Scotts 14" Reel Mower Review

For division of household chores, Fin holds that mowing is "not her job". So, when it comes to trimming grass, we're a very traditional 60's style house – that's the guys job. Not that I mind, I rather like mowing, and… Well, Fin does a lot more around the house than I do. Like tons. Proportionally, I'm but a small blip on the radar when it comes to things moving around here. 

Unfortunately, mowing proves to be yet another area where technology and I don't get along. As on many other Saturday's, I pulled out our mostly trusty old gas mower, starting mowing, and…. bzzzttt fart dead. As fate would have it, we discussed reel mowers a few days ago and narrowly talked ourselves out of purchasing a sub-$100 Scotts model. Perhaps the universe heard and zapped some sludge into our push mower's carb.

Since a hardware trip was required anyhow (carb cleaner + oil change + spark plugs), I figured I'd venture off into the truly hardcore green movement. I donned a green shirt, green shorts, and went out to reduce our lawn cutting emissions to 0. When Fin and I purchased the push mower, years ago, we'd talked about working toward "green".

But reel mowers? Nahhh, that's too hardcore. Give up powered mowers? Oh hell no. I'll keep my powered lawn mower and use pig farts if required.

Nowadays? Hell yeah, we're hardcore. I head to Depot, grab the required materials for our gas guzzler and brave the head shaking looks of many, proudly walking our Scotts reel mower out. And yes, someone DID ask, "why are you getting THAT?" Why? I'm hardcore.

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Greener than a hippie chained to a tree

Back at home, it's time to discover just how long this experiment will last. As a child, I recall a small reel mower tucked in the back of the garage. I mowed with it a couple times, I don't recall much about it except… it sucked, a lot. Tough to move, and it cut next to nothing. Unpacking, I keep careful track of everything, remembering my childhood experience and doubting my resolve against mowing a yard with human power only.

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Sustainable, but plastic is still in

Scotts does a fairly decent job packaging everything. The box and mower matched nicely with my clothes – green… Just to let you know you're doing the "environmentally correct" thing. The package advertises tool less assembly. No lies. Build time took less than 5 minutes.

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5 minutes after opening, maybe…
Unfortunately, Home Depot hadn't seen fit to put these on display. (After all, who the hell is CRAZY enough to purchase this thing? If they do have some on display, pay careful attention to which models, there are significant differences beyond cutting deck size.) First Impression? Houston, we have a problem. This thing is SMALL. Built for an 8 year old child small. While sturdy, the general appearance doesn't say "screw you combustion engines, I'm a MAN and I can best the powers of industrialization through shear brute strength, Hu-fucking-Rah".

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Picture with child-sized mower
I walk inside and inform Fin that I can't be seen pushing around an 8-year old's toy outside. Still, I must admit it's built well and looks like it could do some damage, and Fin thinks we should get an overall impression and decide if the reel mower experiment is worth continuing or not. Really, what better time to test out the most manual of mowers than in the high heat of a Midwest insta-sweat summer day.

How'd it do? Perspective first: I've used everything from a riding lawn mower, to a fancy electric, to a standard non-self-propelled push mower on our yard. Obviously, we're not talking riding lawn mower ease here. Our yard hasn't been cut in too long, so we've got some high grass and a few nice tall weeds. Our grass is generally a mixture of multiple types, mostly thin bladed.

Overall, this mower was substantially easier to push than our gas guzzler push mower, but not as easy as working with something motorized and self propelled. I was moderately surprised by the cut, a nice even and natural look. I didn't have any trouble with weeds popping up or high patches left uncut. I found the cut exceedingly easy when keeping a slow, steady pace – attempting to speed up or slow down resulted in the blades stopping. Also, you'll need to cut in straight lines -> turns don't work well. However, it's VERY easy to backup, and restart cut paths. I quickly found a natural rhythm forming and managed to cut most of the grass before I stopped to discuss it's abilities with Fin.

Fin broke her no-mowing rule to try cutting a couple paths. Her immediate reaction was positive, though she agreed with me on the rather funny picture of a rather tall guy marching around the yard with mini-mower. Her thought was to take it back and get one with a slightly larger / adjustable handle.

I packed it up and returned it to Home Depot and was pleasantly surprised that they didn't give me any hassle at all on the return. The clerk asked if it hadn't worked for me. I told her it seemed like a great idea, but I needed to find something a bit more adjustable for my height. "Well, I don't know if you noticed this, but you're REALLY tall," she replied back. Heh. Glad to see at least some places still keep a strong view toward customer service.

TL;DR? Let's summarize.

