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The Trouble with Mow and Blow

String Trimming , and a cloud of dust and exhaust

The Trouble with Mow and Blow

I was just out in the garden having lunch when my neighbor’s mow and blow company arrived.  Soon there was the roar of gas powered edgers, mowers, and then blowers.  A half minute later a visible cloud of dust and exhaust drifted in to my garden.  I had to run inside to protect my food and lungs and ears from the onslaught, and close the doors and windows.  When I came out later my pond had a layer of film on it.  The real irony is that it is summer and the neighbor’s lawn didn’t need to be mowed.  They don’t water it and it hadn’t grown since the last time it was done.  The only reason it was being done was it was scheduled for maintenance.  The guy blowing was just standing there going through the motions, stirring up the cloud of dust that probably traveled for hundreds of yards through the neighborhood for everyone who was home to breath while the handful of leaves he was targeting came flying over in to my garden.

The only real benefit I could see from this ritual was that it provides employment for the guys who do it.  They drive around in a big truck with a trailer all day long like hundreds of other mow and blow companies, filling the air with hazardous pollutants and incredible levels of noise.  The people who do the work for the companies rarely wear protective gear and are subjected to the significant health risks of frequent exposure to hydrocarbons and dust and ear damage.  I’ve asked people if they are bothered by the impact of having the service and they often say “No, we aren’t home when they do it so it isn’t a problem”.

So, here are some of the facts on the matter.  2 stroke  engines which power most gas powered lawn and garden equipment produces 15 times the exhaust of an average automobile.  Using a gas mower, blower, or string trimmer for one hour produces the same amount of smog forming hydrocarbons as driving a car 200 miles according to an EPA report.  You can see their information at: 
This contributes to ozone and global warming that is expected to help lead to the extinction of up to 30 % of the species on Earth in the next 50 years!
Cutting out an existing lawn and replacing it with 3/4" River Rock

I am removing another lawn from one of my client’s gardens this summer and replacing it with 3/4 inch pea gravel.  It is only 5 feet wide and 25 feet long, but when we calculated the amount of money she spends on the mow and blow service a year it came to $3,600.  They routinely weed whack the plants in the beds and never actually pull any weeds in the garden.  Mow and blow is pretty much one of the most boring jobs around.  The guys who do it don’t seem to like to bend over, or sweep, or rake, or exert any more energy than is absolutely necessary to get the job over with.  I even had a guy run over a garden hose once with a mower while I was working on a mosaic project because he didn’t want to bend over and move it.  The hose was cut and water sprayed everywhere, and delayed my project by half an hour.  The same company chopped up my client’s garden knee pad, leaving shredded purple foam all over the lawn.  I don’t think the idea was to make the garden look better, just to get in and out of there.  Mow and blow is not a fun job, it is just a job.
Lawn replaced by a carpet of 3/4" River Rock, never needs mowing again!

I know there are a few, very few companies that will mow your lawn with a hand push mower.
  When I was a kid we had hand clippers for edging the lawn, or a round saw toothed edging tool on a handle for trimming along pavement.  We raked the garden with a hand rake.  Gas mowers have been around for a long time but the other equipment is a thing of modern society.  Leaf blowers became popular in the 1980’s for garden maintenance, and in 1990, 800,000 of them were sold in the United States alone.  It seemed to coincide with the rise in obesity in America.  People don’t do things that require physical exertion when it comes to accomplishing tasks anymore.  I’ve even seen an escalator leading to a Gold’s gym.  Wouldn’t want to climb stairs on the way to the treadmill.  Needless to say our carbon footprint has escalated as a result.  We are polluting our atmosphere at an alarming rate, and we don’t seem to care enough to alter the way we live.  Eliminating the need to use power equipment to maintain your garden is a substantial way to reduce your carbon footprint.

The health risks from mowing and blowing are rather alarming as well.  The state of California estimated that leaf blowers alone account as much as 5% of all fugitive dust sources in the state.  A few towns have banned their use, most notably Beverly Hills and Carmel by the Sea in California because wealthy residents didn’t like the noise.  But worse than the noise is the fact that using a leaf blower for one hour can propel the equivalent of a 5 gallon bucket of particulate matter in to the air.  This can contain pesticides and herbicides used in lawn and garden fertilizers, fecal matter from pets, and pollution that settles on the ground from all forms of air contamination.  This affects people with asthma the worst, and children and the elderly, but everyone gets a lung full in the end.

There is an old fashioned alternative, one that worked for decades before the advent of convenient power tools.  A well maintained push mower cuts grass better than a gas powered mower.  There are electric alternatives to the gas powered tools that don’t produce the exhaust, but they still make dust.  Rakes and brooms are quiet and you get some exercise while you do it which will make you healthier in the long run.  Having a more natural looking garden that isn’t spotless and overly groomed is a possibility.

I would love to see more alternative garden maintenance companies that use hand tools and push mowers.  It seems like there is a market there, like there is for organic food.  This planet needs all the help it can get, and we as gardeners should be playing an active part in making that happen, rather than making things worse because our aesthetic requires a neatly trimmed golf course and not a leaf in sight. 

And we can certainly use the exercise.  I recently had a garden tour come to lounge in my garden.  I have carpets and pillows on the ground, but everyone stood around.  I laid down to demonstrate the idea of reclining and relaxing and asked people to join me, but the most common excuse was that they were afraid they wouldn’t be able to get up again!  Time to get out a broom and start sweeping your walkways!
Once a sloped lawn, we replaced it with a generous bluestone path and lush plantings

My garden is quite beautiful and I don’t have a lawn to mow or weed or fertilize or edge or blow.  I save a lot of time that I can spend doing other things.  My neighbors don’t have to listen to me mow, or breathe the resulting pollution.  My garden is peaceful, filled with birds singing and the sound of trickling fountains.  It is paradise.  And then somebody starts up the lawn power equipment somewhere in the neighborhood and that peace is shattered.  Nature has once again been subdued and controlled and violated, and we take one more small step towards the end of a what was once magnificent planet.  And that makes me sad.  “We’ve got to get ourselves back to the garden”.

Nature always wins in the end

sho fia

sho fia

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