Tuesday 11 June 2013

Lawn-mowing for beginners (Week 10, Tuesday)

Tuesday team-working day today, we are weeding and mowing the lawn around the so-called "holly walk" - an area that has no dedicated gardener to it so is managed during team days. By the way, if you were wondering: how many gardeners in Kew? (a question several visitors ask me) The figure I got was some 50 gardeners (there are employees, the school of horticulture students, apprentices and trainees), with around as many volunteers (including interns). And we did have volunteer with us today, well, and myself.

As I had not used the mower for a while, and it was only my third time anyway (first and second) I checked I remembered all about how to operate it, and took a few pictures in the process. For a full description of what pre-start checks to do on a mower, I found this video rather useful.

Filter and petrol

The first general checks are: oil, petrol (full) and air filter (clean).

Spark plug cap removed
Fuel switch
The next check is the spark plug; it is usually disconnected when the mower is not in use.

Then, it's the turn of the fuel switch. I was told the easy rule is that all power tools' switches are on when in line with the pipe they are connected to, and off when at right angles.

Mowing height (back)
Mowing height (front)

The mowing height is the next check: when the grass is long, you start by mowing with a high cut, then you progressively reduce it. You want a lush green sward, you do not want to cut into the thatch. There are height controls both on the front wheels (2 of them) and on the back (one only).

You are now ready to start the engine. Our equipment has international symbols:
  • stop (self explanatory)
  • turtle (slow)
  • hare (fast)

You don't start on a turtle, otherwise the engine might struggle. So you push the lever towards the hare. Then you pull the string, until the engine starts. If it were a two-stroke engine (like the leafblower and the bowser) you would need a choke to help with cold start. But four-strike like the mower are ok as is.

The mower is ready but has to be pushed (quite heavy, but useful for doing difficult spots). And the blades are not engaged yet, so even when pushed it does not cut.

The controls of the blades and the self-propeller are the thinner handles. Pushing down the yellow button and the handle forward engages the blades (I find that the engine struggles if it's on slow when you engage the blades). The outermost handle is the self-propeller. The speed to which the mower goes forward is linked to the engine power, so the slower the engine, the slower the propelling.

If you are not used to a self-propelled mower, it can run away with you, especially on tight turns, so it is always best to disengage the self-propeller before turning, and only re-engage it when the mower is again in a straight line with wherever you wish to go.

I found the most difficult bits are under tree branches when you are mowing around tree circles and you have to be careful that the branches don't rebound on you if pushed apart (best if someone is around and holds on to the biggest branches) and that, having to bend under branches, the handles are released carefully when turning, because they are on a spring!

If your mower has a roller at the back, like ours, it will leave stripes on the lawn, that you have to try and keep even and straight. Sometimes it is difficult in particular light situations to see which stripe is which, but generally you know that the light stripe is in the same direction you are going now (because the grass blades were pushed down and you see the back of them), while the dark stripe is against you (because you are looking at the shaded bottom of the blades that were pushed down)... does that make sense? I particularly enjoyed making big stripes, which is when multiple mowers go side by side... but that is advanced skills, and I only tried once! :)

The last thing to do with a mower, is to check and empty the collector: when it is too full it leaves an unsightly trail of grass clippings as it goes!

Et voila... the perfect lawn-mowing...

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