August 30, 2012

Making Do With My Lawn Mower

One of the things Dan and I have been learning to do, is to think outside the box. We've tended to approach homesteading with a conventional farming mindset; certain jobs require certain equipment, right? One doesn't, say, plow an acre of land with a garden tiller. Or does one? ;) It's times like that that really get me going in the "if only" mode. Still, that doesn't get the job done and doing everything by hand often takes too much time.

Our first inspirational breakthrough was when we decided to space the field corn and cowpea rows far enough apart to cut down the weeds between them with the lawnmower. (See "Of Corn, Cowpeas, & Lawnmowers.")

rows of corn & cowpeas, weeded with a lawnmower
I'm still weeding rows with the lawnmower. At first I thought I planted
the rows too far apart. Now I think I planted them too close together. ;)

Then when our pasture improvement project got delayed, I found myself fretting over all the unwanteds growing there. If they all went to seed, it would perpetuate the very problem we were trying to get rid of. That was the first time it occurred to me to use the bagger attachment that came with our lawn mower.

lawnmower bag to collect grass clippings

As an aside I'd like to say that I love my lawnmower. It's a Husqvarna 7021 and it never skips a beat if the grass is too high or thick (which it often is). When we bought it, we were debating between one of these or a hand pushed reel mower. We couldn't get both, and even though I wanted the reel mower, Dan chose this one. The reel mower would have been fine for our flat front yard, but we have other areas that are steep and grow thick. I admit this one has been much better for that.

Until now though, I'd never used the bagging attachment. I couldn't see the point. Why bother to bag up the clippings just to make the lawn look prettier. The neighbors should be glad it gets cut at all. But when my future pasture was loaded with growing weeds I didn't want to reseed, it occurred to me that I could actually bag and use those clippings.

As chicken litter for example...

inside the chicken coop + chicken + grass clippings for litter
Grass clippings mixed with leaves make for a sweet smelling coop

The clippings make the coop smell fresh and clean, and the chickens love to scratch around in search of those seed heads and maybe even a few choice bugs to eat. I give them a quick stir once a day and when it's time to clean out the coop, these are well mixed with manure and nicely precomposted.

I've used grass clippings in and around the goat sheds too, especially where the ground gets too muddy for hooves to be continaully walking through.

grass clippings in the billy barn
Using grass clippings in the buck barn,
for bedding & to cover muddy areas

Dried, they make good worm bedding.

pile of grass clippings between wheelbarrow & compost worm bed
Grass clippings next to compost worm bed. These must be dry before
adding to the bed to avoid the heat from decomposition of green matter.

I pile them next to the worm bed and let them dry out. When they need more bedding, I toss some in.

Hand mowing an acre field and emptying the bag frequently is still a lot of work. There are some things though, that I have to get rid of, like deadly nightshade, which pops up frequently. Being able to accomplish that plus collect the grass clippings helps me feel more productive, because I'm killing two birds with one stone so to speak.

As we learn to make do with what we've got, we find ourselves analyzing our needs in a different light. Yes, we could certainly use some heavy equipment, but perhaps it isn't what we originally thought we needed. Some jobs can be done with alternatives, some can be done by hand. With just two of us though, we need to consider wise use of our time and energy. I'm not saying we've reached any conclusions yet, but we are rethinking. Maybe, for example, we don't need a farm tractor. Maybe a 2-wheeled tractor (AKA walk-behind tractor) is all we need for our small acreage. This is an instance where experience and not having a lot of money have worked in our favor. Hopefully when it's time to make the final decisions, they'll be good ones.


Renee Nefe said...

we have had our lawn mower forever (nearly 20 years) and it is still going strong. But I wanted to try a reel mower. I happened to mention it to a friend and she gave me her old one! She had bought it and her husband was not amused.
Fortunately, my husband DID like it. He likes it a lot and uses it when the yard isn't so high. Our front yard is really small so it gets the reel mower all the time.

We alternate bagging and not bagging the clippings. Bagged they go on the compost heap.

Nina said...

We bag clippings in the spring, when grass growth is exponentially fast and in the fall, when the leaves start falling. In the middle of the summer, there usually isn't enough grass growth to worry about bagging. It's a great way to be able to easily save and use the grass and leaves. Of course the lawn tractor doesn't have a bagger, so when I want to save clippings and leaves, it means using the push mower and yep, that is a lot of work! Worth it though..

Carolyn said...

I used the bagger on our push mower all the time....until it died :(
I'm on the lookout for one in the local paper now. I LOVED having grass clippings!

