nice lawn without all of that.” She’s out to prove they can.







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Comments

Posted by: Bill | May 14, 2009 3:03 PM

The Greens won't be happy until we are all back to horse and buggy. They should be renamed the Regressives.

Posted by: Steve Ross, Fescue Friend | May 14, 2009 3:30 PM

Oh Bill, you're such a cutie!

Posted by: robn | May 14, 2009 3:50 PM

BILL,

I guess you won't be happy until we're below sea level.

The weekends are supposed to be for relaxation, not listeneing to power equipment, smelling smoke fumes and drinking water tainted by pesticides.

Posted by: Volvo | May 14, 2009 3:52 PM

"i'm not an environmentalist" haha! No he's not, but he's sort of a realist.

I use one of the reel-type lawn mowers at my downtown house. I don't pollute (fumes or noise). However, unless you do the mowing yourself you really aren't doing the world any favors. If you hire a company, they have to transport their motorless equipment in their motorized vehicles. I'd be impressed if they walk the equipment over and then mow the yards.

Don't mistake my message, I think everybody should use this type of mower for our small city yards. But get out there and do it yourself if you can, because that's the only way it's fossil-fuel free.

Posted by: Joseph | May 14, 2009 4:01 PM

The Greens won't be happy until we are all back on bicycles and public transportation. They should be renamed Average Human Beings.

Posted by: Ned | May 14, 2009 4:13 PM

I find that when I'm mowing the grass, with my new human powered reel push mower, that people are much more friendly, probably because they're not being assaulted by a loud, dirty fume spewing gas mower. As far as blowers (the antithesis of gardening) are concerned, basically all they do is disturb the peace, blow dust into the air, into people's lungs and faces, and detritus into the street - like that's somehow helpful, or aesthetically pleasing - certainly not an improvement over a rake and a broom.

The most eco-friendly solution is to reduce or eliminate the lawn entirely, with a ground cover or some other planting. Get rid of the "mow and blow" guys and hire a gardener.

Posted by: jawbone | May 14, 2009 5:11 PM

I'm an average human being and I'm lazy. I have a reel type mower and its a pain in the booty. You have to have perfect grass and mow it every week. If you let it get too long, the reel mower just sort of pushes the grass over.
Can we hurry up with the robots, please.

Posted by: Natalie (MowGreen) | May 14, 2009 5:23 PM

Volvo, you do have a point about transporting the equipment, but contrasted with the conventional lawn care industry, our carbon footprint is still minimal, although not quite zero. All of my equipment fits in my 38 mpg hatchback, and so far my customers are all very local to me. In addition, I am always happy to use a customer's own reel mower, in which case I can walk or bike.

However, I would love to see more people reel-mowing their own lawns (actually, I'd love to see fewer lawns, but that really is unrealistic!), and I do give free advice on mower brands, cutting heights, etc.

Posted by: Rob S | May 14, 2009 5:24 PM

Reel mowers are a significant environmental improvement over gas mowers, even if they are driven to the yard in a Hummer. The real damage done by gas mowers isn't the fossil fuel use (and resultant release of CO2) but the particulate emissions. A two-stroke mower without a catalytic converter or the efficiency car manufacturers have rung out of their engine designs is so much worse than the four-stroke engines with all of the emissions reduction technology that are in our cars and SUVs.

Reel mowers are great - they have no operating pollution, promote fitness, no noise pollution, etc - but they aren't the only option once you realize how awful gas mowers are. Electric mowers aren't quite as green, since they draw power off the grid (though if you've signed up for renewable power credits, they are), but they are just as quick and efficient as a gas mower but are significantly quieter (though again, not quite as good as a reel mower). Ditching the horribly polluting gas mowers that most people have doesn't mean your only option is the very vitruous but labor-intensive, time-intensive, much-less-effective reel mower. You can get most of the environmental improvement, a lot of the noice improvement and no reduction in ease or effectiveness by getting an electric mower.

The most pure option is great, but we shouldn't make doing the right thing so darn inconvenient when it doesn't have to be.

