Mowing a Florida Lawn, or Real Women use Reel Mowers

In Florida, mowing the lawn is a man's job

Cultural differences of societies are sometimes subtle, and you don’t catch on to them for a while. So it is with the lawn-care rites of North Port, Florida. Yes, indeed – little did I suspect how this seemingly insignificant work-a-day chore would mark me as an outsider, a foreigner and (gasp) an alien.

A lawn in this part of the world definitely falls under the male domain and is one gender-restricted area feminism has yet to breach in this corner of the conservative south. Men mow lawns. Women who have no fit male in her household pay other men to mow their lawns. That’s the way it is.

Because it is a man’s job, it requires certain equipment:

  • A riding lawn tractor with a cutting radius of at least 40” and a large motor (at least 20 horsepower) that must be run, revved and tuned up every Sunday afternoon and has at least three chrome exhaust pipes, two of which act as echo chambers for that motor.
  • An edging tool, not a sissified electric ten pounder spinning a nylon string, but one designed to clear virgin bush, stainless steal blades chewing through even the toughest of palmettos, while the gas/oil blend driven two stroke motor screams out an extremely amplified version of a whizzing dentist’s drill.
  • A leaf blower the size of a six-year-old child, capable of blowing the paint off a house foundation, while at the same time sending out 100 decibels of roaring racket.
  • And by necessity, a pick-up truck capable of towing a flatbed trailer to haul the equipment from one house to another. It is a given, considering the demographics of the population (one male to four females) that each man is responsible for at least three lawns.

I like to watch them at work, the men, as they drive those tractors round and round in tight circles, cutting the grass. Tight circles? Yes. The lawns on my street are far too small for a tractor to run in straight lines. In fact, they are barely twice the turning circumference of one of these big babies, and it requires great skill to overlap the circles until all the grass is cut.

Which explains why no one plants shrubs, trees or flowers in front of their homes – they’d get in the way of the tractors.

Up to this year, my neighbor, Ralph, kindly added my lawns to his list and once a week his impressive array of lawn care appliances roared, screamed, bellowed and howled as he groomed my 80’ by 125’ lot. He charged me $25 for each service, but on the last occasion (just before Christmas when the lawns froze and haven’t grown again until recently) he added, “You know Miss Lynda, your yard is getting to be a problem. With all these trees and bushes and flower beds, it’s a trick to get to it all. I’m going to have to charge you more if I have to do so much by hand.”

“By hand” meant he used the whizzing blades of the edging tool instead of his tractor.

“Not to worry, Ralph,” I told him. “I’m buying a lawn mower and I can take care of it myself.”

“Jim is finally moving down?” he asked.

“Not for a while.”

Ralph looked appropriately shocked, and backed away from me uneasily.

We never spoke of the lawn again.

Until yesterday, when I went out to cut my lawn – myself -- with my brand new reel mower.

My lawn mower makes its debut

My lawn was originally laid down in 1990 as St. Augustine sod, coarse and scraggly, closely resembling the quack grass I’d rip out of my northern lawn, but one of the few grasses that do well in Florida’s heat, humidity and sandy soil. Once thick and dense grass only, my lawn has deteriorated; over the years other plants moved in. It’s green, so it’s good enough. I’m not one for perfectionism.

Besides, some of those plants flower – tiny purple or bright yellow blossoms, quite pretty.

The lawn was last mowed before Christmas (spruced up for visitors) and since then, we’ve endured temperatures 20 degrees below the seasonal norm, so it hasn’t grown much. Four days below freezing turned it the same drab brown I’d expect to see in my Canadian home, a sorry sight. Lately though, the green is returning and growing, albeit unevenly.

When shopping for my reel mower, I specifically asked if this method was appropriate for St. Augustine, and was told, yes it was, but

Rule Number One: If you’re using a reel mower never, never let your lawn get long, or you’re likely to get more of a work out than you want.

So, I decided the time was right to get started.

