Thursday, July 7, 2011

real men use reel mowers

"Real men use reel mowers" is one of the best quotes I've gotten from my current boss.  He's an older landscape architect who's been with the company for over 30 years, but you wouldn't know it by looking at him.  He's quicker (and skinnier) than most of the people half his age that work there.

He lives in Minneapolis, and also has an eighth acre plus or minus plot, like most Twin City urbanites with pre-WWII single family homes.

He was the first to really interest me in push mowers- or 'reel mowers' as they are sometimes called.  While they were the standard equipment for mowing lawns until the 40's or 50's, they began to go extinct as gas-powered mowers became more common, and the suburban lawn became the law of the land.

Apparently the reel mower made a bit of a comeback in the oil crises of the 70's and early 80's, and I think that when his dates back to.  As does the 'real men use reel mowers' quote.

I found mine at a garage sale two years ago. The older fellow running the sale had it tucked into a dark back corner and seemed surprised that I was interested in it.  He said he hadn't used it in at least 20 years and wasn't sure if it worked.  I was taking the kids to the playground in the bike trailer at the time and couldn't fit a lawn mower in there as well, so I offered him $5 and agreed to come back with the car later.

So I did and brought it home and Gita gave me one of those 'what did you buy this time' looks  as I unloaded it.  It didn't work that well at first, but I tinkered with it a bit, setting the blade closer to the anvil, at my bosses suggestion, oiled the whole thing well, and it worked like a charm!

Which was really fortunate because last year about this time, or maybe a bit later, maybe about mid-August if I recall, our gas mower gave up the ghost.  I had been alternating mowing with the gas mower and the reel mower up till then- usually using the gas mower for when the seedheads formed on the grass and it got tough to mow with the reel mower, then mowing once or twice with the reel.

I figured that the gas mower's death was a good opportunity to try out full-time reel mowing.  I could always buy another gas or electric mower if I needed to- or just get the thing fixed- though it looked pretty far gone.  We had bought it used on craigslist and I was surprised that it had lasted as long as it did.

But I haven't looked back.  I've been mowing solely with the push mower for almost a year now, and it's been fantastic.  The tough seedheads have been taken care of with some hedge pruning shears when needed (Gita has been willing to chop them down- it's how most grass cutting is done in Nepal, unless a person has goats- then it's food).

I've found that pushing a reel mower is more work than pushing a gas mower, but way more pleasant.  The noise of the gas mower was always irritating to me, and chased the kids out of the yard.  My daughter would go hide as soon as she saw me get the gas mower out the garage.  Now they stay and play in the yard when I mow.  My son sometimes follows me around with his little tow mower, pretending to be big like daddy.

If you look carefully at the top picture above, you'll see that the maker of the mower was the Scotts corporation- the purveyor of all things chemical and excessive in lawn care.   Apparently they still do- as a quick look at shows.  I guess I can't paint them with too broad a brush.  

They've been doing a bit of greenwashing lately- even offering grants to organizations starting community gardens.  But I've had a lifetime of yelling at the TV when their commercials come on during the 10 o'clock news, and then of trying to counteract their influence- telling suburban homeowners that they don't really need to fertilize three times a year, install automatic sprinklers, and bag their grass clippings.  They almost always opt to believe what Scotts tells them.  I hold Scotts mostly responsible for most of the misinformation in the lawn care word, and for the golf course lawn fetish that plagues homo sapiens suburbiana americanus.  

I appreciate their reel mower regardless.  It's solidly built, like most things that were made 30+ years ago.  The thing weighs a ton, unlike the newer, lighter reel mowers that I'd pay $250 for now.  My guess is that my dinosaur of a mower will outlast them.  All the parts are metal- no plastic.  A rubber roller at the back and no-flat rubber tires.  Built like a tank for a long service life.  I like that. 
no- not grass clippings- dill and basil with potatoes!
Enough about mowing grass- my goal is to get rid of most of it eventually anyway.  I wanted to relay a fantastic recipe for using up the abundant greens and herbs that are all over Minnesota gardens right now.

We have a bumper crop of dill and basil this year.  The dill grows like a weed in our community garden plot, from a previous gardeners dill crop, and the basil I broadcast in the spring to see if any would come up.   It did, and is outpacing the basil I carefully started indoors in March.  I'd say the direct seeded basil is twice the height of the started basil at this point- averaging about 12" tall.

So I gathered a bunch up and looked for a way to use it.  The result was dilled grilled potatoes with basil.


4 or 5 small red potatoes, chopped into 1/2" cubes
a fistful of dill weed, chopped
a fistful of basil, chopped
a few garlic scapes, also chopped
a tablespoon or so of olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

To prepare:  I mixed all the ingredients, then wrapped them tightly in aluminum foil, making sure that the oil coats it all well, then poked the top of the fork 2 or 3 times.  To cook, I put it down in the coals of a charcoal fire, then placed a few coals on top for good measure, then placed the grill on top of the works, and grilled my bratwurst on top of that.  When the brats were done, I removed the foil ball from the coals (about 30 minutes cooking time) and they were perfectly done.

If you try the recipe, let me know how it turns out.  If you like, I can post more as they occur to me.



  1. I think i know a man who uses that kind of lawn-more.Garden looking great!

  2. Yum.

    I had a reel mower. I sold it. I miss it. My gas mower currently spits out a disgusting mass of blue smoke upon starting. Dumb move on my part.


  3. Hey,

    To give our gardens the best look we really need the best reel mowers and you have written a good post on reel mowers.
    I myself have bought one of the Best Reel Mowers, so that I can give my garden a new look and also help readers give right ratings and reviews about reel mowers.