Posted by: norton street | May 14, 2009 5:29 PM

exactly ned, grass is such a waste of a yard. it requires upkeep so often that it doesnt make sense to have a lawn full of it.

for me, the most compelling argument for being "green" doesnt have to do with the environment. global warming? pfft who cares. peak oil? pfft thats just a rumor. these reasons (and there are many others like it) are debatable and not all the facts are in on them. however, what is not debatable, and what the facts are all in on is: a horribly designed country. the spontaneous, unplanned growth of this country do to an abundance of wealth and cheap oil has left us with a nation of terrible places. easy, fast, cheap buildings only lead to bad designing/planning. each person with their own automobile leaves bloody scars in the form of massive highways. so to 'go green' isnt only to deduce co2 emissions (which i could basically care less about, ill be dead by the time the planter succumbs to a co2 overload) i care about today, i care about making the boston post road a pleasant place to be, so that we dont have to go inside a monstrous, air-conditioned mall to escape from the horrors of life in the public realm (or america's poor excuse for one). so forget the future, lets go green because we want to live in a country that has pleasant spaces and not tract homes on old farm land.

Posted by: Leonidas | May 14, 2009 6:47 PM

You go Natalie! I use a reel mower in my backyard but am still using a small gas powered one in the front. My goal is to get rid of most of my front lawn entirely but it it has been taking some time. I think every little bit helps.

Posted by: Dan Quimowte | May 14, 2009 10:37 PM

MowGreen.US reduces pollution, consumption, noise, gas spillage, dust, traffic, obesity and unemployment by reel mowing at the same price as "dirty" lawn care (6-10% of US fuel use and emissions considering the trucks and trailers too), while encouraging lawn reduction with native plants & organic gardens.
MowGreen.US is in Fairfield & New Haven Counties & expanding, since 2007.
Let MowGreen.US mow For you, or With you. MowGreen also supports projects involving solar panel enhancement, hydrogen production, gas engine to hydrogen conversion, and push gang systems for those reelers who want to bulk up!
I am super impressed with all the great comments herein. I also believe that purity, strength and stamina are progessive qualities, and that horses and buggies are quite nice as well as bicycles, blades, sneakers, mass transit and the Prius that picked up and delivered 3 mowers within a 1 mile radius today in Fairfield, CT.

Posted by: robn | May 14, 2009 11:29 PM

Don't try this at home if you're gonna use grandma's 200 lb version...get a light modern one and you'll be happy you did. I've got a new reel mower and its so light that most of the time theres no difference between pushing it and a gas mower....except that its more peaceful.

Posted by: William Kurtz | May 15, 2009 9:42 AM

I would like a brand recommendation. Robn? Natalie? I have an old clunker reel mower that I pulled from someone's bulk trash pile, but it doesn't work very well and now that the engine of my refurbished gas mower seems to have seized, I wouldn't mind going greener.

I couldn't find anyone willing to sharpen the blade on my reel mower, so if either of you knows someone who's willing to do that, please pass along the name. Thanks!

Posted by: Margaret | May 15, 2009 10:10 AM

Yay Mow Green! Your name is cute and your business model insipring!

I'm so excited to hear that so many other people are bothered by the noise of those industrial-strength lawn machines. Maybe we could get some enforcement of the noise ordinance? (Especially early on weekend mornings?)

Posted by: norton street | May 15, 2009 10:41 AM

william, i got one sharpened for a neighbor of mine at spring glen hardware at the corner of whitney and hawthorne in hamden.

Posted by: boristt | May 15, 2009 10:50 AM

Where do you get one of those mowers and do they work

Posted by: robn | May 15, 2009 11:23 AM

Yes they work.
The best reel mowers are the lightest with the sharpest steel. Brill is top of the line followed by several others you can check out here. They get heavier as they get cheaper. You can take a look at some here.

http://www.peoplepoweredmachines.com/reel_mower_landing.htm?gclid=CI_EkI3PvpoCFdVM5QodrTyWsw

http://www.lawnmowerratings.net/reel-lawn-mowers.htm

http://www.metaefficient.com/gardening/manual-reel-mowers-reviews.html
http://www.treehugger.com/files/2008/09/review-push-reel-mower-lawnmower-sunlawn-lmm-40.php

http://stuffthathappens.com/blog/2008/05/14/reel-mower-review/

Posted by: Ned | May 15, 2009 11:44 AM

Brill ™ Razorcut 38 works very well for me.

