Return of the Scythe

Canadians are pulling the plug on lawn-care power tools and turning to eco-friendly reel mowers and even the Grim Reeper’s favourite instrument

Globe Life
The Globe and Mail
Friday, August 31, 2007

Peter Vido is trying to save the planet one lawn at a time. His weapon: a 1,000-year-old implement that is also handy for peasant uprisings or if you happen to be the Grim Reaper.
That’s right. Mr. Vido cuts his lawn with a scythe.
It almost went the way of the flintlock rifle, but in a time of futuristic robot mowers, Canadians are increasingly turning to more environmentally friendly tools - such as non-powered push mowers and, to a lesser degree, rudimentary implements such as the scythe to maintain their lawns.
Enthusiasts say non-powered tools are catching on because of growing environmental concern about fumes from gas-powered cutters.
A gas mower emits the same amount of smog-causing emissions each hour as 40 new cars over the same time, according to the California Environmental Protection Agency.
About 2.7 million Canadians mow their lawns each summer weekend, using 40 million gallons of gas annually, Environment Canada says.
“We have definitely noticed an increased interest in non-gas-powered lawnmowers. There has been a shift toward more environmentally friendly thinking,” said Maeve Burke, a spokeswoman for Canadian Tire.
Home Depot Canada has tapped into the trend with its six-year-old “Mow Down Pollution” program, offering anyone who turns in a gas mower a $100 credit toward a new electric mower or non-powered reel mower, which has blades that spin as the mower is pushed by hand.
The program, running two weeks each April, saw a record 5,000 gas-powered mowers brought in this year, Home Depot’s John DeFranco said.
Reel mowers produce healthier, more lush lawns, said Mr. DeFranco, and are favoured at many golf courses. “They provide a better cut for the lawn because of the way the blade contacts the grass. It puts less pressure on the root [than a gas mower].”
Aficionados also like the fact that non-powered mowing equipment isn’t noisy and has fewer parts to maintain. As well, they say an experienced user can cut a lawn as fast as with a powered mower.
For the self-described “eco-missionary” Mr. Vido, an organic farmer in Lower Kintore, N.B., a decade-long international campaign to revive the scythe has resulted in brisk sales through his website
“[Business] almost doubles from year to year,” he says. “There is definitely a growing interest.”
Mr. Vido says he’s had to turn away orders for his custom-made wood scythe handles because he can’t keep up with the demand.
At another major scythe retailer, Maine-based, sales have been growing 20 per cent each year, totalling 800 or 900 scythes in 2006, owner Carol Bryan says. Clients range from urban dwellers to farmers and country folks with a small piece of land, Ms. Bryan says. Thirty per cent are women.
“The modern version of scything is very ergonomic,” said David Patriquin, a biologist at Dalhousie University who switched to a scythe and a reel mower for environmental reasons.
Only one of his 12 neighbours in Halifax still uses a gas mower, he said.
“It’s a lovely thing to do. [The scythe] is very pleasurable and a very, very precise tool.”
Mr. Vido acknowledges reel mowers are probably more suited to most Canadians than scythes are, but he said both tools are helping people take a greener approach to their lawns.
Ms. Bryan agrees. “The weedwhacker tried to replace the scythe. Now, the scythe is replacing the weedwhacker.”
Special to The Globe and Mail

Mowing toys and tips

A growing variety of non-powered mowing equipment is available from major hardware retailers. “Vendors are creating a lot more innovation around this category,” Home Depot’s John DeFranco says.
The most ubiquitous is the reel mower. Also known as push mowers, they have gotten a lot lighter over the years and are available in a variety of sizes at most major retailers. Big sellers include models by Scotts Classic, Brill and Yardworks.
While some rural hardware outlets still offer scythes, aficionados recommend also shopping around online. Be sure to get one custom-fitted to your height, with a lighter, European-designed blade and handle. Online retailers also usually offer instructional material—a necessity because scythes are tricky to use and maintain for newbies.
Alex Roslin