Turf Magazine - August, 2014

SOUTH FEATURES

Solar Mowing a Hot Concept

Lyn DeWitt's electric landscape services gain foothold in D.C. market.
By Mike Ingles


PHOTOS COURTESY OF SOLAR MOWING.

Lyn DeWitt, owner of Solar Mowing in Bethesda, Maryland, had a problem. The Washington, D.C., area mother and dog owner would bring her daughter and dog inside and shut all the windows whenever she or her husband mowed the lawn.

"I didn't like the smell or the noise, so I decided to do something about it," says DeWitt.

In 2008, DeWitt bought a reel mower. However, she discovered that pushing a mower around in the D.C. heat was more difficult that she had imagined. She persevered and eventually settled on an electric mower for home use. Because she and her husband had purchased wind power for their home for their electric needs, the result was having an electric mower that was virtually emission-free - at least in terms of mowing.

Solar Mowing

Owners: Lyn DeWitt

Founded: 2009

Headquarters: Bethesda, Maryland

Markets: Montgomery County, Maryland

Services: Mowing, hand weeding, overseeding, mulching, organic lawn care

Employees: 12 in-season

Website: http://solarmowing.com

DeWitt decided in 2009 that perhaps other people in her region might like to get away from the noise and the emissions that mowers produce, too. She felt that electric mowers and other electric hand-held landscape accessories would be a good match for an area known for being environmentally conscious. After all, in 2010, emissions in the D.C. area exceeded ozone concentration standards for 33 days. That same year the city issued three red-zone days when air quality can be unhealthy for sensitive groups. DeWitt learned from an EPA report that gasoline-powered mowers emitted as much hourly pollution as 11 automobiles, and she reasoned there were a number of property owners that would appreciate a "greener" alternative to gasoline-powered mowers.

"Five years ago people were willing to give me a chance and they liked the idea of pollution-free mowing, but the price had to be competitive," recalls DeWitt. "Few people were willing to pay a premium for mowing services. She purchased battery-powered mowers first from Neuton Mowers, Vergennes, Vermont, and then from Greenworks Tools, Mooresville, North Carolina, including a GMAX 40-volt 20-inch mower, complete with lithium batteries and chargers.

"I opted for Black & Decker trimmers and blowers," adds DeWitt. "They're quiet and hold a long charge." She utilizes Black & Decker's LST136 13-Inch, 36-volt lithium-ion cordless high-performance string trimmers; LHT2436, 24-inch, 40-volt cordless hedge trimmers; and a LSW36, 40-volt lithium-ion cordless sweeper.

Charge!

The biggest problem she faced was keeping the batteries charged when running on long summer days. DeWitt needed a way to recharge her mowers and hand-held equipment while servicing her clients' lawns. After diligent research she found a solar engineer in Virginia who installed a solar panel and recharging system on her Ford Transit.



Lyn DeWitt enjoys delivering non-gasoline-fueled landscape services to what she sees as a growing core of environmentally conscious property owners.

"The unit worked beautifully, even storing energy for overcast and cloudy days," says DeWitt. "The cost of the solar equipment and the installation was about $1,500." It wasn't long before she purchased another solar array for a second truck.

"The mowers all have LED indicators so my workers know when the units need charging," she continues. The lithium technology is allowing Solar Mowing to mow up to 30 lawns per day. The GMAX 40-volt mower is equipped with automatic battery switchover, which pulls power from the second battery after the first has depleted. This helps eliminate downtime.

As the company's client list grew so did the demand for environmental mowing, she says.

"More and more, people are objecting to the noise and smell of conventional mowers. They want to reduce their carbon footprint, but they want their lawns to look good, too. We're what they're looking for."



David Jimenez, operations manager, joined Solar Mowing in 2012.

Sensible turf care

DeWitt and her employees follow the 3-inch rule. "Mowing high and letting grass clippings lie are two of the most important aspects of organic lawn care. At 3 incheS the grass shades the soil, keeping weed growth down and promoting healthy roots."

Solar Mowing's employees sweep clippings onto the grassy areas and never leave debris in streets or driveways. DeWitt says they change mowing direction every two to three visits to encourage a natural appearance, and they mow according to need and weather conditions and not by the calendar.

Her small eco-friendly company now also offers hand weeding, lawn reseeding, overseeding and mulching to its services, and is also in the process (as of this writing) of becoming licensed to apply organic fertilizers.

"We're starting to try some new products and develop an alternative to chemical applications," says DeWitt." If we can get and keep the soil healthy that's half the battle, but when the grass needs additional nutrients we'll be in a position to offer environmentally friendly options."

According to DeWitt the most commonly used herbicide in the United States, glyphosate, has been showing up in breast milk, urine and drinking water supplies. Scientific studies have linked exposure to birth defects and cancers. And, citing the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), the widespread use of glyphosate is killing milkweed, and causing significant ongoing harm to monarch butterflies. She says NRDC has petitioned the EPA to review glyphosate and limit its use.

DeWitt adds that a major side benefit of emission-free mowing is that clients with vegetable gardens needn't have pollutants fouling the food they've grown. She says that about 35 percent of U.S. households now grow some of their own food. She added that electric mowing is also healthier for her employees.

David Jimenez, operations manager, joined Solar Mowing in 2012 after noting DeWitt's ability to break into the predominantly gas-powered landscaping market. He was looking for an opportunity to be part of a business venture with an eco-friendly philosophy. Jimenez says that after witnessing firsthand how the marshlands of Chesapeake Bay had been negatively affected by damage from chemical runoff, he wanted to make a difference.

DeWitt and Jimenez are proud in having Solar Mowing earn the designation of being a Montgomery County Green business.

"To those of us running green businesses this certification is a stamp of approval from local government, which shares our values for environmental stewardship," she says.

In addition, Solar Mowing was chosen to maintain a path through a restored meadow at Woodend, the Audubon Naturalist Society's (ANS) 40-acre Sanctuary in Chevy Chase, Maryland.

"ANS chose Solar Mowing to mow the path because our machines are lightweight, quiet and they are non-polluting," says DeWitt. "Plus, we are more than willing to help prevent the spread of weeds by wiping down the blades and underside of the mowers and picking debris out of the wheel treads before we mow."

DeWitt is pleased that her company continues to grow and to find more ways to help reduce pollution in the Washington, D.C., metro market.

Mike Ingles is an experienced researcher and writer who live and works in Columbus, Ohio. Comment on the article or reach Mike at duckrun22@gmail.com.