Posted by: Natalie (MowGreen) | May 15, 2009 5:27 PM

To William Kurtz: I use the Scotts Classic, which is very sturdy and can mow up to 3 inches high (higher grass is healthier grass). It's not perfect, but it's a great no-frills mower, and you can sharpen it yourself using a backlapping kit.

Another option is the Brill Razorcut mentioned above; I have tried it, but it's not sturdy enough for my purposes, its maximum cutting height is lower, and it doesn't mow as wide a swath (15 inches vs. 20 inches with the Scotts). It also has a tendency to bog down if the grass is just a smidgen too high. On the other hand, it's only 17 pounds, and its blades are non-contact, so they rarely need sharpening. I would recommend the Brill if you have a smallish lawn and can really stay on top of the mowing, never letting the grass get even slightly high.

If you do ever need sharpening, I highly recommend Spring Glen Hardware on Whitney Avenue in Hamden (also mentioned by another poster).

Posted by: Richard Easther | May 15, 2009 9:10 PM

Can someone provide a source for this factoid "at least 5 percent of [carbon emission] in the U.S. comes from lawn care equipment"?

Air travel contributes about 5% of the world's carbon emissions, and that is a much bigger business than law care.

A good deal of POLLUTION can come from lawncare equipment, because the small petrol motors often belch particulate emissions, and modern cars have very clean engines.

I am all for people using reel mowers, but as someone else pointed out, going electric will give you most of the benefits will few of the drawbacks.

Posted by: robn | May 17, 2009 9:37 AM

RE,

I think a previous commenter may have misstated about %'s of fuel use and emissions (which you've mistakenly morphed into carbon emissions). The figure I've most often read is that lawn care accounts for 5% of air pollution. I think that the source is the EPA but can't confirm at this time... this figure kindof makes sense to me since many gas powered lawn mowers are dirty two stroke engines that mix gas and oil.

...this site is an awesome resource for green gardening...
http://www.cleanairgardening.com/


Posted by: Ed Pike | May 18, 2009 2:07 AM

Growing up, my friend had a neighbor kid who was horribly disfigured with burn scars. Turns out that he was playing with the gas can for his parents lawn mower and set himself on fire. As an adult I weaned myself from gas to electric to push and now I am nearly grass free. I am doing edible landscaping and have about 200 square feet in "darwins blend" grass, which is nice to put your feet in on a hot day. The main trick is to get rid of the grass. My kids love to graze for berries every day in the summer and I have no gas or lawn chems on my property.

Posted by: Walt | May 18, 2009 7:00 AM

ROBN

The reviews in the only one of your referrals that I read, the "stuff" one, are heavily anti-reel mower, opposing your views as I see it.

I already mow twice per week probably should mow more, or cut back on Spring fertilizer.

Reel mowing would require almost daily cutting and could not keep up with growing in the rainy periods, although apparently I did in earlier days before my first power mower,

A power reel would be good, but would make the environmental enthusiasts even more upset.

The noise of the commercial mowers bugs me more than the carbon emission problem and they are completely exempt, I believe, from Hamden's noise ordinance. Don't know about New Haven.

Seems that some control of that noise should be required. Doubt that mower users, if they had adequate mufflers to lessen noise would remove them as the motorcyclists do.

Without enforced laws re mower noise, the problem will get worse,not better

Posted by: Clifford J. Wirth, Ph.D. | May 18, 2009 8:29 AM

Cutting lawns by human power is a good idea. But here is what you must prepare for.

According to independent studies, global crude oil production peaked in 2008 and is now declining terminally.

Within a year or two, oil prices will skyrocket as supply falls below demand.

Independent studies indicate that global crude oil production is now declining from 74 million barrels per day to 60 million barrels per day by 2015. During the same time, demand will increase. Oil supplies will be even tighter for the U.S. As oil producing nations consume more and more oil domestically they will export less and less. Because demand is high in China, India, the Middle East, and other oil producing nations, once global oil production begins to decline, demand will always be higher than supply. And since the U.S. represents one fourth of global oil demand, whatever oil we conserve will be consumed elsewhere. Thus, conservation in the U.S. will not slow oil depletion rates significantly.

Alternatives will not even begin to fill the gap. There is no plan nor capital for a so-called electric economy. And most alternatives yield electric power, but we need liquid fuels for tractors/combines, 18 wheel trucks, trains, ships, and mining equipment. The independent scientists of the Energy Watch Group conclude in a 2007 report titled: "Peak Oil Could Trigger Meltdown of Society:"

"By 2020, and even more by 2030, global oil supply will be dramatically lower. This will create a supply gap which can hardly be closed by growing contributions from other fossil, nuclear or alternative energy sources in this time frame."

