Sunday, April 29, 2007

Growing Grass

Some people spend significant amounts of their week cultivating a lawn that can rival a putting green. At the height of the summer, I know people that look forward to spending hours mowing their multi-acre lawns two or three times a week on their rider mower that is equipped with a Bose sound system and a beer cooler behind the seat. It is their refuge and their one moment to be truly alone. Their lawn is their hobby and they truly enjoy the time communing with their piece of the American Dream. I am not one of them.

Lawn work is not one of my favorite activities. My rule of thumb for lawn care is that the technology used should allow for a full mow in less than an hour. When I owned a 1/3 acre yard, a self-propelled mower filled the bill. For lawns more than half an acre, a riding mower is justified. If you have more than an acre, get those double deck mowers the highway maintenance crews use.

Fortunately, I now live in a townhouse with a miniscule amount of greenery. The plantable area in my front yard is about 10 feet by 25 feet. That includes the tree in the center and the mulched flower bed around it. The backyard is bigger at about 20 feet by 50 feet. This totals less than 0.03 acres. Using my rule of thumb, a reel mower should be enough for this lawn. But since I wanted to make sure my wife and kid had opportunities to share in the experience, I went and found the smallest, cheapest gas mower sold at BigBoxOfTools. I went with a gas mower because it was cheaper than an electric mower and I knew that with an electric one I would eventually run over the cord. As it is, my electric edger is a constant hazard in my hands.

The problem with a lawn as small as mine is that it is hard to buy supplies in quantities appropriate for the task. The smallest bag of fertilizer would be about ten years worth of treatments. A bag of grass seed would do my entire neigborhood. I even have a hard time using an entire bag of mulch, let alone the tractor trailer deliveries some people need every spring.

The problem with my grass is quality not quality. When we moved in, the lawn was pretty scruffy. In the Darwinian struggle going on in the backyard, the fescue and Kentucky bluegrass was losing badly to the dandelions and chickweed. My wife got tired of hand pulling weeds and got talked into an annual contract with ChainLawnService. Once a month they would come around to pretend to pour chemicals on my lawn and plant a little plastic flag in my yard. They would also leave a note explaining what other chemicals I needed that weren’t covered by the annual contract.

After two years of that, I got tired of bills coming in February for treatments they allegedly provided while my entire yard was covered under a sheet of ice. This year I am back on my own to keep the lawn green and full. With a wet spring, the lawn is coming in nicely except for one patch I kept stepping on all winter to avoid the skating rink called my driveway. I went to the leftover lawn supplies and found enough grass seed, fertilizer, and peat to cover up the bald spot. We'll see if it is filled in by the end of the summer.

I think the two years of industrial treatment have helped since my grass is coming in thicker and darker than my neighbors. This is overkill in my mind. My only real goal is to not lose newspapers in the weeds. My wife and I are still too young for those communities where the lawn care is thrown in and someone else does the mowing, trimming, raking, mulching, feeding, weeding, and futzing. I can't wait for the day.

Blatant Comment Whoring™: How long does your yard take?


NPR Junky said...

Oh, my goodness. I used to live in a townhome...and sometimes how I miss those days! Now I have a half an acre, and only being 26, I figure, if I get a riding mower I'll be the biggest pansy EVER. So I have a self-propelled-do-your-taxes-mulching-hemming-embroidering mower, and it's great, but my grass isn't the best. All told, it takes about an hour and a half to do front and back, but mostly, I skip parts of the back because the grass doesn't grow at the same speed back there. Go figure.

Anonymous said...

My new yard takes roughly 45 minutes, or two beers, whichever comes first. The grass looks as though the previous owner applied Miracle-Gro to individual blades with an eyedropper, which means that I've had to mow every week rather than the every two to three weeks I had in Morrell Park.

On the other hand, there are also lots of dandelions, which I don't really mind.

Anonymous said...

I enjoy sitting on my deck and watching the lawn service take care of all the mowing and stuff.

Mooselet said...

I have two acres, of which about a quarter is natural bush and is left on it's own. So it takes the Hermit the better part of a day to do a proper job with the ride on mower out the front, push mower out the back, weed whacker along the trees and up by the mailbox and leaf blower to get all the debris off the 100 meter long driveway. But since we are in the grip of a major drought and most of my lawn is a lovely shade of brown, it doesn't get the full treatment very often.

Anonymous said...

My lawn is about 1/3 of your front lawn - someone cemented over our back yard a long time ago. We have a push mower that can take care of the job in five minutes. Luckily for us, our neighbor with a gas mower feels sorry for our tiny patch of vegetation and often runs their mower over our strip of grass when they are tending their own lawn. I'd say we take care of grass type lawn work ~ 3 - 4 times a year. The longest part of the whole process is bringing up the push mower from the basement.

yellojkt said...

You have me beat in the least time derby. I can do a quick pass in less than ten minutes. If I trim and edge, it stretches to almost half an hour.

Your yardwork priorites sure change when you no longer have free teenager labor to exploit.

That is quite a yard. I had no idea your new place was such a suburban estate.

npr junky,
Differing grow rates are a real issue. Since I don't look in the backyard often, it sometimes gets junglish before the front makes me get motivated.

Anonymous said...

Like mooselet, I have a lot of property, nearly 3 acres. Most of that is pasture leased to the neighbor for his dairy cows.

That still leaves me with around half an acre. Some of that is vegetable garden, some is terrace, some is hedge (real hedge, a biotope of many different plants, not a sterile green thing you have to trim into a rectangle). I have a power mower, not self-propelled, and it usually takes me about 4 days to do the yard. I generally mow for about an hour and a half to 2 hours at a chunk, then rake it all up and dump it on the compost. I'm also hampered, because in Germany you aren't allowed to run noisy machinery between 1 and 3 in the afternoon. I haven't really gotten started yet this year, since I have to wait for the daffodils and wild flowers to die back first.

Lisa Steptoe said...

Hello Neighbor-Got 2 1/2 acres and enjoy watching those guys on the huge superfast mowers whip the job out in about an hour. Of course, there are several guys (lawn service) - one mowes, one weed wacks, one blows stuff around etc. I take a Zyrtec, open a bottle of wine and watch em work.

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