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Nothing says "I Love You, Dear" like screaming lower back pain!

Sometimes Wrong but rarely in doubt!

09 May 2011

The Mother's Day 'I Love You, Dear' Project

West View of the Raised Bed Herb Garden
Since Sunday was mother's day I decided that it was time for another 'I Love You, Dear' project.  I decided to construct a raised bed herb garden that Mrs. Bugbear and I had been discussing for a number of years.

With the move to the country last September we now have the space to implement our project.  In the three pictures you can see the end result of  this weekend's bout of screaming lower back pain.

During the winter we ordered a kit from Lee Valley Tools.  Now generally when I take the plunge and order products from Lee Valley I am pleased with the quality and documentation although I do find them overpriced.  Lee Valley does tend to have some unique products, they are like the Hammacher-Schlemmer of woodworking tools and garden products.  I own some truly great products that I've purchased over the years from Lee Valley Tools.

South East View of the Raised Bed Herb Garden.
Frankly this raised planting bed kit blows dead bears though.  The formula in the documentation is wrong, the procedure for installation is poorly conceived and one in eight screw-heads snapped off flush.  Most of the screw-heads stripped since the square socket wasn't sized for any standard Robertson screwdriver, those that didn't strip snapped off flush.  Over all I rate the kit as epic fail/Inspirational (see sidebar and amend as appropriate for a construction kit).

Northwest View of the Raised Bed Herb Garden
Nonetheless I managed to bodge the never-sufficiently-damned thing together and it didn't fall apart when I filled the raised bed with compost.

Despite my comments about the poor quality of the kit I am planning to get another set of brackets to construct more beds including a sand box for the little Miss Bugbears.  Now that I've been through the process once and written some notes on how to construct the next beds I should have a much easier and less iterative construction cycle next time.  I'll also build a ramp so that I can wheel the soil up over the side rather than shoveling it from the back of a truck to wheelbarrow and then from the wheelbarrow to the raised bed.  I'll also be buying woodscrews rather than using the ones supplied in the kit.

Thankfully, Mrs. Bugbear is also happy with the final result.

I've finished putting some trim around the top of the planter bed with Mrs. Bugbear's help.


  1. I've been thinking about different ways to build raised beds, including this system, livestock watering troughs, and wood/timber 'boxes.' This is the first review I've seen of this system. I completely agree with McBugBear's thoughts about Lee Valley.

    You mention developing some notes about how to do this project better next time. Are these something you would share (and maybe save some other aching backs)?

  2. MM_Stratford:

    First, thanks for you comment.

    Throw away the screws that come with the kit. I built this last spring and I still wake up screaming in rage at night about the screws. I'm only exaggerating by a tiny bit.

    You could also, if you're strong enough, just take the screws out of the package at the store and break them in front of the sales-desk and ask for a replacement screws.

    More seriously, preparation of the site is the biggest thing, which the product literature doesn't allude to. You need to dig out a trench for the bottom and fill the trench with stone dust. Then tamp it down firmly and get the surface that you're going to lay the bottom 2x4 on as level and even as humanly possible. The pictures don't show it but one corner is about 1/2" higher than the rest of the bed. This canted the patio stones slightly and it became very difficult to get the last stone or two in place.

    When buying the wood for the brackets to mount on you need to get wood as straight as possible, always a difficult task with pressure treated wood (which I used on the bottom).

    Alternately, I considered using a 4x4 on the bottom if I could find any without a twist. If you use the 4x4 the grading I mentioned above shouldn't be quite as critical.

    Consider using a smaller patio stone than I did or get a helper. I'm a big man and getting the stones (24x24") into place left me pretty sore and tired. The project also inspired the byline of the blog. Using an 18x24" stone would require more mid-span brackets but would be three quarters of the weight.

    Don't argue with the architect about color, she's right. I was going to get the terracotta patio stones but the architect said the gray would match the house's siding better and she was right.

    Despite sounding somewhat disparaging, the alternate system that my wife and I had considered was built up 4x4 pressure treated wood. Cost wise the patio stone system was much cheaper (maybe $200 after buying all the materials and soil) than the material for the 4x4 pressure treated system to get to the same dimensions.

    If you're interested I've started a more focused blog called McBugbear's Kitchen which is about cooking and gardening, although it's going to be a bit light on the gardening until the frost gets out of the ground. Thanks again and if you get the Lee Valley kit I hope you do less swearing and get less lower back pain than I did.

    All the Best,

  3. Thank you for this.

    I had been thinking too much about the end product and the inputs to building the beds than the process. I had wanted to build two of these which would use 24 pavers. But humping around 24" square pavers at 80lb. each (almost a ton)doesn't sound like fun especially for a 60 yr. old back. Even with a dolly, that's a recipe for pain and aggravation. I'll have to re-think this and consider 18X24 pavers, which are a bit lighter, but would require more of them. I don't know anyone that I'd be prepared to ask to help do this and have him (probably) risk back pain too.

    I'll have to re-visit plans for a bed constructed out of dimensional lumber. I know I can handle 8 foot 2x6 or 2x8s. My 'architect' has vetoed pressure-treated wood and the price of alternatives, like cedar for example, are pretty steep. And they probably won't last as long or as well as pavers.

    re: your food blog. I'm looking forward to trying the Thai Hot and Sour Soup. I've made a Chinese version for many years, but yours is a nice change to that. I live in Stratford Ontario and at the moment there is no restaurant in town with a full array of Thai foods (although that is about to change).

    Thanks again for your postings, both on this site and your food site. They make for great reading as well as providing useful information.



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