A word of warning: this blog post will have nothing to do with hunting. Hunting season ended a long time ago (not true if you are a turkey hunter, but I am not, so turkey season doesn’t really count for me). It’s hard to imagine that in three months goose season will start. That seems like ages from now at the start of summer.
Anyway, this blog post is about lawns.
That doesn’t sound like an exciting topic, but nevertheless, last week, I gave a brief talk to the Bagaduce Watershed Association about lawn chemicals. What a great group of folks who really care about their river. Thanks very much to Gunilla Kettis and Ann Flewelling for inviting me up to Castine to speak last Thursday evening.
First, we watched a film, “A Chemical Reaction,” about the threats of lawn chemicals and the small town of Hudson, Canada, which banned most of their uses. According to the film, the lawn care industry actually sued the town, and the courageous little town fought back. The industry lost its case, and then appealed all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada, which unanimously upheld the right of the town to band lawn pesticides. Good for the little town of Hudson!
I should say that I am no lawn care expert. I’m more of a “lawn neglect” expert. I guess I just don’t get it. Why spend a lot of money on toxic chemicals (1) and fertilizers and pour them all over the ground right where you live? What about that sounds like a good idea?
Admittedly, I might be a touch extreme. I used to cut my lawn manually with a serrated weed cutter because the idea of using a gasoline lawnmower bugged me so much. A manual push mower just didn’t work because my grass grew too quickly for me to keep up with it. After having some neck problems a couple of years ago, I broke down and bought a gasoline powered 4-stroke lawnmower. I made a compromise with myself. I would mow LESS of my lawn now that I had a power mower. I dropped from cutting about 1/3 acre to cutting a little less than a 1/4 acre I would guess. This way, I told myself, I would use less gas.
To my surprise, I really liked the mower. Having a small, neat parcel of grass in front of my house makes me feel kind of like being in my house when I have just vacuumed—just a little bit more in control of my own destiny, I guess. Also to my surprise, I haven’t yet finished the 2 gallons of gas I bought two years ago. I know it’s a bad idea to use two-year-old gas, because it can harm the mower’s motor, but my mower keeps chugging along. I don’t feel wasteful either about using this gas, relatively speaking: I use 20 gallons a month in my Prius, or close to it anyway.
I also love that I have some real meadow with lots of long grass right next to my house. Once every year or so I go through with the serrated weed cutter and whack the small shrubs that start to grow in. This is mostly autumn olive, which is very invasive, and a few quaking aspen volunteers. This keeps anything too big from growing too close to my house.
So what are my rewards for this lawn neglect? Well, I don’t spend a lot of money on toxic chemicals to pour around my house, and I don’t pollute my land or my pond with this nasty stuff. Sometimes, in the summer, I have Bobolinks on my lawn. Bobolinks are just about the coolest birds in the world (except maybe for ducks), and they search for insects in the tall grass at the sides and back of my house. The timing could not have been better, however, for my biggest reward, which came last week the morning I was going to give my talk to the Bagaduce Watershed Association. I was sitting in my living room when I heard what I thought was a catbird calling. Then I noticed that the catbird sounded kind of funny, and that it was particularly loud and insistent, even for a catbird. So I went out on my porch to see what was going on. In the long grass in back of my house was a small fawn. It was calling to its mother, who was about 100 feet away and paying it very little mind. The fawn could not have been more than a few days old. That is the first time I have ever knowingly heard a fawn call to its mother! I know that I would never have seen or heard this fawn if my lawn were well manicured and covered in pesticides.
So, thanks again to Gunnilla Kettis, Ann Flewelling, and the folks at the Bagaduce Watershed Association for inviting me up to Castine to speak. Thanks to Maine for being a great place to live.
For those who interested in making their homes and gardens more toxic-free, visit www.nrcm.org to download or order a copy of our “Clean Housekeeping” brochure.
 See http://www.beyondpesticides.org/lawn/factsheets/30health.pdf for a list of the health effects of 30 common lawn pesticides.
Resources for Environmentally Friendly Lawn Care Information
- Friends of Casco Bay Bayscaping page
- Beyond Pesticides Lawncare page
- US Environmental Protection Agency Lawn and Garden Care web page
- Maine Department of Environmental Protection Lawn Care Focus Group Report: The Grass is Greener at Harvard
- Harvard Organic Landscaping web page
-Nick Bennett, NRCM Staff Scientist and Healthy Waters Program Director
Gretta W says
What a great story, Nick. I love the image you paint.
Now, as to the gas-powered mower. I was going to get judgmental. After all, I use a manual mower. but then I remembered that I occasionally cheat by using my weed whacker. I like your strategy of allowing part of your lawn to revert to a more natural state. And you were rewarded.
Hi Gretta W.
Good for you for using a manual mower. You are a better citizen than I! I really could never get my manual mower to do an adequate job. The grass just grows too fast at my house and by the time the weekend would roll around, it was really too long to cut.
I now use a cordless rechargeable electric mower. It’s fabulous. When the battery runs out (by then I’m tired too), I lift it out and plug it in indoors. I still have my engineless reel mower but haven’t used it since getting this last summer.
I got mine from Amazon. This is probably it or similar: WORX WG782 14-Inch 24-Volt Cordless Lawn Mower with IntelliCut
I don’t recommend Earthwise: I tried their small rechargeable mower: two of the same model were unusable because the wheels kept falling off. Their customer service was no help so I had to box up and return two lawn mowers!
Nick Bennett, Staff Scientist says
Thanks for your note! I seriously considered an electric mower, but I talked to friend of mine who has a lawn that is kind of rugged like mine, and he burned his electric mower out pretty quickly. So, I settled on the 4-stroke. An electric mower is very likely a cleaner solution to the problem. I’m glad you’ve found one that works well.