Isn't it neat how when one is dealing with a lack of something, something 'else' comes up either in the form of an idea or another piece of equipment?

Sylvanna said...

I love how creativity springs from need. If it will work this way, maybe we don't need that! Love it.

Thistle Cove Farm said...

It's a tossup...using labor to do the work and taking up so much time or using equipment to do the work and taking up so much money. When Dave was alive, he'd buy equipment in a heartbeat but my choices are more limited now.
He told me, "Take excellent care of the most important piece of farm equipment you've got...which is YOU. Rest, food, water and good equipment all play a part in how well you're able to work."
He was such a wise man. Our handshake when we moved to the farm was, I'd do the farm work but asked him to help in an emergency and he made the money that kept us going.
It was system that worked well for us.

Sandy Livesay said...


A real lawn mower comes in handy, especially when you have alot to cut. My husband and I realized as we get older (now I'm 50 and he's 52)it's harder to do the things we used to do. Arthritis sets in and pushing a lawn mower sometimes just doesn't cut it, if you know what I mean. We both have discussed buying a drive along lawn mower (in the near future that is). Money doesn't grow on trees, so when the timing is just right, and a deal can be found. We will buy that drive along. We've started realizing that it's going to eventually be just the two of us, our last child has grown and will eventually be moving on to start his life. On the property, there's alot to do, so any improvements to help us along will be a big help.

Unknown said...

Excellent creativity!

Alla said...

Oh the wonderful lawn mower! I use mine to death. I mow weeds and lawn. I used to use a weed whacker for the weeds, but I've been using the lawn mower simply because it's so much easier on my body. I still use a weed whacker along the ditches for weeds but my lawn mower is the THING!

Leigh said...

Wow Renee, that's fantastic. Must be a well made mower. I doubt today's would last that long. I love that your husband loved the reel mower! My dad loved his. If we ever have a chance to get one some day, we'll do it.

Nina, yep, it's work! I motivate myself though by saying it's also good exercise. :)

Carolyn, that's so true, It's realizing our circumstances usually have blessings in disguise.

Sylvanna, me too!

Sandra, sounds like the perfect partnership. Unless one has no mortgage, things have to pretty much work that way.

Sandy, what I really wish we had is a sickle mower. Then we could just let everything grow and cut it for hay!

Michele, thanks!

Alla, good to hear from you! Sounds like you'd be lost without your lawn mower, just like me!

Anonymous said...

Oh you have helped me! I am going to try the deep mulch theory on my chicken yard and bagged remains from mowing would be perfect! Thanks for the idea!

Theresa said...

Leigh, I just can't stop laughing long enough to make a meaningful comment. Today, the thought of worm beds just brought such a silly visual of little worms, with knitted hats (of course) under little down comforters, painted wood beds and mushroom glow lights.. has distracted me completely. Sorry....

Doug Pitcher said...

We had a homesteading friend just change course and they opened an antique and general store near their farm. They used the philosophy of not investing huge amounts of money in equipment. It's amazing to see them make this change with relative ease as they don't have to worry about the money investment they've made in their place. Of course they have 10 kids so there was enough hands to help with all the chores.

I think you are very wise to minimize your equipment costs as you may find a time when you want to change course and you'll have the freedom to do so.

Leigh said...

Anonymous, thanks! I have used the deep litter method in my chicken coop for a couple of years and really like it. It requires an occasional stir of the litter, plus fresh additions from time to time. I like though that there is less frequent cleaning out, no smell, and plenty of precomposted litter for sheet mulching the garden.

Theresa, you and those knitted hats! LOL

Doug, interesting! We're wondering if we can make a switch to a home based business as well. As far as equipment, we'd like to figure out the most versatile, basic tools that we would use again and again. For everything else, we're exploring alternatives.

Nest Family Farm said...

My husband wants to plant our rows further apart next year for the same let the lawnmower in! This year, he rigged it behind the quad to have a 'riding' mower of sorts on our 'food plot' for the same reasons as prevent the weed seeds from spreading. What we didnt do is use those clippings as bedding. Fantastic. Thanks :)

Bernadine said...

Great idea for weed management! I like all the ways you use the clippings, too. I like the idea of mixing it with other stuff for the chicken coop.

Kristi said...

We reuse our grass clippings (we rake, no bagger) for chicken bedding. I find its harder for the hens to scratch out of the nesting boxes than sawdust or straw, and its FREE!

Genius to mow between garden rows. I love pristine garden rows, but realized this year its unrealistic.