It was a lovely late afternoon, sunny, balmy with a fresh breeze blowing from the west – perfect for the task at hand. I carried the mower to the front yard. It only weighs fourteen pounds, so that wasn’t much of a feat.

I set it down. I pushed it a little. Snick,snick,snick – grass clipping flew over the cylinder. It worked!

I examined the little patch of cut grass to ensure the mower was set to the right height because

Rule Number Two: unlike rotary mowers, which tear the grass (leaving those nasty yellow ends) a reel mower sweeps the grass up and then cuts each blades neatly against the cutting bar and you must be sure not to cut too short. It is only through the use of a reel mower one gets that “putting green” look, but cutting too short may destroy your lawn – depending on the type of grass. (And cutting St. Augustine too short will leave you with nothing but a carpet of gnarled roots and runners.)

The height looked okay to me (for all I know about St. Augustine) so I got to work for real.

Snick,snick,snick. I walked briskly across the lawn leaving an evenly sheared path behind me, except

Number three a reel mower will not cut tall (higher than six inches), established weeds, and is not suitable for taming a neglected yard. Certainly, it left the myriad of budding oak seedlings sown by the towering oak on the east corner untouched. But that was okay; I bent down and yanked them out as I walked by. After all, it’s not as if the thing had a motor. When I stopped, it stopped.

A true story

As I walk back and forth across my lot, my mind congratulates me on my green (and inexpensive) choice for yard maintenance. Here are some of the benefits:

  • A reel mower is better for the health of the lawn as it cuts cleanly rather than tears the grass, leaving less opportunity for pathogens, and less damage to the plant.
  • I don’t need to buy gas for it, keep it tuned up, and yank forever on a starter cord (possibly dislocating my shoulder in the process.) An occasional oiling of the gears, and a once a year sharpening of the blades is all that is required.
  • A reel mower is considerably less expensive to buy than a motorized rotary mower (walking or riding.) The lightweight model I purchased through the internet cost me $65 and that included freight. So if, as my neighbor suggested, it does not last longer than one year, I’m still out of pocket less than I would pay for gas alone for one of those big behemoths so popular in this neighborhood. And references from other owners of this model say they’re on their fifth or sixth year.
  • While it is not completely silent, the snickety-snick raised by the whirring blades would not rouse a baby from a nap. I am not adding to the noise pollution (a rather pet peeve of mine) in the neighborhood. I can go out and mow at the crack of dawn should I choose, without incurring the ire of anyone. I can hear the wind in the trees, my own thoughts, and the bird song. I can hear—

“Miss Lynda?”

The two boys from next door (Jo-jo, age ten and Jamal, fourteen) stand on the edge of the lawn, watching me with quizzical expressions. Jo-jo steps forward. “What is that thing?”

“You’ve never seen one of these before?” I am surprised, to say the least. “It’s a lawn mower.”

“It works?” Jamal looks very dubious. He’s big for his age, and uncomfortable with his body, always slouching which gives him a brooding, sulky aspect. But now – he’s standing his full six feet plus, looking down on my suddenly tiny machine.

“See for yourself.” I point back at the neatly trimmed rows. “Works great – and it doesn’t make a lot of noise,” I add, for Jamal’s family have a fine collection of motorized everything, all of which need to be tuned up on a daily basis.

Jamal goes back to tinkering with whatever in the garage, leaving Jo-jo to watch me cut two more swathes. “Is it hard?” he asks.

“Here, try it for yourself.” I turn the mower and stand back to let him take over.

For the next ten minutes, Jo-jo is happy. Snick, snick, snick, snick – he does three rows, stopping at the end of each to admire his handiwork. His dad, an Army vet now confined to a wheelchair (motorized of course) comes over to watch. “You’ve got to be kidding. I haven’t seen one of these since I was a kid back in Roanoke. Where did you find this?”

“The internet.”

He wheels back to his garage, chuckling.

“Can I have a turn?” We’ve been joined by Ryan and Miranda from across the road. Jo-jo reluctantly relinquishes the machine to Ryan, who does one row and hands it to Miranda.

