Using a lawn sweeper for pre-harvest cleaning

Written by Mike Davenport. Originally published in the HGA newsletter November 2020.

Last season, Mike and Kathy Davenport purchased a John Deere tow-behind lawn sweeper, to conquer the mountain of clippings that spring and autumn grass growth causes. Mike realised that the basic principle lends itself to a wider range of orchard management, particularly pre-harvest preparation and perhaps even harvest itself. Mike has kindly agreed to share his experiences.

We initially purchased the lawn sweeper for one purpose. Our fescue lawn, which is roughly 2,500 square meters (50m X 50m) is mowed with a side discharge mower. The mower throws the grass significantly over a distance of 2 meters or so and most of the summer it’s hard to see the clippings lying on the surface, as they’re well distributed. But in the early spring we’ve found we’re mowing the previous weeks’ clippings over and over again causing quite a build-up of cut grass. Also in the autumn we tend to get so many clippings lying around that the underlying grass is killed off in patches.

I have resorted to raking and picking up by hand a few times at the worst times of the year, and we purchased the John Deere Lawn Sweeper with the intention of avoiding this chore by sweeping 2 or 3 times in the spring and 1 or 2 times in the autumn.

The sweeper tows behind the mower at normal mowing speed, or a bit slower if the grass is very heavy. It has multiple height adjustments and you can make quite a good job of picking up the worst of it (and lessening the amount of times you need to dump) by raising the level a little. It has a pull cord to tilt and dump the catcher from the driver’s seat, but in reality I have to get off the mower as I tend to overload it and it’s too heavy to dump with the cord.

The quality of job is exceptional and beyond my expectations. When on the lowest setting the sweepers just brush a flat driveway so when on grass, because the wheels sink in slightly, it sweeps just below the grass line. Based on our grass type (fescue), it makes an outstanding job and I’m very happy with it. It does very well on flat lawn as well as the grass mounds we have.

A replacement set of brushes costs under $40.00 and I’d expect them to last several seasons unless you use it for cleaning the nut lines, which I have, so I’m expecting to need to replace them a little more frequently.

As far as the nut rows go, each year I hand rake them to pull out all the old mowed grass, old nuts, twigs & leaves etc. This doesn’t take particularly long but the hardest part of the job is then raking that rubbish into piles and picking them up and loading them onto a trailer. This year I decided to rake the rubbish straight out into the grass strip and run the sweeper over it. To ease pressure on the sweeper I went over the rubbish 3 times, each time lowering the height to finally end at the lowest setting. Most rubbish was picked up on the second pass, and the final pass left the grass strips very clean indeed. I had so much rubbish, I simply dumped the clippings in a pile, then picked them up with the tractor bucket and loaded them into the trailer that way. Everything is picked up, old grass, nuts, husks, leaves and twigs (about 1 foot long and as thick as a finger). Twigs are hard on the brushes but don’t jam the machine and are picked up surprisingly well, husks are no problem.

As to the question whether or not the sweeper will harvest nuts…? It’s not fantastic for two reasons:

  1. When picking up the rubbish I noted a few old nuts being flicked forward by the sweeper brushes, rather than picked up. With mixture of grass these nuts are handled fine, but when there are only new nuts on the ground they do not pick up as well and are flicked forward.
  2. Because the sweeper is being towed, you have to drive over the nuts, meaning they will need to be carefully windrowed. Once in windrows it’s better to use our vacuum system than the sweeper.
The sweeper
Nut rows raked (pre sweeping)
Nut rows raked (pre sweeping)
Sweeping (1st pass on the highest setting)
Picking up the sweepings (this would be about 10 % of the orchard, note the twigs in the pile)
Post-sweep