As gardeners and weekend warriors, we do so much to create and maintain beautiful spaces. But much of the work includes the use of gasoline-powered equipment such as mowers, blowers and edgers that spew a surprising amount of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
The impact that these traditional tools have on our atmosphere is quite large. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that the ubiquitous consumer lawn mower used for one hour pollutes as much as 40 late-model cars on the road for the same amount of time. Blowers and trimmers are even worse. Another EPA stat estimates that 17 million gallons of gasoline are spilled each year while filling mowers and other tools.
Yet a big reason we're so reluctant to give up our traditional tools is an unwillingness to sacrifice their power and performance. Fortunately, we have a wider variety of more powerful, eco-friendly alternatives for maintaining our landscapes. Here are a few worthy of mention.
Propane - Clean and Easy
LEHR has recently introduced a consumer line of tools fueled by cleaner-burning propane. The company has developed a patented line of "Twist 'N Go!" tools that use 16-ounce camping-style canisters. A string trimmer, blower and leaf vacuum are currently offered, but an entire series of propane-fueled products is planned. This breakthrough is making big news, including recognition from the EPA, which awarded LEHR its Clean Air Excellence Award.
I demonstrated the string trimmer, and was impressed with the ease of starting and performance, which matched gas-powered brands. But I was concerned by the question of what to do with the empty canisters. To be recyclable, the canisters must be empty. In the past, this meant they had to be cut in half or have holes drilled in them. Now there's an easier and safer way. The popular Coleman canisters come with a green key, basically a small plastic device similar to a golf tee. You insert the key into a valve on the canister when it is empty. Any residual fuel is burned off, and the key indicates that the canister is indeed empty and safe to recycle. Coleman now includes a green key when you buy its canisters; they are available to purchase for a nominal fee on Coleman's Web site.
You can't beat the grab-and-go ease and simplicity of rechargeable outdoor power tools. Yet trying to match the performance to that of gasoline-powered equivalents was a vain pursuit. But with the introduction of the Black & Decker 36-volt string trimmer, my opinion on that has changed. While delivering up to 7,500 rpm, this nickel-cadmium battery delivers power to rival that of commercial gas-powered models. The battery recharges hundreds of times, but don't lose it. An additional battery will cost you around a hundred dollars, about half the total cost of a brand-new trimmer.
Human-powered Reel Mowers
Today, push-powered reel mowers have made a strong comeback. Many of the limitations that have kept them from being more widely embraced are no longer an issue. As a recent attendee of the Garden Writers Association symposium, we had a chance to test drive the latest in reel-mower technology offered by Fiskars. As their spokesman for garden and outdoor living, I was also able to take one home for a more thorough inspection.
It's called the "Momentum Reel Mower," and for good reason. The way it's designed, the rotary blade never actually comes in contact with the stationary blade. This greatly reduces friction, and makes it much easier to push. That same feature helps keep the blade sharp, and reduces the chance of it bogging down every time a small twig finds the blade. This is also the first mower of its kind with an adjustable cutting height up to 4 inches.
The downside when using any manually powered mower is that it doesn't generate the same rpm as those with engines. For me, that translated into a few taller blades not getting cut. But another quick pass with the mower usually takes care of this.
With so many companies responding to our desire for more environmentally responsible tools, I'll be sure to keep you abreast of the latest developments.