“What is that?” Now Maggie, Cain and Joshua from across the back yard stand in a cluster watching slight, tiny Miranda mow. “Can I try?” Joshua, eight and small even for eight, asks.

They all take a turn, and my lawn is three-quarters done – so much for the benefit of a cardio work-out while I cut my grass. Then, they start quarreling over who is next in line for a go, so I put a stop to it and take over myself. The children – all of them – go and sit on the edge of the planter and watch with such intensity you’d think I was swinging from a trapeze rather than merely mowing my lawn without the benefit of a loud motor.

By the time I am mowing close to the street, I attract another audience. The men have come home, and in true adherence to North Port lawn culture, are shamed by the sight of a woman mowing her own lawn, and without benefit of motorized assistance.

Paul, originally from Boston and with an accent I find close to incomprehensible, stops his SUV and shouts out the window, “What are you doing?” —as if, the answer isn’t right before his eyes. “Why didn’t you call if you need your lawn mowed? You know I’d gladly come over and do it for you. Stop – I’ll be over after supper.”

Before I can assure him, I’m perfectly happy, Ralph who does yard maintenance professionally, who is presently unloading one of his tractors from the trailer and parking it beside the house with the rest of his fleet, strides out to the street. “I do her lawn,” he shouts, obviously with wounded pride. “I’ll finish it tomorrow morning, Lynda. Go inside and cool off.”

Joe, father of Ryan and Miranda, who lives next door to Ralph, joins him. “I didn’t know they still made those.” His guffaws ring through the neighborhood.

Paul drives off to his own house, only to reappear minutes later walking up the street with a beer in his hand and two more in a bag for the others. They stand in an affronted manly group on Ralph’s driveway, watching me mow and muttering in low voices that even the subtle snick, snick, snick drowns out. Occasionally, I hear laughter.

By now, I am getting hot under the early evening Florida sun and would love to take a break and a large glass of water, but under the scrutiny of six children and three amused men, I don’t dare. All that is left is the long, slender patch on the east side of the driveway, but this is a challenge. It holds even more mole tunnels and fire-ant nests than the main lawn – and more weeds. Aware of the eyes upon me, I pull out the bigger weeds, throw aside the sticks and branches, and mow, the little machine doing a masterful job, even if bouncing more than it should.

Done, I pick up the lightweight implement, hoisting it higher than necessary – an act of defiant triumph. “Don’t worry, boys,” I call to them. “I’m fine.”

Ralph shakes his head. “I’ll come over and do the edges tomorrow.” He takes a swig of beer. “Or are you going to go at it with scissors.” All three men laugh and laugh, proud of Ralph’s wit and enjoying their superior masculine camaraderie.

Joe pipes up. “Wait till it’s ninety in the shade, and then we’ll see how you do.”

This brings on another bout of hearty laughter. I won’t be here for the summer months, but no need to remind them of that fact. Ralph will take care of my lawn in manly fashion, using the smallest of his tractors and cursing my plantings. But I won’t be around to listen.

“See ya, fellas.” I carry my mower to the garage as briskly as my tired legs allow, leaving the men to shake heads sadly over the foibles of this strange, non-resident alien in their midst. The children disperse, now that the show is over, returning to their forts in the woods, skateboards and basketballs. All except for Jo-jo, who stays sitting on the planter’s edge, staring at the grass.

Once inside, with a glass of water rehydrating my body, I look out the window and admire my neatly trimmed front lawn. I am about to take a much-needed shower when the doorbell rings.

Jo-jo stands there.

“Yes?”

“Miss Lynda?” He is such a polite boy, always addressing me this way, and responding with a “Yes, ma-am” whenever spoken to. “I was thinking.”

“Were you? What about?”

“My dad pays Jamal ten bucks to mow the lawn, but they always fight over it, ‘cause he’s lazy and full of bad attitude and disrespectful.” I am a little uncomfortable with this unwanted glimpse into my neighbors’ family life -- not that I don’t’ hear the occasional spats.

