Garth Madison can mow his yard at the crack of dawn if he so chooses — bird song in the background instead of neighbors’ chirping complaints.

Garth Madison can mow his yard at the crack of dawn if he so chooses — bird song in the background instead of neighbors’ chirping complaints.

This seeming miracle of modern science is actually thanks to an old-fashioned contraption: the reel mower.

“It’s great for the environment, great for gas prices and very low maintenance,” said Madison, a Peoria, Ill., attorney who switched from a power lawn mower to a reel mower as he and his wife, Laura Petelle, sought out more earth-friendly ways to garden.

“You probably want to mow a little more often. Really tall grass — it has a hard time chewing through it,” he said.

But even more frequent mowings doesn’t bother Madison because “I find that I enjoy mowing a lot more. It’s incredibly quiet. Basically, it’s like taking a walk through your yard.”

Not to mention the fact that he’s no longer contributing to air pollution.

Operating a typical gas-powered lawn mower for one hour produces the same amount of smog-forming hydrocarbons as driving an average car for nearly 200 miles, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. And the exchange of 1,000 gas-powered mowers for electric has the potential to reduce volatile organic compound (VOC) emissions by 9.8 tons annually, the equivalent of taking 230 cars off highways.

“Most people do not associate air pollution with mowing the lawn. Yet emissions from lawn mowers, snow blowers, chain saws, leaf vacuums and similar outdoor power equipment are a significant source of pollution,” the EPA said. “Today’s small engines emit high levels of carbon monoxide, a colorless, odorless, poisonous gas. They also emit hydrocarbons and nitrogen oxides, pollutants that contribute to the formation of ozone. While ozone occurs naturally in the upper atmosphere and shields the earth from harmful radiation, ozone at ground level is a noxious pollutant.

“Ground-level ozone impairs lung function, inhibits plant growth, and is a key ingredient of smog. Emission control for small gasoline engines has not been a crucial design consideration until now. Consequently, small engines are big polluters.”

Given this research, many cities — Baltimore, Los Angeles, Phoenix and Portland, Ore., to name a few — have instituted lawn mower buyback programs, giving homeowners rebates for purchasing electric mowers.

The only minor glitch Madison has found with his reel mower is that sticks can stop the blades if they get caught in the reel. But that just means he spends a few minutes prior to mowing picking up larger sticks.

After much research, Madison and Petelle settled on a German-made Brill reel mower, which they purchased online for a couple hundred dollars. “It’s a beautifully crafted piece of equipment. I’m sure it will outlive me,” Madison said.

Jennifer Davis can be reached at (309) 686-3249 or

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Reel mower tips

• Walk at a good, steady pace. With a manual reel mower, you are the engine; the mower will tend to bind up and skid if you overlap your rows. This will make the mower a bit easier to push because you’re mowing less grass, and it will also help catch any spots you might have missed on the previous row.

• Experiment with mowing patterns. Different types of grass have different growing patterns. The direction in which you mow can make a difference in the quality of the cut.

• Don’t let the grass get too tall. Manual mowers are harder to push when the grass gets too tall.

• Mow early. This is one of the neatest advantages of having a reel mower. You can get up at the break of dawn and mow, and you won’t wake your neighbors.

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Home Improvements

• Don’t just remodel, reorganize. While remodeling and reorganizing can seem overwhelming at times, consider doing both in one step — you’ll maintain the value of your home while making it more enjoyable to live in, no matter how long you decide to stay put. Here are three tips for combining remodeling with reorganizing:

• Target three pockets of clutter. There are usually three areas in your home that drive you the craziest. If you target and solve those first, you will find you have the energy, sense of accomplishment and relief that will make a significant difference in your life.

• Find the perfect container. It will help you organize and ideally will look great.

• Plan ahead. Anticipate changes in mobility, physical strength or eyesight.

Article Resource Association

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Garden Tips: Keeping a green lawn

By Pam Adams

(GHNS) — Here are some watering tips that will help your lawn look its greenest:

• Pick plants that make gardening and lawn care easier. Native plants adapt better to the surrounding environment.

• Adding compost to the top layer of the lawn makes the most of each drop of water.

• Mulching curbs weed growth, saves water and inhibits evaporation.

• Know when to water. If your grass is loosing luster or holds footprints after someone walks across, it’s time to water.

• Soaker hoses are an alternative to sprinklers and can conserve up to 50 percent more water.

• An outdoor water timer ensures you’re watering at the right time of day and for the right duration.

• Water lawns separately from other plants.

• When using a sprinkler, make sure you’re watering the lawn and not the driveway.

• If water puddles, stop and wait for the soil to soak it up.

• Early morning is the best time to water. Evening watering could lead to mold or plant diseases because water has less time to evaporate.

• Take advantage of rain. Try to direct run-off from gutters into the lawn.

• Lawns need 1 inch of water a week to stay green in the summer.

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Did you know?

You can use vinegar to clean your showerhead. Simply remove the showerhead and let it soak overnight (preferably 10 to 12 hours) in white vinegar. This will get rid of most mineral deposits.