Homesteading Advice: Choosing the Best Riding Mower, Valerian Root and Benefits of Juicing

Ask Mother

| December 2000/January 2001

The Ask MOTHER column provides answers to readers questions about modern homesteading. This issue answers questions about choosing the best riding mower, the uses of valerian root, and explains the health benefits of juicing fruits and vegetables. 

What is the bestriding mower for my money?
Melrose, New Mexico

First, avoid no-name or house-brand, bargain-basement power equipment from garden centers, mall or hardware stores unless the stores have their own in-house service and repair facilities with an experienced, small-engine mechanic. Mower engines work very hard and they need care. It helps, too, if there is a nearby, franchised repair outfit to chase "limited" warranties if engines or transaxles go bad during the first year. Properly maintained engines should last a minimum of 2,500 hours. The less-than-premium wheel bearings, electrical equipment, tin and paint, however, need frequent oiling, waxing or cleaning in order to remain in top shape.

Don't buy a new model from a discount mall store unless it is a name brand such as Toro, Simplicity, MTD, Bolens, White or Cub Cadet. If purchasing a used, new or late model, you should buy from the most reputable and longest-established servicing dealers in your area. They will have prominent ads in the Yellow Pages under "Lawn Mowers." The independent makers of rotary mowers all build good riding mowers, too. Our preference is farm-tough lawn equipment from the surviving farm tractor makers: John Deere, Ford, Case, New Holland (Boomer), Honda and Husquevarna make high-quality, though not inexpensive, machines. And there's always Sears. Check the major discounts listed in Sears sale catalogs and newspaper ads, but insist on the models in the media ads rather than store-floor discounted models.

If you have a big spread, look in the classifieds for a Farmall Cub, Farmall "A" or other good old (1940s-'50s) farm tractor with a newer Woods mower deck attachment. Expect to pay around $2,500 for a good one, and be sure that there's a competent old-tractor mechanic around.

Buying used lawn equipment direct from the owner can be a false economy unless you know personally that the owner has taken care of it. Oil and air filter elements must be changed regularly, or the dust and grit that is continually blown around any mower engine can get inside and grind it to junk in a single season. An owner can always put in new oil and air filters at the time of sale to make it appear well-kept, so you should give the mower a good once-over to confirm maintenance claims. Check the inside of the oil fill cap — a cruddy buildup suggests infrequent oil changes. Also, have the owner remove the air cleaner housing cover and the air filter element(s). Make sure that the inside of the air cleaner housing behind the element is dust-free, and that the throttle plate of the carburetor (if visible) is in good condition. If the throttle plate is discolored substandard gas may have been used. If the inner air filter housing is covered in fine dust, chances are the elements haven't been changed often enough, or, if changed, weren't seated properly. If the engine has been running on bad gas and eating dust, it will be pretty worn out for its age.

mother earth news fair 2018 schedule


Next: April 28-29, 2018
Asheville, NC

Whether you want to learn how to grow and raise your own food, build your own root cellar, or create a green dream home, come out and learn everything you need to know — and then some!