The Body Issue: Culture Shift

Push Mower Illustration

5 Tools (and 1 Animal) for Quieter, Healthier Yard Work

Tending your yard doesn’t have to be noisy, irritating, or fuel-intensive. Here’s how you can unplug.

Sep 6, 2012

1. Rake

A gas-powered leaf blower produces noise to irritate the senses, and dust and particulate matter to irritate the respiratory system. And one gas-powered leaf blower produces more air pollution than a car, according to the California Air Resources Board.

Using a rake to gather leaves may provide some calming moments of quiet contemplation. More vigorous raking provides an upper-body workout. Rake in both a right-to-left and left-to-right motion to work the arm muscles equally, and balance the stress on the lower back.

Hush, ah hush, the Scythes are saying,
Hush, and heed not, and fall asleep;
Hush, they say to the grasses swaying;
Hush, they sing to the clover deep!
Hush—’tis the lullaby Time is singing—
Hush, and heed not, for all things pass;
Hush, ah hush! and the Scythes are swinging
Over the clover, over the grass!
—From Andrew Lang’s 19th century “The Scythe Song”

2. Scythes

Why use a weed whacker when a well-made scythe is so effective at cutting a variety of crops and grasses? Scythers enjoy mastering this ancient, aesthetically pleasing skill. Scything is good exercise, too—it involves using the entire body to swing the scythe in a crescent-shaped motion.

3. Long-handled grubbing hoe

Rototillers, watch your backs. The long-handled grubbing hoe or “grub hoe” has a heavy head—the combination of weight and leverage produces a forceful downward impact that can break soil shovels can’t touch. Use a grub hoe to create new gardens and raised beds, dig trenches for drainage, remove sod or till it in, or chop ice.

4. Rent a goat

Nannies, billies, and kids are known for their agility on steep inclines that would thwart a power mower. And their eagerness to chomp through tough, prickly plants like blackberry bushes, kudzu, and scotch broom makes goats an effective method of nearly carbon-neutral weed

Goat Illustration

control. An increasing number of companies in the United States offer the ground-clearing services of rent-a-herds. They’ve been used to clear overgrowth on locations as varied as a U.S. Naval Base, the Vanderbilt Mansion, and Google Headquarters.

5. Push mower

Americans use about 800 million gallons of gas per year to mow their lawns. A well-maintained push mower with sharpened blades could be easier to use than you think. And then there’s the solar-powered mower put together by engineering student Robert Smith—you can follow his instructions to make your own at

6. No Pressure

The average pressure washer uses about 1.5 gallons of water per minute—and can leave your patio looking like a scribbled mess. Save water and get a better-looking surface with a stiff-bristled broom. Start by sweeping, then mop or pour a mixture of non-toxic, powdered oxygen bleach and water onto the surface, and let it sit for 10-15 minutes. Oxygen bleach is environmentally friendly and biodegradable. It’s made of sodium percarbonate, which breaks down into soda ash and oxygen, and is not harmful to animals, plants or humans. Scrub with the broom and rinse for a clean finish.

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