what works: tall grass, brush, and no tractor

forest fire

Fire 12 miles away

The extra wet spring has given way to hot dry and windy weather around here.  Last week a major fire that consumed 20,000 acres or more started last week, and now is the time to get serious about clearing the brush and grass around the ranch!

Tractor Dreams…

tractorThe easiest solution  for clearing a few acres would be some kind of tractor pulling a brush hog or something.  When we purchased the property, we just had enough money for it and some solar power.  The third big item would be a tractor.  Tractors are very useful when you have 10, 20, or more acres.  There is always a chore that this machine can help with.   A hydraulic bucket on front and some extra implements would fit the bill.  If you find a good deal, it’ll take $5,000 for something useful.  If you can start on your new property with a working used tractor, I highly recommend it!

Ok,, back to cutting the “grass” or fire break for the season.  Renting a tractor and equipment would be three or four hundred dollars to get the job done.  Not going to happen when saving for new battery bank.

Rock Mowers

In past years I managed purchase old used, beat up lawn mowers for $10-$20 from a repair shop.  They kind of worked, but wouldn’t get very close to buildings and obstructions.  I’d wear heavy clothes, and make sure no one was around because often times rocks and other objects would be lunched 20 feet away!  Just didn’t feel comfortable or very safe with this strategy.  A down side of this method was the unintended collection of junk mowers that I eventually paid a second time for, that was at the dump.

Weed Wackers

In this phase that lasted 2 or 3 years, I purchased cheap string trimmers.  We tried several different kinds of cord and various blade attachments.  These units, like Homelite and others, were $60-$90 and never lasted more than 15 months.  Basically, these machines were for “home” use, and I would use them two times for a total of about 15 or 16 hours run time.  They just didn’t hold up.  (neither did I!)

weed wacker

Stihl Motor end

Real Machine, Stihl

Finally, about 4 years ago, I purchased a high quality trimmer made by Stihl.  I had really a good experience with my real Stihl chainsaw, after a string of bads saws, so I knew this was the brand.  Yes, ouch, it was expensive compared to others.  It was about $425.

What is a “real” machine??   Let me offer a good example with a motorcycle detour:

When I was 20 I purchased a brand new 250 cc enduro motorcycle and drove it 2000 miles from San Diego to Columbus, Ohio.  Yes, it made it, I had to take a break once and awhile for the machine, and I did rebuild it before returning.  Was that a real machine?  No, it did not perform well as long as the operator could.  It would heat up, slow down, and need a “tender touch”.

Compare that to a similar experience a year or two later.  I went from San Diego to upstate New York.  This time, I rode a 550 cc enduro motorcycle.  This time the trip was and extra 500 miles.  That machine would go and go and go.  I was the limiting factor!  No rebuild or anything.  I just rode it all the way back too.  This was a “real machine”.

grass cutting

Hours of action, it doesn't get tired like me!

What does this have to do with the Stihl weed wacker?  You may have guessed it.  This little two stroke unit sounds deeper than the other machines.  It has more torque at the low end, and somehow feels like a four stroke motor.  But its not!  It runs and runs and runs.  King Solomon said, “there is nothing new under the sun”.  And so the following cliche is also true:

You get what you pay for.

I use the heaviest nylon cord it will use, and use the throttle lock to keep it nearly wide open for hours at a time.  This is normally, and unfortunately when it is 80-90 degrees out and we are under the gun to get the brush and grass cleared.    This is the fourth year, and other than a little grease in the fitting near the cutting end, I’ve done nothing but run myself down with this chore.    I guess it is less of a chore, if you aren’t worrying about how to fix your equipment all the time!

This year my 15 year old son started with it.  He loves to get paid and thinks this is fun!  (wink, wink).  Somewhere on the horizon I really would like a decent tractor, but unless it falls into my lap I don’t think it will be too soon.

What are your favorite tools and techniques for clearing brush and tall grass?   Are you collecting equipment for your off grid move?  Tell us your favorite tractor stories below!!