With increasing costs for gasoline and diesel, along with declining taxes and declining gasoline tax revenues, states and local governments will eventually have to cut staff and curtail highway maintenance. Eventually, gasoline stations will close, and state and local highway workers won't be able to get to work. We are facing the collapse of the highways that depend on diesel and gasoline powered trucks for bridge maintenance, culvert cleaning to avoid road washouts, snow plowing, and roadbed and surface repair. When the highways fail, so will the power grid, as highways carry the parts, large transformers, steel for pylons, and high tension cables from great distances. With the highways out, there will be no food coming from far away, and without the power grid virtually nothing modern works, including home heating, pumping of gasoline and diesel, airports, communications, water supply, waste water treatment, and automated building systems.

Documented here:
http://www.peakoilassociates.com/POAnalysis.html
http://survivingpeakoil.blogspot.com/

Posted by: robn | May 18, 2009 8:30 AM

WALT,

I was trying to be honest about reel mowers. The bad review was from a person with a 17,000 sf lawn and a partial steel hill, not appropriate for manual mowing. You really shouldn't use one unless your lawn is under 8,000 SF and only if you intend to mow weekly.

Cutting back on fertilizer is a good idea, especially if you live near Lake Whitney.

Posted by: Whaat? | May 18, 2009 11:16 AM

Give me a break...VROOOOOM!!

Posted by: William Kurtz | May 18, 2009 11:25 AM

Thanks for the sites and recommendations. My power mower's engine seized last fall and my grass had grown pretty high--too high to cut with a reel mower so I borrowed a power mower, trimmed it short, and now now my New Year's Resolution (I'm missing a few pages from my calendar) is to keep it short by human power. I've got an old reel mower I picked up a while ago and I will try that before getting a new one.

Posted by: Walt | May 19, 2009 11:24 AM

ROBN

So I figured, but it rarely happens

In tribute to your honesty, I will go back and read one of your other references..

I get the urge to fertilize when we have the first thaw of the winter, like a healthy green lawn , and probably will make no changes to my decadent practices.

Posted by: Natalie (MowGreen) | May 19, 2009 9:40 PM

To Richard Easther: According to the EPA, lawn MOWERS alone account for up to 5 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States (http://www.epa.gov/greenacres/nativelandscaping.html). If you add in leaf blowers, trimmers, the trucks used to transport all that equipment, fertilizer production (most of which is petroleum-based)... There's no single firm figure, but I think somewhere between 5 percent and 10 percent of total U.S. emissions is a pretty good estimate of the overall impact of the conventional lawn care industry.

Posted by: Richard | May 20, 2009 8:13 AM

That EPA link says 5% of air pollution is caused by lawnmowers,

NOT 5% of carbon emissions.

Posted by: JBW | June 28, 2009 7:39 AM

What no one ever mentions in these articles is how bad the ride-on mowers and leaf blowers are for the guys USING them. As a parent I cringe every time I see those healthy strapping young boys working for the lawn care companies. I grew up earning spending money by mowing lawns around the neighborhood, but I'd never let my son do the same thing now. The fumes from modern mowers and leaf blowers may only be an annoyance for the rest of us -- but these kids are getting enough exposure to do serious longterm damage to their lungs. The fad for industrial strength ride-on mowing equipment has turned what used to be a 'healthy outdoors' summer job into an outright health hazard. Sorry to sound like a cranky old codger, but .... we need less 'modern convenience' and more old-fashioned elbow grease!


Posted by: Joe | July 17, 2009 1:47 PM

Wher can I get the blades sharpened in the New Haven area?

Posted by: greeneG | August 14, 2009 2:37 PM

There is no reason why most suburban lawns cannot 100% mowed by either manual reel mowers or electric Corded/uncorded mowers. I don't think people think twice about mowing with gas mowers since they figure they are efficient and don't use much gas. The reality is quite different. I think the change to either electric and/or manual power has to come through education. Thanks for being and example.

Posted by: Jon | September 2, 2009 9:28 PM

This is a great article. I recently bought a Scotts Classic from www.ecomowers.com

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