The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

Homestead mower selection for women

Honda mower

Now that everyone's done drooling over Mark's new mower, I thought it might be helpful to share our thought processes in choosing the new tool. A homestead like ours, with grassy aisles between permanent garden beds covering a couple of acres, needs a mower small and nimble enough to dive into nooks and crannies...and preferably hefty enough to cut thick weeds and power up slick hills without burning out or breaking its handlers. Here are the mowers we've considered and/or tried.

Craftsman mowerThe Craftsman 917388571 was our farm's second mower (replacing an ancient mower that literally exploded one day when I asked it to do things mowers shouldn't be asked to do). What I loved about this mower: it ran with minimal upkeep for eight years after being purchased used and was easy enough for me to start until the final season. What we didn't like so much: pushing it up hills and around corners could wear you out, especially in the heat. Meanwhile, as the Craftsman aged it seemed to go through flywheel shaft keys and blades like candy despite there being fewer and fewer obstructions left in its path.

Swisher mowerIn fall 2014, I loosened the purse strings and we upgraded to a Swisher. Mark was hoping that the string cut would handle our rough terrain without so many flywheel problems and he also thought a self-propelled mower would make grass-cutting a breeze. I'll admit that I detested this mower from day one. The string flung blades of grass into my garden beds, requiring much more washing of our harvest (and making leaf lettuce completely unpalatable), and the string also resulted in a rougher cut that wasn't fun on bare feet. I couldn't start the machine either, so when it was my turn to mow I stuck with the Craftsman.

Troy-Bilt mowerOnce Mark gave up on the dream of the Swisher, we put our heads together and tried to figure out if there was a mower that would do what we each wanted. At first, we considered a Troy-Bilt WC33. The price tag was daunting, but such a hefty machine seemed like it might be a good idea, especially with the electric start, self-propulsion, and excellent reviews. But then I read deeper and realized that there was no way I could manage the beast with my moderate upper-body strength. Luckily, Mark was willing to compromise.

Self-propelled mowerWe settled on the Honda HRX217K5VKA because it looked small enough for me to maneuver and boasted the best reviews of any of the same-class mowers. After taking it for a test drive, I have to admit, I'm sold. The auto-choke, easy-start system almost seems like a magic trick --- I've never had a two-stroke engine that I could rev up without even feeling it in my yanking arm. The self-propulsion really makes a difference in our hilly terrain (yes, Mark was right about that), and at the same time the design makes it easy to go manual in extremely tight quarters.

Of course, to pay for itself, the Honda will need to last at least a decade. Here's hoping our new mower will go the distance!

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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in 2003 I bought a used Yard Machines 22 HP mulching push mower (not self-propelled) for about $85, and that thing lasted for about 13 years. What finally forced me to get a new one is not the engine, which still works just fine, but the deck literally fell to pieces from rust and just plain being used. That thing cut through all sorts of crap - blackberry brambles, honeysuckle (HATE that stuff!) and other pernicious weeds as well as tall (mid-calf length) grass, like a hot knife through butter. I loved that mower and was really upset I couldn't get another deck for it. Now I have another 21 HP mulching mower I just bought used ($75 if I remember correctly) that has potential bagging attachment which I spent $100 to get. Best $175 I ever spent. Not only does it cut through all the bramble/honeysuckle and tall grass like a hot knife through butter, but the bagging attachment means I can take that chopped-up grass and use it as mulch on my garden beds thus cutting down the amount of wheat straw I usually purchase from Lowes (and thus cutting my costs! Yay!)

I think you'll find that mower is just what the garden doctor ordered! :)

Comment by Nayan Sat Apr 22 08:21:54 2017

We love our Honda self-propelled mower! After spending less on cheaper models and having them wear out from our rough terrain, we bit the bullet and haven't looked back.

Nayan, is your mower really 22 HP? That's a tractor?

Comment by Nita Sat Apr 22 13:08:01 2017

Hi y'all. Your new Honda looks like a slightly fancier version of mine, which is also an HRX217 but without the slick "dashboard." I bought mine six years ago and have worked it pretty hard since then, as a single woman on a property much like yours.

It continues to work very well for me. The self-propulsion is a must-have for hilly and rolling terrain. And the ability to set the blades at 1/2-inch intervals from 1 to 4 inches means I can use it like a semi-bush hog when the grass and wild-weeds along the creek bank grow faster than the weather will let me cut them!

The one trouble I've had is the mulch/bag lever corroded so I've not been able to change that setting, which is a pain as I was hoping to gather more clippings this year for garden mulching and composting.

My local mower maintenance fellow says I should replace the blades this year, as we're entering the machine's seventh season of use and the poor thing has unwittingly chewed through everything from heaved rocks to thick branches to someone's long-lost glass ashtray (literally, chewed through the thick glass).

But otherwise, a roughly annual oil/filter/spark plug change and sharpening have seen us through rather nicely.

Comment by Beth Sat Apr 22 16:28:37 2017
Not mower but budget. How do you guys factor for a year five years?
Comment by jim Wed Apr 26 07:28:56 2017

You folks put mowers designed for suburban golf course lawns through things they were never made for, and they seem to hold up.

Psst! Anna, it's a four stroke!

Comment by Eric Wed Apr 26 22:24:27 2017

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