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12 Responses to what works: tall grass, brush, and no tractor
  1. julie
    July 17, 2010 | 6:16 am

    Hi marshall and jackie, I finally got my mouse working and so while its cooperating thought I might be able to comment and voila! Here I am!
    We got the keys to our new farm yesterday! I was blown away and after initial intrepidation my kids were too regarding the fact that that little battery panels and inverter could make the lights work for as long as it did!
    As for fire cleaning well as you would no doubt be aware here in vic australia we have areas considered the most fire prone in the world. The most recent being black saturday which started not far from here and roared past us at 180kmh. The death toll was 173.
    Our codes have a bal value bushfire attack level. Depending on the vegetation slope area and orientation all these form a calculation applied to your building risk.

    We are farming zone but our land has been let go to scrub so is extremely

    FLAMMABLE!!! So much in fact that we can cut this scrub we call china scrub and dry for a week or so and use it instead of paper or firelighters to start the combustion heater
    We have to have a new bal done shortly so when I have some recommendations for best practices here I will pass some info your way :)
    We will be installing a sprinkler system on the new house to be built and have some other arrows in the quill including a product called killfire which is food grade and meant to be very very effective. We will be having a trial of it to see if it lives up to the hype in spring before the naked flame bans come into effect. If you want some info you could goggle them at benign technologies in western Australia aka WA.
    Cheers for now


    and family

    • marshall
      July 17, 2010 | 2:13 pm

      Julie and family,

      Thanks for dropping by! How exciting, new farm, keys, and power system. Spent another 3 hours today working on the grass. What does BAL stand for and how is it calculated? If you have any questions about your inverter / panels / power system, just ask. The folks around here are friendly and helpful :)

  2. Arild Jensen
    July 20, 2010 | 10:14 am

    Clearing brush in rough country can be a real chore. If possible borrow a tractor with a 3 point hitch towing a brush hog. These machine cut a 51″ swath and can be set to cut real close to ground.
    We rented a place where I found an old Ford Ferguson tractor in the back of the barn. It required some work to rejuvenate the tractor but I did get it working. It would cut an acre and a half in about 2 and a half hour. Once the heavy grass and thick weeds not to mention the odd tree sapling are cut down in spring its easier to keep up with a weed eater.
    My question is how well do goats and sheep keep down grasses once a bush hog has cleared the ground?

    • marshall
      July 20, 2010 | 10:20 am

      Llamas, goats, and the little Shetland sheep do a wonderful job in their pasture! However, the couple weeks of free ranging around the place didn’t make much of a dent. They would wonder and graze, wonder and graze. No fence, no focus on an area. We need more fencing to ‘channel’ their brush cutting habits!

  3. Arild Jensen
    July 20, 2010 | 10:19 am

    On the subject of old tractors. These can be a real gem in the rough if you take the time to bargain hunt. Even 50 year old tractors are often fixable. When I was faced with repairing a 1954 Ford Ferguson I discovered a network of retired hobbyists who delighted in discussing these old machines and provided pictures schematic s and how to details on doing repairs. Pre 1960 tractors were 6 volt and there are many sources of information on how to upgrade to a 12V system.

  4. Julie
    July 21, 2010 | 9:51 pm

    [no tractor, improvise!]

    Hahaha yes I so agree!!! Last year we renevated 8 acres of slope we couldn’t get a tractor to even if we had one and so we did it with a 17inch husqvarna rotary hoe. Took 5weeks but gosh we got fit!
    Hope all is well at your end :)
    Cheers julie

  5. Ted
    November 18, 2010 | 2:43 pm

    I totally agree with you about Stihl. You may pay a little more but what you get in superior quality and longer life more than makes up for it.

    • marshall
      November 18, 2010 | 7:06 pm

      Life is too short for “consumer grade” tools, thats why I like their chainsaws too.

  6. Simon Taylor
    December 8, 2012 | 11:26 am

    Has anyone heard or tested this new Cleaner Greener Environmental way of using their Weed Eater String Line ?

    They claim its transforms your old Weed Eater or Trimmer Machine into a More Powerful Green Cleaner machine thanks to their new patent Weed Eater String Line Cord Replacement Kit.

    Any ideas or anyone already tested this new product?

  7. Simon Taylor
    December 8, 2012 | 11:28 am

    Sorry I did;nt share the site with you all.


    Any reviews welcomed thanks I was think of purchasing a hover trimmer kit after reading the site..

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