First, for real mowers in general:

Pros

  • So Green, you'll make Prius owners realize their farts really do stink
  • No worry over getting gas, charging batteries, or maintaining engines
  • Easier to push than heavier non-self-propelled push mowers
  • Leaves a very natural, even, nice cut
  • Much quieter than anything gas operated (potentially louder than electric)
  • Quiet operation allows for early morning work while its not boiling hot outside
  • Materials research is cool -> modern reel mowers use composites that are lighter and more resilient than those of yesteryear
  • Significant evidence your yard will look better

Cons

  • Multiple weird looks from even your "sustainable" friends
  • Significantly more work than riding mower, not as easy as a self propelled
  • Requires more yard care, need to pickup branches and leaves, instead of mulching over
  • Smaller cutting deck means a lot more passes required
  • If you're maintaining acreage, this isn't realistic (I'd argue push mowers aren't either though…)

Second, thoughts specific to the Scotts 14":

  • Solid construction, very lightweight, but wheel plastic did seem slightly cheap. Handlebar padding didn't stay put well / slid on handlebars.
  • Rear discharge means grass gets thrown directly against your legs/feet.
  • Cut height isn't easily adjustable and limited to 1 3/4" at the highest.
  • Handlebar is very small, larger individuals will feel a bit compressed moving this around.
  • It WILL work for taller people, but the handle adjusts up, meaning you'll walk practically on top of it, and get grass blasted against your legs.
  • Awesome value for the money, I could see this unit lasting for years with only blade sharpening required.

For what it's worth, I'd recommend the Scotts 14" for cutting smaller areas. Scotts moves to a slightly more open handle design in the 18" series, but the 16" and 14" use a T-style design. If you have wide shoulders or are taller, I would NOT recommend the 14" or 16" for that reason. If you keep a well maintained yard without trees, these mowers are actually easier to use. And that's coming from a rather large fan of gas powered yard tools.

We're doing some research before getting another reel mower, but this time, it'll be less experiment and more tool.

A slow start to a modest garden…

My second year of gardening at my house.  These are two different examples of hugelkulture beds.  Both are heavily mulched on top to help trap additional moisture and reduce the need for watering.  Due to the extended cold and then excessive rain (and some illness on Fin's part), things got started a little late this year.  Either way, the greens are starting to come up, even if they are a little late.

 

The side bed:  Upper left is some type of Kale that regrew from last year.  Other than that, it's all carrot tops that you can see at the moment.  There is Romaine lettuce planted throughout, but that is only visible up-close as tiny sprouts.

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The Raised Bed: Two types of tomatoes in the cages on the left, next to that is a row of okra, and the rest of the bed is 3 different types of squash.

The holes you see nothing growing in either didn't germinate, or they were plucked by the birds and died before I could replant them.  Damn birds.  We'll be reseeding shortly where necessary.

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One of my favorite plants in my yard will be blooming again soon:  My Yucca plant!

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Hopefully Fin will come by and post the specific plants in the comments, because I can't remember them off the top of my head.  Either that, or I will edit this post tomorrow.

Flower Bed Update

Well,  it’s starting to fill in:

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There at the end I put some day lilies that my parents gave me,  they seem to be bouncing back from waiting nearly two weeks for me to plant them.  I planted a mixed pack of sun flowers on the left and nasturtiums on the right all the way up the bed.  Right in front of the day lilies I planted some sage in the middle and thyme on the edges.  Then I just dumped in several mixed packets of flower seeds to fill in the rest.   Mostly annuals,  but some perennials as well. 

I do see some weeds coming up mixed in with everyone but I see a lot of stuff I recognize as flowers that I planted.   I am looking forward to seeing it in another month or so when it starts to bloom. 

My rose bush has gone all kinds of crazy this year too:

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I didn’t do anything special to it so I have no idea what is going on but it looks nice and smells wonderful too.   I did tie it up so it’s not laying on the ground a couple days after I took this picture.  I’m hoping that it doesn’t break if we get some good winds here.  I tried to be careful about the way I tied it to keep that from happening,  but only time will tell. 

I’m having some issues with germination of my seeds in the garden again this year.  It’s gotten frustrating for me to have such poor luck for two years in a row.  It’s making me wonder if I have some issue in my garden I don’t know about.  I am guessing my problem this year is a combination of the colder then normal spring and all the rain we have gotten making the seeds not germinate before they rot.  It’s just frustrating.  I know some of the seeds I’ve planted are older seeds,  but some are new this year too so it’s not just that. 

I’m replanting some stuff yet again here this week,  the weather is supposed to warm up and stay warm for a bit.  Hopefully that will solve my germination problem.   I’m just not sure what to do if it doesn’t.  I’m not planning on giving up on gardening,  but I sure do wish it was less frustrating some times!

The other issue I am concerned over is a lack of pollinators I’ve seen in the garden.  I’ve planted tons of flowers as usual to lure them in and I’ve still seen none so far in my garden.  I did see a couple big bees at my parents house last week finally,  but none here.  I’m hoping the weather is affecting them too and I will start seeing them as it starts to warm up.

-Fin

Water Bath Canning: Part 1

I have,  for the longest time,  had a mental block of some kind regarding canning.  I’ve always intended on learing how to can,  I just thought,  for some reason,  that I needed someone to show me EXACTLY what to do,  or I wouldn’t be able to get it right.  This isn’t because I thought it was too hard,  or there was a special trick to be learned,  or anything like that,  it just seemed to me like something that needed to be learned from someone,  in person.  Like I said,  it was just a mental block about the whole thing. 

