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Sparks will fly when you sharpen the mower blade,
FOR THOSE of us who cut our own grass or plant and weed our own gardens and flower beds, this is the time of year when most plants, even the cool season perennials like fescue or bluegrass, are going dormant and have pretty much stopped growing.
Now is the best time, while it is very comfortable outdoors, to spend a few hours on the equipment we use throughout the growing season in our lawns and gardens. Most people can handle the recommendations below, but there are folks out there who can help you with them. Performing these simple tasks now can save you plenty in time and repairs next year. The first rule of maintenance might be overused but it still applies: An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
Lawnmowers: This machine will take a little more time than hand tools or tillers simply because it has a gas engine, pneumatic tires and cuts grass, but in a few hours or less you can have it winterized and ready for spring.
Start under the deck: Remove the dead grass stuck to the bottom with a hand scraper and remove the blades and resharpen them now, either using your grinder or having the job done professionally. Lubricate the newly ground cutting edges with petroleum and bolt the blade back on.
Now with the aid of a pressurized air hose, blow off the top of the cutting deck, all around the engine, and the engine where grass clippings always accumulate. These clippings will draw and retain moisture from the air, which can cause rusting. If no pressurized air hose is available, remove the dead
Now that the mower is clean, inspect the belts that propel the mower and the cutting deck. Push mowers won't have these belts. Inspect for burn spots, cracks, or belts that may be unraveling due to old age. Replacing these belts now is surely better than having one break when the grass is growing fast in the spring.
Now is also a good time to change the engine oil, spark plug and any air and fuel filters. Remove all the gasoline from the tank, start the engine and let it run until the carburetor is out of gas and shuts off. Buy new gasoline and mix in a gasoline stabilizer such as Sta-Bil or SeaFoam. Completely refill the tank with this fresh mixture and restart the engine just long enough to get the new gas with the stabilizer throughout the carburetor. This will keep the seals in the carburetor from becoming hard and brittle.
Unbolt the battery from the mower if it has one. Lastly, for riding mowers with pneumatic (air filled) tires, block the mower up enough where the tires are just off the ground. Let all the air out of the tires. It is the air pressure in the tires that causes tiny cracks in the tires that in time will turn into air leaks. Believe it or not, it's when the rubber is not being worked and just sitting under pressure in the cold, dry winter air, that it breaks down and cracks.
In the spring, simply re-bolt the battery back, fill the tires with air and you are ready to roll with fresh gas, sharp blades and good belts. It should start up as easily as it did when it was new.
Tillers and hand tools: Tillers usually take less time than mowers. Replace the old gas with stabilizer enriched gasoline, change the engine oil with new, change the spark plug and blow out and replace all filters. Inspect and replace any worn or frayed belts.
Remove soil from the tines of the tiller and all hand tools as well, and spray the working parts with a petroleum lubricant that will protect it from rust over the winter.
When it comes to machinery, maintenance is critical so that it'll keep running without need for repairs. Nothing made by man is entirely maintenance free.
Mike Broaddus is a Virginia Cooperative Extension Agent in the Caroline and King George Office, specializing in agronomy. Reach him at 804/633-6550 (Caroline) or 540/775-3062 (King George); email firstname.lastname@example.org.