“Yeah, the grass loves this weather,” the mother of one of my daughter’s classmates commented, sending a thrill of fear down my spine.  In truth, I had suspected as much but this was the first time someone had actually said it out loud.  Maybe it was the fact that the front of our house looked like Sleeping Beauty’s castle, pre-Prince.  Where’s my royal gardening service, huh?  Oh, that’s right, Mirror.  You’re looking at her.

Before I moved to suburbia, I didn’t know from crabgrass.  You see other people’s lawns, you watch the weed-killer ads on TV, you might even step on one in your bare feet from time to time, but unless you actually mow your own lawn, you may not really know your own lawn.  It’s true that many people in America do indeed have this deeper understanding of that green thing that surrounds our abodes.  My parents, for example, mowed our lawn while I was growing up; my mom and stepdad now use a tractor to wrangle the acres; but in L.A. we didn’t know anyone who cut their own grass.  Even in a place where the average home sits on a postage stamp, the use of gardening services is the norm.  Or, if you don’t own a home, you might live as I often did, in a multi-unit rental surrounded by concrete and asphalt.  If there’s any actual greenery, the landlord handles it.

So when we moved back East and into a leased SFR, I went a little back-to-nature.  Call it “pent-up demand” after years of insufficient outdoor time. I began to collect catalogs and glossy reference books on various aspects of Home and Garden, especially Garden.  As this dovetailed with a trendy increase in stories about sustainability and DIY, I had a plethora of planning tools with which to play around.  In other words, I had just enough information to be dangerous.  Or expensive.  (Or both, as my husband would probably say.)

I bought a few hand tools and got a little cocky because while I took care of most of the ornamentals (the fun part), the landlord still paid for a weekly lawn service (the boring part).  This particular lawn was more dandelion than grass and with weekly trimmings, it seemed like a manageable creature, even tame.  It’s true the yard was about half the size of our present home’s and mostly flat but I didn’t think much about it thanks to the rule in paragraph two above.  (If you don’t actually mow…)

Fast forward to last year.  Before we even moved to the new house, I bought my very own fancy shmancy reel mower.  Let me rewind a bit to confess that I had been collecting info on reel mowers ever since I saw an article in Mother Earth News.  (A push mower is all I’ve ever known and, as I’ve mentioned before, I don’t particularly trust myself around power tools.)  Since it seemed like I saw them everywhere–Lehmans, Vermont Country Store, even Home Depot–I figured I was in for some real retro fun.  Depends on your definition of fun, I guess….

Here’s what I didn’t factor in:

1)    We have a lot of grass.

2)    We have a fairly long hill in the back.

3)    If you take care of the grass, it keeps growing.

4)    It’s not a good idea to mow when the grass is wet.

5)    It rains a lot in New York.

6)    We have a lot of grass.

At first, I justified the mowing as an alternative to joining a gym.  And it’s even better than a gym because you get outside, no noise, no sweaty treadmills, no looking for a parking spot.  Need to burn off that extra slice of pizza?  Just mow & go!  I told some of my fellow parents at school, the ones who were into growing veggies or buying organic, and they were fairly amused about my new toy.  (Most FAQ: Why?) Apparently, very few people in my town do their own lawns.  No one uses a push mower.  The guy who did the lawn at our rental and who still does big stuff here was astonished.  When he saw what I used to execute the (admittedly shaggy) cutting job, he laughed and said if I could mow with that, he’d hire me.

As it turns out, one of the key elements in the art of lawn maintenance is height: If you want a healthy lawn, you don’t want to cut it too short.  Closely cut lawns may look neat but apparently that can stress the grass.  (The robins seem to like it, though, because they can see the worms better!)  Naive me, I decided brashly that I wouldn’t cut it shorter than 3 1/2″ to optimize its shot at good health.  I also planned to leave the trimmings right where they fell, as added nutrients with no further clean-up necessary.  All righty…

When I first rolled out the newly assembled Fiskars * we had painters at the house and I got a little stage fright.  I had read the instructions (I’m a girl, I do that) but it had been, sad to say, at least 35 years since I’d been up close and personal with one of these things.  How do you corner?  Is it better to go up and back on hills?  What pattern do you use?  Boy, it’s hot out.  Boy, I’m thirsty.  Hey, is that the phone ringing?  I think I need to get back into the A/C and find out.

In the end, I did get the hang of it but the painters laughed when they first saw my 4” “light trim”—hey, Lori, when are you going to mow the lawn?  I think I compromised with 3” for most of the summer and 2 1/2” on certain unruly strips.  Ultimately, I discovered there’s a threshold beyond which my muscles can’t go anyway.  As you lower the blade from 4” to 1”, it gets harder to push through the grass.  On hills, forget it.  So for me it’s all about getting a balance between frequency and grass length.  In between downpours, of course.

This year, though, I’ve been in shock.  I think I only mowed 4 or 5 times last year.  Why does is it feel like I’m mowing 4 or 5 times a week?  That mom I mentioned?  She confirmed my worst fears.  Grass grows fast in a mild spring, slows down in the dog days of summer.  We moved in last July.  I HAD NO IDEA!

Meanwhile, I was checking weather.com which in my new Farmer Lori guise I do quite often.  A certain link caught my eye: a calorie-burn calculator based on activity.  Clicking through, I found “Lawn Mowing” (it didn’t differentiate between push and power mowers).  Curious to discover the real value of my new exercise regimen, I plugged in my approximate weight and usual minutes of mowing, bingo!  Almost 200 calories.  Hey!

I should have stopped at that point but that’s not the way I’m made.  I scrolled up and saw “Golfing” as another of the categories and recklessly plugged in my husband’s usual weight and same number of minutes.  What?!  It was almost the same amount of calories!!!  How could that be?  Muscling a mower and hitting a tiny ball on manicured someone-else-mowed grass burns the same calories?**  There’s no way I am ever going to live that one down.

Please don’t tell my husband.


*I mentioned in an earlier post that I’ve had issues with the bolts (the ones that attach the handle to the unit.)  Noticed in the Home Depot reviews that others have experienced similar problems.

**Of course, the underlying mathematics of this includes the variable that he weighs more than I do and therefore the comparison is apples and oranges.  (Or corn chips and crackers, as the case may be.)


Copyright 2012, Lori Fontanes