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Core Gardening – How to Build a Healthy Garden That Feeds Itself

Core gardening is an ingenious and thrifty gardening method that allows you to squeeze every ounce of nutrients from your compost.

Core gardening has a ton of benefits, like the ability to nourish your soil and conserve moisture. Core gardening is also one of the best gardening setups if you don’t have a big budget or a lot of time to spare.

How Does Core Gardening Work?

Core gardening works by planting a layer of compost as the foundational core of your garden.

You then place a healthy layer of soil atop your compost mound so you can grow veggies, plants, or flowers. The compost core helps to nourish your garden and is an excellent (and cheap) way to fill your raised garden bed.

How to Start Core Gardening in 3 Simple Steps

Here’s how you can start a core garden from scratch, even if you don’t have many gardening materials and can only muster a garden cart stuffed with old grass or yard clippings!

1. Build a Raised Bed to House Your Core Garden


You don’t need a raised bed to start core gardening. You could dig a trench instead. I still recommend garden beds for many new gardeners because they’re perfect for anyone who might not have much space or fertile soil to launch their core garden. Raised garden beds can also save your back and knees – less bending over! Read why you might not want a raised garden here.

Building a raised bed for your core garden is much easier and cheaper than you think. The only supplies you need are four planks of wood to serve as the barriers of your raised bed. You can then drill or nail your boards together in a square or rectangular fashion.

Don’t want to use wood? Here’s a cool article from Old Farmer’s Almanac that shows how you can build a raised bed using cinder blocks – plus how you can plant bonus strawberries!

You can also find a raised garden bed foundation on Amazon for less than a hundred bucks. Here’s another nifty raised garden bed that I like from Tractor Supply. It can be tricky figuring out how deep your raised garden should be, which is why I’ve covered that in another article

A lot of gardeners say that you need to put a bottom layer under your raised bed to prevent weeds from sprouting up. The genius of core gardening is that the core of your garden is not only going to break down and feed your soil with rich nutrients, but it can also help to smother and obstruct any potential weeds naturally. No landscape fabric is required. Double win!

2. Gather and Layer Your Garden Compost Material


The next step is to layer your organic compost material inside of your raised garden bed. The compost material that you use is the real secret of what makes your core garden a nutrient powerhouse.

If you already have heaping mounds of compost around your yard or waiting in a compost bin, then that organic goldmine makes for the perfect foundation of your core garden.

Excellent Compost Ideas for Your Core Garden

  • Dry grass
  • Plant clippings
  • Manure
  • Coffee grounds
  • Food scraps
  • Fruits and vegetables
  • Straw
  • Hay
  • Bark
  • Wood chips
  • Branches
  • Twigs

Gather your organic compost content and stack it as the first layer of your core garden. The more organic goodies – the better.

Not only is this composting mother lode going to retain boatloads of moisture and provide a substantial nutrient boost for your core garden soil – but now it’s much less necessary for you to rely on synthetic fertilizer. Epic win!

3. Cover the Compost Layer With Premium Soil


Before you begin planting garden veggies, you should add a healthy layer of nutrient-packed topsoil over your core garden compost mound. Aim to stack the soil at least 5 inches deep. Try to add enough rich soil so that the roots of your vegetables, flowers, and plants have plenty of depth to spread out naturally.

Over the years, consider adding additional layers of raised bed soil to help make up for the original core compost layers that naturally deteriorate with time. Food for thought!

What Are the Benefits of Core Gardening?

There are various benefits to the core gardening method, but I count the following five as the most impressive – especially for new gardeners starting from scratch!

1. Save Money on Soil

One of the biggest hurdles that new gardeners face is that they don’t realize how only a few cubic yards of premium compost blend or topsoil can cost you a few hundred dollars. Plus, delivery charge! If you have a large garden, the cost quickly stacks up.

That’s one reason that I love core gardening. Instead of filling the core of your raised bed (or trench) with soil, you can use organic matter that you find around your yard – for free.

2. Save Money on Watering Your Garden

Have you ever looked at your costly water bill and fell out of your chair? If so, then core gardening is a blessing!

Core gardens are perfect if you don’t have a well or a natural source of water nearby. The sticks, hay, and organic compounds in your compost core act like a sponge – sucking up and retaining moisture that can nourish your garden.

3. Feeds Your Soil

One of the best benefits of core gardening is that the organic compounds that make up the garden core release vital nutrients and enhance your soil over time. If you’ve ever suffered from lackluster, nutrient-deprived dirt in your garden, then core gardening can help turn your thin, lifeless dirt into thick, luscious, nutrient-rich soil.

Leaves, manure, sticks, hay, straw, and clippings from your yard work wonders. Hard compost items (like wood) break down slower and can feed your soil for years to come. Nice bonus!

4. Simple Setup

Have you ever manually unloaded a truckload of soil one wheelbarrow at a time and then filled your entire raised bed using nothing but a shovel? Starting a garden from scratch can make your back hurt for a week! That’s another reason that core gardening gets a quick win from me. You don’t need to strain your back – as much!

5. Low Maintenance

Core gardening is drought-resistant, and the process naturally adds nutrients to your soil over time. These two benefits make core gardening perfect for lazy gardeners of the world.

I’m only half kidding…

Of course, core gardening requires a ton of effort if you wish to produce worthwhile vegetables, plants, or flowers. But I think core gardening is less labor-intensive than other gardening methods – for sure.

Have you thought about starting a core garden in your backyard? Please feel free to ask any questions! I brainstorm this kind of stuff all day and love to interact with you.


  • Elle

    Jack of all trades, master of some. Wild garden grower. Loves creating stuff. From food forests and survival gardens to soap and yoghurt. A girl on a farm with two kids and one husband (yep, just one - although another one would be handy). Weirdly enjoys fixing fences and digging holes. Qualified permaculture teacher and garden go-to.

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