STOCKSCH 106 – Soils Online Summer Class


May 22 – June 30, 2017


Instructor:  Deb Henson, PhD


Credits: 3

Syllabus linked here

Course Overview: This class introduces the importance of soils globally as well as in your own backyard. The class information is geared towards practical soil management for horticulture, landscape, and crop production applications. Interrelationships of soil and higher plants will be studied as well as the physical, chemical, and biological properties of soils. Factors of soil formation are covered, with emphasis on how these factors influence current soil properties and management limitations.  The hydrologic cycle is covered as well as drainage and irrigation considerations and the effects of soil texture and soil layering on water holding capacity and drainage properties. Also covered are soil and water conservation, plant growth, nutrients, fertilizers and organic amendments. Whether you are a farmer, landscaper, home gardener or simply curious about environmental issues, students will gain an appreciation for the significance of sustainable soil management.

Learning Objectives: Students who successfully complete this course will be able to:

  1. Understand the importance of soils, both ecologically and agriculturally.
  2. Manage soil more effectively and sustainably for horticultural and agricultural applications (such as a home gardens, commercial farming enterprise, or landscape construction/maintenance operation).
  3. Recall and define the basic terms used for the description, study, and management of soils.
  4. Describe the soil forming factors and the effect of each factor on soil development.
  5. Identify and describe soil physical properties such as texture, structure, and color.
  6. Explain how soil physical, chemical, and biological properties and processes affect agricultural and nonagricultural land use and management.
  7. Explain the importance of maintaining proper soil pH and levels of essential nutrients for optimum plant growth.
  8. Summarize the ecological functions of soil and explain the role of soil management in maintaining and improving environmental quality.
  9. Appreciate the role soils play in global climate change and the global carbon-cycle.

Course Structure: At the beginning of every week students will be provided with a list of the required readings and lecture material to be completed during the week of class. There will be an on-line quiz that accompanies the material for each week. Although these are “open-book” quizzes, there will be a time limit set for each quiz. Students are encouraged to study the material prior to attempting each quiz, because there will not be sufficient time during the quiz to look up every answer. Quizzes will remain open for the entire course duration in the event that one falls behind for some reason. The lowest of the six quiz grades will be dropped. Students are strongly encouraged to keep up with the weekly assignments in order to benefit most from the class. There will be four problem sets that will reinforce the practical application of the material in a real world setting (dealing with soil physical properties, water-holding capacity and irrigation, interpretation of soil test results and fertilizer recommendations, and utilizing on-line Soil Mapping resources). There will be Threaded Discussion Questions posted at two points during the class, and students will reply to these prompts and post responses in the “discussion forum” section of Blackboard. Students are encouraged to “dialogue” with one another, in addition to communicating with the instructor in these forums.

soilstextRequired Text: Soil Science and Management by Edward J. Plaster.  Delmar Publishers. (the 6th edition is VERY expensive but if you purchase the 4th and 5th editions online they are fine and much less expensive, but if you purchase it online be sure not to buy the lab manual by mistake which looks similar).


This class is part of the Sustainable Food and Farming Online Certificate Program.   To register for upcoming classes, see UMass Online.  Most classes cost $472/credit.  If you would like to register for the Certificate program, you may apply here.

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