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Taming The Lawn And Garden Monster And Other Unpleasantness

by Gip Plaster on May 24th, 2011

Dealing with lawn and garden issues can be anything but simple or minimal, but for some of us, they’re a necessary part of our lives whether we like them or not. Every life has some unpleasantness.

By Way of Introduction

My shoulders still hurt as I pre-write this post on Saturday afternoon, but I just saved myself a bundle of money and got one worry off my mind.

I don’t like doing yard work, but we have an acre to mow. I’ve told you before that this housing situation doesn’t completely satisfy me. And we’ve never devoted any money to replacing the grass and weeds with slower growing ones or ground covers.

I always dread getting the riding lawnmower working. In previous years, it has usually required a visit to the shop to get it running, often costing $150 to $200 per visit.

This year, however, I drained the old gas, replaced the oil, aired the tires and lubricated the steering column before I tried to start it. Thanks to good repairs made at the shop last year, a careful plan of attack on my part this year and spiritual assistance, it started easily.

It was too wet to mow this weekend, but I’m ready for the season now.

My struggles with the unpleasantness of yard work have resulted in three coping mechanism that make taming the yard simpler, cheaper, easier and even almost fun — at times.

Lower Your Standards

Unless you’re being forced, there’s no reason to keep up with the Joneses.

The last couple of years, we’ve mowed our yard less frequently than we did in the past. There are lots of empty lots in our subdivision and some abandoned homes, and since those aren’t being maintained, we don’t feel any pressure to keep a nice yard either.

Living in a rural subdivision means that even our more meticulous neighbors don’t have carefully manicured yards, and that also helps keep standards on the low side.

In addition, David doesn’t garden much anymore. In fact, we spend very little time in our outdoor areas. Aside from David’s hummingbird feeders, these outdoors don’t offer much enjoyment for us, so we don’t put much effort into them anymore.

If you live in an area with an oppressive homeowners association or strict city codes, however, you may have to work harder to maintain your outdoor areas. Being under someone’s thumb usually has pressing consequences.

Get Some Technical Knowledge  — And The Right Tools

Whether it’s how to mix your own garden soil or how to repair a string trimmer, working outside gets easier with each passing year if you work to acquire knowledge of how your machines work and how to rely less on prepackaged products for managing pests, fertilizing soil and preparing plantings.

In general, I feel completely inadequate around an internal combustion engine, but over the last half-decade or so, I’ve learned to successfully do some minor maintenance on our riding lawnmower.

Before we stopped gardening, we had learned to mix the right collection of ingredients to make a nice garden soil. (Hint: Forget peat moss and bagged topsoil. There’s no nutrient in it. Use compost as the base instead and add organic amendments appropriate to your area.)

While you can turn most nuts with pliers (a statement that applies to both mechanical fasteners and advanced interrogation), there’s no substitute for the right tool for the right job. Don’t hesitate to add a few specialty tools to your toolbox for weird workings. They may add some clutter, but they can save you hours.

Watch Out For Stores That Will Take Advantage Of You

Our new young neighbor to the south knocked on the door a few weeks ago asking our permission to put out rattlesnake repellent since they has seen a snake. Imagine that, I thought. A snake in the rocky hills of our rural county. A real novelty. And why would you need my permission to put something on your own property?

I told him that there’s no such thing as snake repellent — some quacks sell a product based on horse apples, the big green things that fall from bois d’arc trees — but he assured me that there is. A local store known for bad business practices sold him some.

My local Walmart tried to take advantage of me last week. I thought my lawnmower might need a new spark plug (it didn’t), so I wrote down the Champion product number from the owner’s manual. In the lawn and garden section of the store, Walmart sells off-brand spark plugs labeled for lawnmowers and designated as Champion replacements for almost $8 each. In the automotive section of the store, the exact Champion spark plug indicated is less than $2.

In the same discount store, SAE 30 engine oil comes in smaller containers in the garden section than in the auto section and costs more per container. If you don’t know that Quaker State SAE 30 oil is the same thing as lawnmower oil, you’ll pay more.

Finishing Up

I’m no expert in lawn and garden issues — and as you can probably guess, I don’t want to be.

But for self-preservation purposes, I’m reluctantly getting a grip on my grass.

I try to avoid doing things I don’t enjoy, but feeling like an idiot because I don’t have enough knowledge to make an informed buying decision or having to rely on repairmen for simple tasks that others manage on their own isn’t very enjoyable either.

As it turns out, this post is just as much about coping with life’s unpleasantness as it is about lawn and garden issues. Using care, getting informed and being realistic serves us well in every aspect of a simple, deliberate lives. Don’t you agree?

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18 Comments
  1. Robert Wall permalink

    I hate lawn maintenance. I don’t have one, but I had a brief foray into the field of mowing lawns when I still lived with my parents.

    I think the whole cycle is just hilarious, personally – people spend obscene amounts of time and money to get their lawns to grow, then when they grow they cut them down.

    I’ve definitely seen the concept of different products costing different amounts depending on which area of the store you’re in, and it drives me nuts!

    For example, isopropyl alcohol is the primary (and only real active) ingredient in Heet (the automotive product). 12 oz bottle of 90% isopropyl? Usually under a buck in the pharmacy department. 12 oz bottle of Heet? At least $2 in the auto care section, unless it’s on sale.

    *Sigh*.

    I love the little puns woven into this post – “Being under someone’s thumb usually has pressing consequences.” – great stuff!
    Robert Wall recently posted Beauty- Quality &amp Luxury – The Difference

    • I’m glad you liked the post, Robert.

