Notwithstanding the snow which is a bit unexpected in the (midst of global warming) on the upper East Coast this week, it is time to get real about what comes with Spring.  Besides “Hey! Hey First of May, Outdoor (ahem) starts today!”

Unfortunately what really starts about now is yard work.

I’ve got at least 57-years of first hard experience.  Starting at age 10 when pappy put me at the controls of a 19” Toro and told me the only instruction most men ever hear about mowing:  Don’t mow up and down a will, mow sideways.  Too easy to slip and hack a toe off.

As if to prove the point, one day Pappy came in the house and pointed to a 1” long slice in the toe area of his shoe.  “See this?  This I why I told you don’t mow up and down the hill.”   He had a kind of sheepish look and the skin was just barely broken, but enough so that he realized that even he, Pappy, was not immune to the laws that kill people.  Thereafter, he was much more careful, besides watching me closely.

The first truisms about Yard Work that need to be put aside are as follows.


1.  Live on a sailboat, have no yard.  If there is anything green or flowery around, it is the marina’s problem.

I would like to thank the Port of Seattle Shilshole Bay Marina for the 11-years I lived aboard my 40’ sailboat, over half of it there.  They did a remarkable job of keeping the waves trimmed (installing the breakwater is what did it).  And only once or twice along 600-feet of dock out to the end did I ever see anything growing.  Maybe an odd see dropped by a bird and then fertilized by seagulls.

Half a dozen inch-long blades in 600 feet in 5 or 6 years is a great start.

2.  The second best thing is to do what Mom and Pappy did when the grew up (never fully):  The moved into a common-wall townhouse.

Every week the yard was done, the sidewalk out front was swept or blown clean.  Edging was done monthly.

Miraculously, outside maintenance like painting happened – as if by magic – and when came time to pay the HOA dues, Pappy was always prompt in order not to interrupt the flow of things.

Long-time readers will remember his other great Yard Work advise:  Never plant a garden bigger than your wife can maintain.  This year, we don’t have a garden in because Elaine’s too busy on other projects and I’m a good student of management science.

3.  Have kids.  Live in a house.

Sooner, or later, the kids will want to “play house” for a while.  Start them off with a few menial tasks, but attach a high value reward to it.  Food works at first, but eventually, you will have to toss in cash (first choice) or car keys.

Mind you, I never had to suffer through the car keys in return for Yard Work.  I’d gotten divorced before that and had already moved onto the sailboat.  See #1.

4.  Live in a House.  Find Neighborhood kids.

This one is a bit of a tradeoff.  I will never let anyone who is not a member of immediate family (even Panama’s new wife isn’t allowed to use power tools or big equipment) simply because we live in a litigious world and the idea of losing a lifetime of work to a (yuck!) lawyer is not very appealing.

Whenever anyone not directly related does anything, we lead into that with a Waiver of Liability.

Should you do this if the lazy, no-good, 16-year old across the street is willing to do a slap-dash mowing for gas money? 

Hell yes.  When you get into Court, should anything go wrong, you’re going to be made to look the part of Scrooge dishing out porridge to the poor.  The little bastard, all covered with tats and vaping himself into oblivious while barely able to remain in school will be pictured as the victim of your ill-maintained equipment.

Jury awards kill.  So avoid them.  Use blood relatives only, and simplify life considerably.

5.  As an absolute last resort (especially now that baseball season has started) you can turn on a game and try to visualize yourself mowing an adjacent outfield.  Several beers will aid in this delusion.

If beer and delusion is not your cup of tea, you can pick up a pair of
ClearArmor 141001 Safety Ear Muffs Shooters Hearing Protection Folding-Padded Head Band Ear Cups, Black (Certified S3.19 & EN352) for about $25 bucks from Amazon.  Then you can drive around saying “AAAuuuuuummmmmmmmm” to your little hearts content.

You will also want a good selection of masks.  If you’re a hee-person, a simple box of Topro Disposable Cleaning Molded Face Masks- Pack of 100pcs is a fair start.

However, blessed with asthma since birth, I prefer something a little more upscale like the 3M Particulate Respirator 8233, N100 which will cost a LOT more.  But if you pop a Diphenhydramine HCI 25 Mg – Kirkland Brand – Allergy Medicine and AntihistamineCompare to Active Ingredient of Benadryl® Allergy Generic – 600 Count  for $8.36  (for 1.4 cents per turn around the yard) you will be able to be terribly relaxed as well as enjoying peace and quiet.

