Solar-powered lawn-mowing

Yesterday I put the final piece in place to our solar powered lawn-mowing solution. At the old house, I used the reel-mower - not a terribly onerous task provided it was kept sharp. But at the new house we are on a corner lot, and inheriting our predecessor’s love of lawn. We are slowly eating away at it with vegetable and xeric beds… but a lot remains. Too much to feasibly manage with the reel mower - especially if I want to share the task with other members of the family.

So, we bought us a Neuton Electric Mower which has the useful distinction of being powered by a removable 24volt sealed lead-acid rechargable battery. We also bought an extra battery. While they dont supply a solar recharger (it comes with a big-brick mains recharger), eBay (for example) does - I was able to buy a simple 24v recharger package with a solar panel, recharging circuit and leads.

I hooked it all together at the weekend, quickly corrected the polarity (+1 for testing) and plugged it in. Yay, the little charging light on the batter lit up. I secured the PV panel (little one about 6” square) to a bit of wood, and repositioned it a couple times over the course of the day.

I have fingers crossed. My tests showed I was getting close to the same output (in volts) from the PV panel, in almost full sun. But, not quite. I know just a little about battery charging, but enough to be aware that it needs to exceed the rated voltage of the battery to work.

Its raining today, so the results are not yet in. But worst case is that I have to tweak the battery-charging circuit piece of this solution (the component - I’m not proposing to tweak the circuit itself, not yet). Neuton said they have had other customers do the solar recharging thing too. Maybe they or a 3rd party could be persuaded to produce an off-the-shelf solution to put solar-powered moving easily into the hands of the masses. We need one badly here in the south - where sun and lawns are both in abundance.

The mower itself: works pretty well. As you’d expect, its quiet (another plus, you can carry on a conversation while mowing). A full charge gets me around our lawn about twice (very approximately 3500 sq ft). Its powered appropriately, my only reservation is the width of the cut - about 15” - so the whole task takes a little longer that your average gas-hog mower might. But it doesn’t leave your nerves on edge, can be carried out in the cool early mornings without waking neighbors, and shared across the whole family. I think its a winner.

Update: With great hindsight, the solar panel size was obviously the problem - it was way too small to be useful and charging would take weeks, if at all.

Goaty suburban weed control and other stories

They just have some of the best articles over on

This one (Getting her Goat) is a cracker - a recent transplant from NY city tackles her weed problem in suburban Boulder, CO by hiring a small herd of goats.

Does it go without saying that I have been tossing around a similar idea for a while. My problem is grass though - not something goats are that keen on - they are more your bush-whacker / weedwacker types. I think a cow might not go down so well, but how about a small herd of rabbits? You could drop a couple of cages down for a day or so on a patch of lawn, and move them around as necessary.

Turns out I’m not the only one who has wandered down this path. Here’s a post on Another stupid idea: Rabbits. The thread continues with some thumbs up and down.

Holes. One person points out that rabbits like to dig holes. I had in mind a enclosed mesh frame with 2in. mesh on the floor. which I think would thwart that. It would be fully enclosed, probably with a hinged lid, probably with some shade netting. You’d need to watch for excitable dogs, hawks etc. The wire mesh would protect them from harm, but not trauma. And, before you object, this would be shift work with rabbits getting rotated in and out as necessary to keep everyone happy. Read on down the thread and someone posts saying they “use to keep rabbits and ducks and used them both as weed grazers”. Ha! I am vindicated.

There’s always sheep of course. Not nearly as fun, but faster I imagine.

What price do you put on a herd of rabbits? I think this would make a great summer job, or weekend enterprise. I can get someone to mow my lawn for $25, but I might pay double for the entertainment and environmental value of having the job done by rabbits.

Bike Commuting

Austin Cycling Association - Commuting

This is a short piece on bicycle commuting in Austin that rings very true. I need to get me one of those horns he’s talking about. The thing about sidewalks though.. if there’s sidestreets and driveways I’ll agree you’re better off on the road. But on a long open stretch like where Lamar flanks Shoal Creek - you’d be a fool to risk the narrow lanes when the sidewalk is right there. You give me lanes wide enough and drivers not so hell bent on shaving 1/10 sec. off their commute, and I’ll cede the sidewalk to the pedestrians.

Better yet just widen it out a bit, paint in a line and we can keep everyone happy.

While I’m here: 4 way stops. Drivers, thank you for being so gracious as to wave me through, but please just let the system work. If you and I both follow the rules, there’ll be no surprises and we’ll be on our way in no time.

Cyclists. If you’re on the road, the rules apply to you too. Weaving through traffic, launching through red lights, forcing cars to slow to let you cross - these things piss people off. When I’m the next cyclist behind you they’ve no idea what I’m going to do and I’m suddenly the bad guy. All I did was choose to cycle that day.

Cyclists. If you’re on the sidewalk - don’t be an asshole. Don’t swoosh past people, don’t make them step aside. Slow to a jogging pace if you need to pass.

Right on red: which murderous planner conceived of this? How can timing pedestrians crossing with turning traffic be ok?

Riding in the dark. We all get caught without lights, or without batteries sometimes. But know that if you’re not lit up, you’re practically invisible after dusk. I prefer a white helmet for these reasons… still need to get me a good jacket or stripes/

Paniers or saddle bags: you have no idea how nice it is not to have a bag on your back until you’ve tried them. No more awkward weight and sweat patches; you can cart a towel, change of clothes, spare tube and tools plus the work papers and lunch back and forth without thinking about it. If you get creative with the bungee cords, you can pack the groceries in there too.

Bugs: dusk brings bugs, especially near green patches. What do people do about bugs? A mask? It’s hard to hold your course when you’re choking on bugs.

New worms

New worms

Our new composting worms arrived from Territorial Seed. They are installed in the worm bin (we got it cheap through a city program in Berkeley) and settling in. I have high hopes for them - I just hope they handle the transition

I did call the local bait shop btw on a tip that they were a good source for the same, where they go by the name “red wigglers”. They wanted $2.50 for a “handful” - about 20 worms the guy estimated. Territorial charge $33 for 1000. I don’t think anybody’s really counting, but there’s certainly hundreds in there.