“And?”

“I’m not allowed to drive the lawn mower,” Jo-jo continues. “But if you’d let me borrow your lawn mower, then I could do it and Dad would pay me.”

Yea! – A convert. “Sure thing Jo-jo. That’s fine with me.”

He ran off, probably to enter into business negations with Dad.

A fact of life:

Men may need their multi-horsepower tools for reasons to do with the mysteries of testosterone, but real women use reel mowers.


Authors note: For the benefit of those of you currently involved in my writer's coach services and who've recently had correspondence over the mixing and use of tenses: this true story is written in the present tense, as an example of how to correctly use it.


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Comments 33 comments

papajack 6 years ago

I bought my first car pushing one of those. It weighed a lot more than 14 lbs in those days. In Oklahoma we use Bermuda grass mainly because St. Augustine burns up. Our summer temps are normally in the 100's. But still, I envy you! With my muscle disease, I wouldn't be able to do a single swath. Luckily, while I was still able to do such work, I took all the grass out of my lot and built raised flower beds and filled all the pathways with river rock. It looks nice and is virtually maintenance free. Free enough that my wife can now do the work that I no longer can. Ain't she lucky!


lmmartin profile image

lmmartin 6 years ago from Alberta and Florida Author

Thanks papajack. I used one of these for my house in Winnipeg for years, and it too, weighed far more than the lightweight models now available. Summer temps here are often in the 100's but the difference is the high humidity, which most likely stops the St. Augustine from burning up. Bermuda rots here I'm told (hardly a pleasant picture.)

Yes, your wife is lucky. One of my great pleasures in life and one of the main reasons I'm in Florida is a few hours doing physical work outside every day.

Thanks for the comment, and congrats on our successful play.


Hello, hello, profile image

Hello, hello, 6 years ago from London, UK

Thank you so much for a lovely story and an enjoyable read. I so admire you for your style writing. It is just plain and yet so pleasant and fluent. Thank you again.


lmmartin profile image

lmmartin 6 years ago from Alberta and Florida Author

Thank you Hello, hello. That is a very nice compliment. One of my favorite mantras when it comes to writing is "straightforward is best." Often, new writers try too hard and the result is strained and sometimes stuffy. Use of natural voice and language always communicates with the most impact. Thanks again.


BkCreative profile image

BkCreative 6 years ago from Brooklyn, New York City

Your observation is exactly right about lawn mowers and the South. When my daughter moved to Atlanta - and her husband had not arrived yet - I went out and bought a reel mower and we set out to push and mow. But a male neighbor immediately came over and did the job! I saw not one woman down there cutting grass.

Ah, but the North is different - women cut grass up here in NY - whereas the South has been known for being hospitable and gentlemanly.

I've cut many a lawn and prefer that lovely push mower. But next time I want to go the total English route with herbs and flowers and everything else. Not all this silly grass.

Lovely, fun hub! Thanks so much.


lmmartin profile image

lmmartin 6 years ago from Alberta and Florida Author

Thanks BKcreative. Yes, lawn care is definitely a segregated by gender task in the south -- at least here in North Port. My neighbors are wonderful people -- all of them, and they've grown to expect strange things from me. As one of them informed me, "At least you come from too far north to call you a Yankee."

Thanks for your comment, and I'm with you. With time I hope to plant more interesting ground covers over much of my lot, but will always need a patch of lawn for my two mastiffs and one Chihuahua (a new arrival to our strange menagerie.) I also prefer the push mower (reel mower) and the lawn looks much nicer cut with it -- that much is true. And with the new light-weight models, it takes no more effort than vacuuming a floor -- less even, while producing no ear-bursting noise. Thanks for dropping by.