      Yes, lawns are a strange idea. Almost any other use of the land is better than having a lawn. I guess lawns can be nice if you want to play a game or have a picnic, but there are parks for that.

      Isopropyl alcohol is also the ONLY ingredient in the stuff they sell for swimmer’s ear. It cost a few dollars and is usually on the same isle as the bigger bottle of alcohol that costs under a dollar. But people will pay it, so they make it.

      Gip

      • Robert Wall permalink

        Makes sense, as a wet gas tank is a lot like a wet ear – and as long as the same substance is safe for both…. 🙂

        Like you said, it’s not really the store’s fault. The knowledge is out there, the ingredients are printed on the label, and people still buy the little bottles with 1/4 the product for three times the money.

        It all comes back to paying attention to what you’re consuming.
        Robert Wall recently posted Beauty- Quality &amp Luxury – The Difference

        • Yep, presentation is everything. Repackage the same stuff, call it something different/specific, and sell 1/8th as much for two times the price. Ahhh!
          Jenny @ exconsumer recently posted Less Me- More We

  2. Hi Gip.

    Maintaining a yard is a huge time suck. I really didn’t mind it much before we had kids, but now it just takes up a chunk of our weekends that I would rather spend doing something else.

    Kirk and I talk about how nice it would be move to a condo once the kids are grown so we wouldn’t have to maintain the yard! We only have 1/4 of an acre, so it’s not nearly as much to manage as what you have, but it’s still time consuming and expensive.
    Jenny @ exconsumer recently posted Less Me- More We

  3. Pansy permalink

    I love gardening but it hurts my back. I am limiting my gardening to containers on stands so no bending is needed.

    • Container gardening can be lots of fun. You can grow everything in containers, including potatoes, tomatoes and even trees.

      Thanks for commenting, Pansy. It’s nice to have you here.
      Gip

  4. I was never a big fan of yard work back when I had a house. Especially not during the 110+ degree Arizona summers. You’d think a desert would be relatively easy to maintain, except that traditional lawns are so prevalent here. In fact, there are neighborhoods that insist upon a certain percentage of one’s yard be covered with grass. So wasteful of water here in the desert (not to mention golf courses – AZ has the most golf courses, per capita, of any state).

    Maintaining and working with the various power tools, however, I didn’t mind, and in fact usually enjoyed. But then again, I’ve always been mechanically and technically inclined.

    I’ve gotten pretty good at identifying the least expensive among idential but differently marketed products, but it can be a challenge. Sometimes the marketing angles they take border on outright deception.
    Mike | Homeless On Wheels recently posted Extra Challenges of Decluttering a Tiny House

    • Arizona has some brutal summers — just as brutal as these Texas summers can be. We’re getting off easy this year so far. I’m not at all mechanically minded, but I can follow directions if I have some.
      Gip

  5. I switched to a modern rotary mower last year. I can go out and mow at 6am and have never had a neighbor complain.
    Marc @ minimalist freak recently posted Relationship Minimalization – Wrap Up

    • Marc, by rotary mower do you mean a gas-free push mower? That’s what we’ve got (along with Cora’s gas one). Quick question, how do you handle the weeds? Right now we hand-pick the weeds and if they’re too intensive (very thick) we revert to the gas-powered one. I want to just use the gas-free one, but it hasn’t been working out on her lawn.
      Tanja @ Minimalist Packrat recently posted Leaping Rats and a Christmas Tree Shed Turned Tiny House

      • Robert Wall permalink

        Tanja, my dad used to have one of these:

        http://www.homegardenandpatio.com/cat.cgi?s=2614865&c=garden_tools_weeders

        Not that specific brand or anything, but it’s a hand tool that you swing like a golf club. Anything the mower won’t catch, that probably will. And it’ll save you having to pull weeds by hand.

        Plus it’s fun to vent your frustration on the weeds. 😀

        Just a thought.
        Robert Wall recently posted All About The Hamiltons An Untitled Contest

        • Linda Sand permalink

          We used one of those to do trail maintenance in the north woods of Minnesota. My advice? Don’t try to do the whole yard in one day. You will discover muscles you didn’t know you had. 🙂 But they do work and you will feel like you accomplished something.

    • If I had a small yard, that’s what I’d do. Or put in as much groundcover and other low-water plantings as possible. Thanks for commenting, Marc. Good to have you here.
      Gip

      • Linda Sand permalink

        Maybe you should plant a little of one of those ground covers notorious for not staying in bounds and let it do it’s thing. As more years go by you’ll have less lawn to mow.

        • I’ve thought of that, but I’ve never had the energy or the motivation to do it… yet.
          Gip

  6. An acre of mowing? Yikes Gip. We had (have?) 5 acres in Arkansas. Most of our neighbors had large expanses of lawn and then woods. We were the slackers who didn’t have a single blade of grass. We cut 6 trees, left the forest, and planted our cabin right there in the middle of it.

    Lawn maintenance meant cutting down the weeds that tried to grow on our driveway.

    Now in Florida, there’s a half acre to mow. Grrrr. We have a reel mower (no gas) but it doesn’t get the weeds, just the grass. Patrick and I wouldn’t care, but Cora (his momma) is more persnickety. So we have to pull out the gas beast frequently. Interesting that even though she’s the picky one, she doesn’t push the mower around. 🙂

    • Two or three hours will do everything that needs to be done in our yard, but I still don’t like it.
      Gip

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