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Gardening

Let’s move beyond gas lawnmowers, leaf blowers and other exhaust-spewing yard tools

  • Author: Jeff Lowenfels
    | Alaska gardening
  • Updated: May 21
  • Published May 21

A couple of weeks ago I spent one of those extremely frustrating hours (or was it two?) trying to get my gas-powered chainsaw up and running so I could take care of some of the spruce bark beetle-killed trees in the yard. Anyone with a gasoline-powered saw knows exactly what I experienced. We have all had at least one gas-powered tool fail to respond until finally the only solution is to get a replacement.

Let me digress for a second. (Stick with me here, dear reader). If there is any positive side to the COVID-19 pandemic, it is the impact that stay-at-home orders and limited social contact has had on the environment. We have heard cities around the world reporting clean air, sightings of mountain ranges long hidden by pollution and returning wildlife. I know the air here in Anchorage is cleaner.

Knowing how extra popular gardening will be this summer because of social distancing rules and the opportunity to grow food, I actually worry that gardeners will be blamed for reversing some of the environmental gains! Our lawn mowers and leaf blowers, weed eaters and tractors are by far some of the most serious contributors to air (and noise) pollution. It’s worse than cars and trucks, yet we blithely pull those starting cords and wander into the yard spewing filthy exhaust.

Now, I am the guy who constantly harps on his readers and folks in my audiences to get with the soil food web program, protect the earth and reverse global warming. I urge shunning synthetic fertilizers, herbicides or pesticides. Yet I sure use a lot of polluting machines to maintain my organic lifestyle. It is time for me to change (and you know what that means for you!).

So, after my last frustrating attempt at starting an internal combustion engine, I did a bit of research and got some great advice from my knowledgeable hardware person. The results? I now have a battery-powered chainsaw as well as a similarly powered leaf blower. And I am here to tell you, it was a great move well worth your contemplation.

Actually, all I really need to tell you is that the new chainsaw starts every single time I turn it on. Instantly, effortlessly and immediately. And when I was contemplating how to proceed with my cuts, it was completely off, as it has no need to idle. Just push the button and restart every single time. And, in addition to low noise pollution, there is no exhaust. Enough power to down some pretty big trees? You bet. I cut down the six trees I needed to in about one-third of the time it would have taken with the gas-powered machine, assuming I ever got it started.

As for the blower, it was a similar, eye-opening experience. And, I didn’t smell of exhaust after clearing a winter’s worth of sand and gravel from the driveway. I didn’t have to wear ear muffs for noise, either. Clean and quiet are not words associated with leaf blowers. If we had had batteries as light and powerful and long-lasting as the ones I got, even a leaf-blower hater like my dad would have had one.

It occurs to me that in addition to the pollution savings, there is another benefit to battery power. There is a greater possibility that others in the household might engage in using some of these yard machines. No gasoline mixes, no starting fluids, no tuning and, in fact, no need to understand how a small engine works and needs to be maintained.

I know a battery operated string trimer is next. I now realize half my time using gas-powered engines to accomplish a garden chore is (now was) spent on the darn machine and not the chore at hand. It looks like batteries can rectify this.

Now I am wondering, do they make electric lawn tractors? I am sure they do.

Jeff’s garden calendar

Get going: What are you waiting for? Plant those seeds. Get the starts growing in the ground, containers and window boxes. Hook up those hoses. Mow those lawns. Remove those dead trees. We are here, and there is only a window of a few weeks to get things up and running.

Alaska Botanical Garden: Trails are open. Bathrooms are not. There are lots of classes and things you need to know about, so go to alaskabg.org. The nursery is open.

Compost: Start a pile. It must be at least 3 cubic feet. It doesn’t have to be in the sun to heat, as it is the microbes that heat the pile.

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