Martyjay 6 years ago

Thank you. Glad to hear your keeping fit. However, it sounds like my pride would be hurt living in that neighborhood and not mowing the lawn. I laughed at lot at the hub.


lmmartin profile image

lmmartin 6 years ago from Alberta and Florida Author

Hello dear husband (time to let the world in on our secret -- yes everybody -- Martyjay is my partner in life!!) Knowing how much you loathe yard work, I thought you'd celebrate knowing I found a way to do it all myself, and cheaply, too. This IS a true story.


Quilligrapher profile image

Quilligrapher 6 years ago from New York

This is a very entertaining piece, Lynda. It was a reel treat to read. The mow I read, the mow I learned.

Q.


lmmartin profile image

lmmartin 6 years ago from Alberta and Florida Author

Thanks Quill, reely glad you enjoyed it.


itakins profile image

itakins 6 years ago from Irl

Brilliantly written-This could catch on you know......I am tempted.


lmmartin profile image

lmmartin 6 years ago from Alberta and Florida Author

Try it. It's a reel treat to mow the lawn and enjoy the outdoors at the same time without creating enough noise to cause tinnitis, and it doesn't take a whole lot of effort.


Tammy Lochmann profile image

Tammy Lochmann 6 years ago

Lynda...My husband won't let me mow the lawn for fear of the neighbors making fun of him. This must be a southern thing. We had to mow the lawn and my grandparents paid us to mow theirs back in Canada.

Anyhow I really enjoyed your story. I agree with Hello your stories flow and entertain the reader.


lmmartin profile image

lmmartin 6 years ago from Alberta and Florida Author

Hi Tammy -- definitely a southern thing. My husband isn't even here and as you can see by his comment, he's worried about his image with the neighbors. (And you can bet he's not likely to be out there with the reel mower, as this is apparently as manly as wearing a tutu.)

Thanks for the compliment. I've been writing for a long time and remember what they say, practice makes perfect. Keep on writing, Tammy, and send me your latest.


GusTheRedneck profile image

GusTheRedneck 6 years ago from USA

Lynda - "Rule 4" - get a goat.

Gus ;-)


lmmartin profile image

lmmartin 6 years ago from Alberta and Florida Author

Gus! -- a goat in suburban North Port, Florida. I don't think so. Bad enough two mastiffs and now a chihuahua.


GusTheRedneck profile image

GusTheRedneck 6 years ago from USA

Lynda - You are 100% correct. Suburbs hate goats. I had to laugh at the thought of your two giant mastiffs and one little chihuahua. One time we had a mini-dachshund and a friend with a huge great dane. The two dogs were running around and around the yard with the little guy underneath the big one - and he couldn't get out of there until the giant stopped running. It was funny to watch.

Gus :-)))


parrster profile image

parrster 6 years ago from Oz

Being from New Zealand, where reel mowers are still seen, and then immigrating to Australia, where North port lawn etiquette has been adopted, I can relate well to your story. Beautifully written and entertaining to the end. Thank you.


lmmartin profile image

lmmartin 6 years ago from Alberta and Florida Author

Nice to meet you parrster, and I hope you come back and read some more. Are Australians lawn chauvinists too? A new nugget of information to tuck away in my trivia files. Thanks.


loveofnight profile image

loveofnight 6 years ago from Baltimore, Maryland

i have truly enjoyed reading this hub...i too own a reel mower and would never give it up....not only are they enviromentally safer (since everything is going green) but now you will have to figure out what to do with the extra $25.....thx 4 share


lmmartin profile image

lmmartin 6 years ago from Alberta and Florida Author

You're so very welcome loveofnight. Glad to meet a fellow real woman with a reel mower. Thanks for the comment.


Rafini profile image

Rafini 6 years ago from Somewhere I can't get away from

I enjoyed your story and can relate in a different way. A few years ago when I rented a small house, I was responsible for mowing the lawn & bought a reel mower. I loved it! My boys, however, hated it. Everyone who knew me would ask "So, when are you going to join the 21st century?" They just don't get it. :)


lmmartin profile image

lmmartin 6 years ago from Alberta and Florida Author

Hence the title, Real Women (who as everyone knows are more intelligent than anyone else) use reel mowers.