I had grand plans of going to South Dakota to visit a friend of my mother’s to learn everything there is to know about canning.  In retrospect this seems silly,  but at the time I was convinced it was the way to go about it.  The trip seemed to be a hazy plan “in the fall,  during canning season” about every year since I got serious about gardening several years ago.  Every year something came up and it just never seemed like “the right time. ”  

This spring,  came the tipping point. 

This year,  I have had an absolutely amazing crop from my rhubarb that I planted 4 years ago.  This is the biggest crop I’ve had from it yet.  I was determined that this would be the year that I finally managed to can something,  and I decided that that “something” was going to be shrawberry-rhubarb jelly.  I LOVE strawberry – rhubarb jelly.  Like,  can eat it straight out of the jar love it,  and boy is it be hard to find (especially organic),  and when you do (most of the time at a farmers market) it is usually very expensive.  Now,  I don’t begrudge the cost,  since I know organic produce is more expensive in general,  and organic strawberries even more so, but that just makes it a rare treat indeed. 

I was absolutely determined I would figure out this whole canning “thing.”   This year.  In fact,  this spring.  Right now,  while my rhubarb was producing a luscious crop and strawberries were in season. 

My first major hurdle was finding organic strawberries that actually smelled like strawberrys and weren’t rotting.  This actually proved to be harder then I expected.   Everywhere I went it seemed like their organic strawberries were in one of three categories: 1. Unripe 2. Rotting 3. Nonexistent.  Non organic strawberries were found by the billions everywhere I went,  however,  strawberries are one of the things I insist on buying organic since they are part of the dirty dozen.  Apple’s are another big one for me,  and man,  it’s getting ridiculously hard to find organic granny smith apples these days,  for any price!  I finally lucked out at Costco,  where they were selling 2 lb containers for $7, which,  although double the price of non organic,  is a good price for organic strawberries.  I bought 10 lbs since I wasn’t sure how many I would need for the amount of rhubarb I had.

Allright,  organic rhubarb? Check.  Organic strawberries? Check.  Organic sugar? Check (also from Costco, that’s the best price I’ve found on organic CANE sugar,  since I refuse to buy beet sugar.)  Organic lemons? Check.  Organic pectin? Che…… errrr,  what? I didn’t think this one through apparently.   I actually have no idea if you can get organic pectin or not,  sadly I just grabbed the first thing off the shelf I saw in the canning section at my local Ace Hardware,  which is where I got the canning lids I used as well.  I have since discovered they are almost half the price at the local big blue box store (which I absolutely loathe shopping at with a passion I can not even begin to describe),  which might be enough to get me to shop there if I start doing a whole bunch of canning in the future.  I do plan on investing in some of the Tattler reusable canning lids in the future,  however,  I didn’t want to make the investment until I was sure I was going to be comfortable canning in the future. 

I already had a whole bunch of canning jars that I’ve collected over the years in sizes ranging from 4 oz all the way up to 1 gallon,  in both the wide mouth variety and the regular ones.   For years now I have been using glass jars for storing food both in the fridge and in the cupboards.   Not canning things,  just using them as dry storage for beans,  lentils,  chips,  popcorn,  and things like that.   I’ve also discovered if you store things in glass in the fridge they both last longer AND taste better.   No funky refrigerator taste in the food and no food adding funky smells to the refrigerator.

This has gotten so long that I am just going to end the first installment here and continue on with part 2 in another post.  

-Fin

Grapes!

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Well now, the question is if we might make wine…. But, I’ll be happy for just a handful of grapes.

Gardening for 2013

Well,  due to an extremely late snow storm in May this year I feel like I am totally behind on getting everything into the garden.  I know I am pretty late on some things is year,  but not so much on others.  I am slowly working way through all my beds,  getting them planted.

This year I decided to actually install the new flower bed in the front of the house.   It’s all planted now,  there are some day lilies there at the end,  some herbs next and I planted the whole thing in with a wildflower mix.  Hopefully it will do well,  especially since I’m getting done so late.

– Fin

Posting again

Seems that I have a habit of posting for a bit then completely ignoring the blog for long stretches of time.  This time there was a mis-communication on moving the blog from blogspot to our own domain and then going to WordPress for posting.  I wasn’t sure that actually ever got set up and then I was told I could post from blogspot still….by that time I had already kinda lost interest in the blog and just never got around to posting again. 

Obviously.

Well, yet again, I am back to posting and this time hopefully I can keep it up more regularly in the coming year. 

I think the end of the old year and the start of the new really make me think about posting.  I always have all these ideas that I want to do and talk about, especially during the cold month while I shut myself inside and wait for spring to arrive. 

So much has changed this year going into 2013 I am still trying to wrap my head around it.  Soon I will be putting together my seed order for the year and another garden season will be started.  I am hoping to get tomatoes and peppers in seed pots by Feb 1.  Guess I need to get myself in gear and find somewhere to put them!

-Fin

The garden is in bloom

It’s planting season!  It’s a super busy time, so posting has been bad again, but I’ve been taking pictures of all the stuff that’s getting done!  Hopefully I will have time to start posting more soon!








– Fin