by Bethany Hayes
Gardening takes a lot of work and frequent watering, and it’s one of the reasons people steer away from having a vegetable garden. One way to grow more vegetable plants with less work and water is to use the core gardening method.
Most people have never heard of core gardening, but it’s originated by gardeners in the Middle East who needed to grow food where there is little to no rain. They came up with this brilliant gardening technique to help save water yet produce healthy plants. It’s sort of similar to the hugelkultur gardening method, but it doesn’t require mounds or as much material, so it’s easier and looks like a traditional garden.
If you’re ready to learn more about core gardening, here is everything you need to know.
What is Core Gardening?
The main idea behind core gardening is that you add layers of compost in your garden to create a foundational core. Then, you put healthy soil on top of the core mound, growing vegetables and flowers. Then, that core is “charged” and filled with water that wicks out to the rest of your garden throughout your gardening season.
Core gardening is a great way to reduce how often you need to water.
We know that this method originated in the Middle East and sub-Sahara desert region. In this region, they use Sahara grass in ditches, and then they cover it with soil and manure to grow. The grasses help to hold the moisture that the gardeners can provide.
The Benefits of Core Gardening
At first, the idea behind core gardening seems strange. Can a giant, organic material sponge in the middle of your garden bed water the soil?
All gardening methods have pros and cons that make them better (or worse) for certain people. To help you make the best decision as to whether or not core gardening is for you, here are some of the benefits to consider.
You Have to Water Less
The biggest advantage of core gardening is that you might only need to water your garden every other week once you charge the core. Instead of watering every day, you’ll spend a small fraction of that time watering.
That frees up your time for other tasks that matter to you.
I stay away from gardening methods that cost too much money. Core gardening is budget-friendly, requiring a small upfront investment, but if you collect the materials at the right time, you might great the investment down to an even smaller investment.
No Need to Wait to Plant
Some gardening methods require you to wait before planting. For example, if you use no-dig gardening, you might have to wait for the straw to compost before getting started with planting.
Core gardening has no waiting period because the organic materials hold moisture, not decompose for nutrients.
Leads to Better Soil
Core gardening creates better soil because it loosens the soil and encourages the ground to hold moisture. This allows the soil to drain better, perfect for plants. Most plants don’t like soggy feet, and plants love to be able to stretch out their roots.
Not Too Complicated
Another reason I think core gardening is a great option is that it’s simple and straightforward. You have a garden bed, make a trench, fill it with organic materials, cover it with soil, and fill the core with water. It’s basic and easy to understand.
People love the simplicity of this gardening method.
How to Start a Core Garden
When you’re ready to get started, here are the steps to create a core garden.
1. Start with Raised Garden Beds
Core gardening requires raised garden beds because it makes it easier for the core to spread moisture throughout the soil. A smaller area inside of the raised bed limits how far the moisture has to spread out.
Start by making raised beds; you might already have a few in your backyard. They can be made in any size you like and using any materials you have. Once you have raised beds, it’s time to move to the next step.
2. Cover the Ground Under the Garden Beds
People always wonder what they put at the bottom of raised garden beds. While some people remove the grass, I think the best method is to cover the bottom of the garden bed with cardboard. Cardboard smothers the grass, and over time, it breaks down, adding nutrients to your soil.
Some prefer to use landscaping fabric, but that never decomposes in your soil. It doesn’t add nutrients, so cardboard is my preferred choice.
3. Add a Few Inches of Dirt
After you cover the ground in your garden bed, add a few inches of dirt to the bottom. If you don’t have deep beds, this step can be skipped. Deep garden beds that are over 12 inches deep need to filled ¼ of the way with dirt before creating the core.
4. Create the Core
The core is the main component of this gardening method, so you want to get this part correct. Start by making a trench horizontally down the middle of your raised bed.
The core spreads moisture through your garden two feet in both directions. If you have a larger garden bed, you’ll need to make a second core or a larger one to ensure the soil has adequate water.
The core trench needs to be eight to ten inches deep down the center of the raised bed. You don’t want the core too high in the bed because it’ll cause problems spreading the moisture. After you make a trench, start adding organic materials.
Here are some materials you can add to the core of your garden:
- Dried grass
- Planting cuttings
- Composted manure
- Coffee grounds
- Food scraps
- Fruit and vegetable scraps
- Wood Chips
Ensure your trench has at least four to five inches of organic materials to prevent the core from breaking down too quickly. Stack all kinds of materials together because they’ll provide a nutrition boost to your garden soil.
5. Cover with Soil
Once you create your core trench, cover the rest of the garden bed with soil, including the core. It needs to all be covered completely to move to the next step.
Preferably, you should use a high-quality mix or a mix you create at home with compost, soil, and nutrients. It should be ideally five inches deep above the core.
6. Start Planting
As soon as the garden bed is full of soil, it’s time to start planting. There is no reason to wait for things to break down. That’s one of the benefits of this gardening method.
It’s okay to plant right over the core in your garden. Don’t focus on where the core is in your garden; simply plant what you need in your garden bed,
7. Charge the Core
This step is an essential one. You have to “charge” your core. Remember, the core acts like a sponge, holding water in your garden to stop you from having to add more all the time. This step requires you to saturate the core to start the process, and after you do this, you have to water less often because the garden pulls from the sponge in the center.
This step takes planning and patience. You have to water where the core is in your garden and deeply. If you have an irrigation system, it’s easy. If not, you’ll need to put the hose into the ground facing the core and let it run in multiple areas for several minutes. The core has to be thoroughly soaked, or this gardening method will fail.
The last step is optional, but I suggest mulching over the soil. Mulching is extra protection against evaporation. Spread a few inches of grass clippings, wood chips, or compost over the top of your soil. Not only does it stop weed growth, but organic mulch also helps to retain soil moisture and regulate soil temperature.
Core gardening is a great way to grow more food with less work and water. Once you make your core and saturate it with water, you’ll only have to water your garden every few weeks, saving you time and money.