Thanks for the comment Rafini, and did you notice the lesson in present tense?


Rafini profile image

Rafini 6 years ago from Somewhere I can't get away from

I saw your note at the bottom & am hoping to remember the lesson. :) (i bookmarked it just in case)


PegCole17 profile image

PegCole17 6 years ago from Dallas, Texas

This is truly funny, Lynda. And so typical of our Southern Gentlemen's comments. Ralph and the beer guzzlers remind me of the cartoon series King of the Hill.

My brother and I had a lawn mowing business when we were 10 and 12 years old in Key West. And we had a power mower, which he used, and a reel mower which I was allowed to use. Reel work, I'll say, builds character.


lmmartin profile image

lmmartin 6 years ago from Alberta and Florida Author

Why thanks Peg, and so good to hear from you. Yes, being here is one of those "Brave New World" experiences as I discover everyday another of those cultural differences. Lynda


Shannon 5 years ago

I live in Port Saint Lucie, Florida. We have a rather different lawn etiquette here. More like a "Whatever, just do it" type mindset. Not much care what gender you happen to be, and nobody cares if you use a reel mower or not, except to find it a curious sight.

I saw one of my (female) neighbors using a reel mower and became intrigued. When I later asked her about it, she told me that it didn't work well enough, and they had purchased a self propelled power mower, but that I was welcome to borrow the reel mower if I liked.

Instead, I went online and started doing research, and after a few days of reading everything I could find, I settled on the Fiskars Momentum, which I recently ordered. It's more expensive than most, but it's also the most modern, advanced design and the most versatile and capable.

I am looking forward to using it. It'll force me out of the house, and be easy as pie (since my lawn is mostly dead at the moment). It'll get me sunshine (Vitamin D!) and some light exercise. It'll let me talk to my neighbors more, and I won't have to worry about the lawn guy coming over at a ridiculously early hour while I am trying to sleep, waking me up, doing a cruddy job and then charging me $70 a month.

The Momentum will pay for itself in 3 months, and then I'll just start putting $70 in my money market account every month instead. :)

So laugh at me if you want, but I've got one of the best lawnmowers around, and I'm gonna save $840 a year with it. At least. And my Yorkies won't be terrified whenever the lawn gets mowed, either.

By the way, being a man, I had to laugh at the "manliness" aspect of the article. Glad I don't live in a neighborhood like that. Then again, thinking/being different never stopped me from doing what I wanted to do anyway. :)


lmmartin profile image

lmmartin 5 years ago from Alberta and Florida Author

Hey Shannon, nice to meet you. My neighborhood is what it is, and I continue to be the freak of nature, a woman who mows with a push mower. Good luck and best wishes to you and your lawn. Lynda


eugbug profile image

eugbug 2 years ago from Ireland

I haven't used one of these reel or (what we call cylinder mowers) since I was a teengager. Hope you're still using it after 3 years!


eugbug profile image

eugbug 2 years ago from Ireland

I haven't used one of these reel or (what we call cylinder mowers) since I was a teenager. Hope you're still using it after 3 years!


lmmartin profile image

lmmartin 2 years ago from Alberta and Florida Author

Yep. Still works. Thanks for asking. Lynda


Efficient Admin profile image

Efficient Admin 2 years ago from Charlotte, NC

Great hub! I also bought a reel mower when I bought my first house and used it once a week. I got almost the same reaction from my neighbors -- one of them never seen one before and others just couldn't believe I was using a reel mower. It worked really well and to maintain it, I had to wipe it down with WD40 about once a month. When I sold that house I didn't need the reel mower anymore so left it there for the next owner. They still sell them at Sears and Home Depot. I loved that I didn't have to mess with gas and oil and that loud obnoxious noise from a gas mower. I would buy another one in a heartbeat!!


lmmartin profile image

lmmartin 2 years ago from Alberta and Florida Author

Yes. I wish everyone had one; would cut down the noise level on Sundays -- national lawn mowing day. Thanks for commenting.

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