While it is widely promoted that “buzz driving is drunk driving” slightly medicated mowing is…well…mowing.

The other thing to line up in your power tools.

We’ve standardized on the Black and Decker 20V series.  So we have a chain saw, hedge trimmer and the Factory-Reconditioned Black & Decker LST220R 20v MAX Lithium String Trimmer  that all use the same battery pack.

Did I mention as a tool slut that I LOVE reconditioned tools?

Order of Battle

This is one I have seen debated, but around here, the best approach seems to be going about things from messiest to neatest.

So when I go out this week and lay into the yard (just bush hogging the whole open areas is an all-day job and 9-gallons of diesel) it will be with the idea that the bush hogging (brush cutting) will happen first.

Then the wild things on the fence will meet with the hedge trimmer and a quick demise.

Then, if I find a few extra hours, I will do what Texans proudly call “limbing-up” the property.

The idea is that you walk around on the ground and cut off limbs that you’d run into on the tractor as a first pass.  Then you mount up on the tractor and drive around and cut the next level up, stopping to stand on the tractor, or use the bucket like a lift, so that when you’re done, you have a nice open area under the trees which will be shady – encouraging some breezes. 

More importantly, however, that “{limbing-up” will keep any grass fires (common now and then) from getting up into the trees and “crowning” – which is when the fire jumps from the dry pine needles of one tree to another.

All in all, if you do the limbing up with the brush forks on the bucket, you can round up the big stuff pretty quickly.

Then, if you’re in a nice area, you bring the riding mower around with the dump trailer and throw things in that. 

If you’re not in a nice area, you say “Screw this…” and you just run the Bush Hog over the pile a few times and now you’ve got wood mulch.

A Word About Chippers

I’ve developed real mixed feelings about wood chippers.  This came after using a smallish 5 HP one for a while, then an 8 HP one and sometimes I find myself looking at one I could lash onto the 3-point power take-off on the tractor.

Here’s the trade-off in simple terms.

Sometimes when you have a lot of wood, the easiest thing to do is put a match to a couple of gallons on diesel and motor oil sloshed around on the fire.  This is good and certainly makes the wood disappear.

If you leave it as mulch, chipped up fine and put it on thick enough, it is a great anti-weed layer in the garden.  Except it’s a bunch of work that you don’t need to do because we can go out and in 2-minutes line up a lifetime supply of pine needles.

Which then gets us to the pathways which I have seen people install using chips. 

They look really nice, a easy to walk on, but to get enough chips to do a good job sometimes is a little tough in the city.

Out here in the Outback, every so often power line crews will have a contractor going along and cleaning the power line right of ways.  They will usually be glad to drop a pickup load (or many) in your yard gratis.  Well, or a cold Bud, maybe.

The main thing about Yard Work is to have the right tools.  A minimum kit for a big piece of property is:

  • Small diesel tractor with Brush cutter
  • Large gas chainsaw for real trees
  • Electric chainsaw for 6” and smaller problems
  • Hedge trimmer to keep things out of fence lines
  • String trimmer for edging and cut-in work
  • Riding mower depending on size of useable yard
  • Push mower (gas or electric depending on size)
  • Fertilizer dispenser (wheeled)
  • Grass seed spreader (hand held)
  • And assortment of hose all on hose reels (beats hell out of hand coiling and is neater)
  • And plenty of time and refreshments.
  • Don’t forget the ear muffs and safety glasses and dust masks.

I know there is probable not too much on this list you don’t already have, but it’s a list to review at the start of the season. 

Nothing will “tickify me” more than not having all my gear and all the spares and launch into the spring ready to beat the living shit out of Ma Nature’s winter vengeance.  Being marginally ADHD, by the time Brent the UPS driver gets here with the missing pieces, I’ve lost interest in the yard.

Until next year.  Then I’m likely as not to get all riled-up, again.  But maybe it’ll pass again then, too….

P.S. If you’re a lawyer, how about sharing a release of liability for yard work done by local kids we might hire?

Write when you break-even,