Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Multitasking, & an urban homesteading review of the Earthwise 20" lawnmower

© 2010 Joshua Stark

"The only unitasker allowed in my kitchen is the fire extinguisher."  -Alton Brown

I really like Alton Brown, even if only for hosting "Iron Chef: America", and showing me how to turn steel-cut oats from a good-breakfast-but-not-worth-the-time (sorry, foodies) into a delicious and hearty meal.  His own show, Good Eats, is a wonderful surprise when we stumble upon it at my parents' house (we don't get cable), and his philosophy about cooking, I think, appeals to the urban homesteader:  He finds inexpensive ways for creating really special meals, at times using very inventive methods, and he requires that his equipment multitask.  For example, his box-fan jerky drying concept was simply genius, and I can't wait to use his idea for a $50 ceramic smoker. 
 I learned a good lesson about power equipment and multitasking this past year.

When we first bought our little slice of paradise, we also bought a push-reel mower.  A Scott 18" mower, it did a great job on our little lawn.  But after a year of good work cutting grass, we realized we had other issues to deal with on our property, issues that couldn't be handled by a push-reel.

First, we have huge trees - a redwood, a cedar, and a walnut, the smallest of which is over 60 feet, and the tallest now approaching 100 - and these trees produce a lot of duff.  Our neighbor also has a 60+ ft. walnut, and we catch a ton of his leaves, too.

Second, with ducks, we have flies.  Our ducks roam around in our back yard, and wherever they poop, the flies are born (otherwise, duck poop is pretty innocuous, and also a great grass fertilizer).  I wondered how I might suck up some of the mag... ma... fly babies.

Third, we buy straw bales for the ducks' house, and when they are finished with it, we use the straw for compost.  However, the straw is long and coarse, and takes quite a while to break down.  I looked for some device to chop or shred the straw, and found only industrial-strength equipment at exorbitant prices.  I wondered what I could get cheaper, that has fast spinning blades?

Then it struck me:  A power lawnmower!  Being environmentally conscious-ish, we'd just bought a push-reel.  However, a push-reel does one thing really well, and we needed to make our assets sweat, (to make benign a terrible, terrible phrase).  I hoped an electric lawnmower would have the power and capability to do three jobs well enough:  Cut grass, chop straw, and suck up mag... ma... fly babies.

After completing the requisite google search for electric mower reviews, and looking at the good and not-so-good hardware stores, we settled on an EarthWise 20" mower, purchased from OSH.  The Earthwise mower comes in a smaller size, too (18"), but OSH had only the twenty-inch model.  They also happened to have a sale at the time that made it quite the steal.

This mower has a couple of features I find helpful, but it isn't a gadget-laden doohickey.  It mows one speed, and it's corded, so make sure you've got enough extension cord to cover your lawn.

The features relate to how the grass gets cut, and the lawnmower gives you three options:  A grass catcher, a side "mulch" (basically, a side exit for grass, with no catcher), or a mulch box (which comes only with the 20" Earthwise mower).  In place of the grasscatcher bag, the box fits into the opening where the grass would come out, and it forces the grass (or straw) to be re-cut and re-cut by the blade, instead of being ejected from under the mower.

So far, the mower has surpassed expectations.  It cuts grass well and cleanly, and sucks up duff (sticks, leaves, needles) just as well as a blower would push it, but without the obnoxious odor and sound.  But the big test it has passed is its ability to "mulch" straw, which it does well with the mulch box attachment.

I line up the used straw in a pile about six inches high and maybe 10-12 feet long, I install the mulching box on the mower, and I slowly make my way over the straw.  The lawnmower turns it into a duck-poop-enriched, more easily compostable material for our raised beds, and kills any mag... ma... fly babies in the straw. 

I haven't had a chance to see if it helps keep down the fly population from the lawn, because we accidentally replaced much of the lawn with hard-packed dirt this year (when we dug the pond), but I'm confident the theory is sound.  In the meantime, I'm tickled pink with the performance of this lawnmower, and recommend it to all you urban homesteaders out there. 

My multitasking lesson learned, I turned to other possibilities.  How can I hull some walnuts without having to spend $500 on a huller?  Well, I have an electric drill, and buckets cost four bucks... look for that one pretty soon. 

NOTE:  I received no freebies, and there is no advertising sales to me for any of the links in this post.  I just like the lawnmower.

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