STOCKSCH 106 – Soil Science and Management


Instructor:  Renee Ciulla                                  Contact:

Credits: 3

Register Here (classes start on September 5)

Course Overview: This class introduces the importance of soils globally as well as in your own backyard. Throughout the course, a fun approach is taken for students to appreciate intricate soil ecosystems and feel more comfortable understanding the science of soils. 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 as are soil classification. The hydrologic cycle is emphasized as well as drainage and irrigation, soil and water conservation, plant growth, nutrients, fertilizers and organic amendments. Whether you are a farmer, home gardener or simply curious about environmental issues, students will admire the significance of  sustainable soil management.

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

  1. Understand the importance of soils, world soil distributions and soil classification
  2. Manage soil in a home garden or farm sustainably (fertilizers, organic amendments, understand what weeds are indicating, etc)
  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.

Course Structure: At the beginning of every week students will be provided with a list of all the work to be completed during the week of class. There will be Discussion Questions which students will post responses to in the “discussion forum” section of Blackboard. These responses are due by midnight on Thursday. To receive full Discussion credit for the week, students are also required to comment on at least on peer’s post by Sunday at midnight. Required Readings are listed in the Weekly Content Folder with required Homework questions that are due by Sunday at midnight. The Final Research Project will be created from the vast array of topic covered throughout the semester and determined by the student’s personal interests.

soilsbookRequired 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).


  • Class Participation and Discussion Assignments: 50%
  • Homework Assignments: 25%
  • Final Project: 25%

A        =  95-100 total points
A –     =  90-94
B+      =  87-89
B        =  83-86
B-      =  80-82
C+      =  77-79
C        =  73-76
C-       =  70-72
D+      =  67-69
D        =  60-66
F         =  59 or below


Week One

The Importance of Soils (Text reading: Chapter One)

  1. Soils for Urban, Agricultural and Recreational uses
  2. Soil Management
  3. What is a Soil?
  4. Soil definition
  5. Terminology used in describing soils
  6. Profile variability
  7. Topsoil vs. Subsoil
  8. Components of soils

World Soil Distributions

Soil Mapping

Web Soil Survey (WSS) provides soil data and information produced by the National Cooperative Soil Survey.

Historical Perspective: Compare Industrial Agriculture to Organic and how Green Revolution impacted our food production and soils

Factors of Soil Formation (Chapter Two)

  1. Parent material, climate, relief, vegetation, and time
  2. Weathering as a process of soil formation

Soil Biochar (keys to carbon-negative farming)

Carbon Farming (which methods will return carbon to the soil)

Week Two

Soil Classification and Survey (Text reading: Chapter Three)

  1. Soil classes- Order, Suborder, Great Group, Subgroup, Family, Series
  2. Soil surveys, Reports and Mapping Units

US Classification Scheme for Soils

World Reference Base (WRB): The international standard for soil classification system endorsed by the International Union of Soil Sciences.

Soil Science Society of America

Soil Physical Properties (Text reading: Chapter Four)

  1. Soil texture
  2. Soil structure
  3. Soil color
  4. Soil permeability
  5. Bulk density

Week Three

Soil organisms and organic matter (Text reading: Chapters 5 & 6)

  1. Soil Organisms (types, functions, processes such as nitrification, ammonification, N-fixation)
  2. Organic matter (definition, composition of plants, decomposition)
  3. C:N ratio of materials returned to soil

Composting Factors

  1. Equipment
  2. Methods
  3. Nutrient Composition of Organic Materials
  4. How to Build/Maintain a Successful Compost Pile (Troubleshooting Guide)                         

The Living Soil Community: Soil Superstars, Bacteria & Breathing, The Root Zone, The Noble Worm

Elaine Ingham and Soil Fertility

Week Four

Break from textbook! Lets spend some time thinking about our own gardens or farmland…

     1.What are your weeds telling you?

  1. Evaluating Biological Health (earthworm count, evaluating organic matter, condition of plant roots, etc)
  2. How to do a home and professional soil test and interpret the results
  3. To till or not to till? Review benefits of no compaction, examples of farms who use permanent beds. Review permanent beds, how to form them, tools related to tilling
  4. Review effective tools (broadfork, walk-behind tractor, etc)
  5. Importance of record keeping
  6. Review of common soil-borne plant diseases and garden pests

Week Five

Soil Water (Text reading: Chapter 7)

  1. Types of Soil water
  2. Soil moisture tension as related to soil water types
  3. Moisture constants (saturation, field capacity, wilt point, hygroscopic coefficient)
  4. Soil moisture equations and calculations
  5. Availability of water to plants
  6. Factors affecting water holding capacity of soils – (texture, consistence, structure, organic matter)
  7. Soil water movement

Water Conservation, Drainage & Irrigation (Text reading: Chapters 8 & 9)

  1. Definition of hydrologic cycle
  2. Infiltration and Runoff
  3. Water tables
  4. Groundwater movement
  5. Irrigation and Drainage
  6. Wetland Soils

Week Six

Soil fertility chemical properties (Text reading: Chapter 10)

  1. Soil colloids – organic versus inorganic, kind of clay, nature of clays (structure, negative charges, relationship to cation exchange)
  2. Cation exchange
  3. Cation exchange capacity (CEC)
  4. Factors affecting CEC

Soil pH and Salinity  (Text reading: Chapter 11)

  1. Definition and expression of soil acidity
  2. Sources of Soil Acidity
  3. Types of Soil acidity (active versus exchangeable)
  4. Percent base saturation concept
  5. Soil acidity and Soil management
  6. Reasons soils become acid
  7. Chemical reactions of lime in soil
  8. Factors affecting lime reaction in soil
  9. Liming materials
  10. Soil salinity

Week Seven

Break from textbook!

Current global soil issues and solutions for remediation

Managing forest soils and urban soils

World Soil Information (independent, science-based foundation).

International Union of Soil Scientists

Regulatory/Resource Agencies

Organizations doing inspiring soil-related work!

(Examples include The Rodale Institute, Vandana Shiva’s organization Vandanya, The Leopold Center,  The Intervale Center, etc).

Week Eight

Plant Growth, Nutrients and Fertilizers (Text reading: Chapters 12 & 14)

  1. Elements essential for plant growth
  2. Forms of nutrients taken-up by plants
  3. Absorption of nutrients by plants
  4. Sources of nutrients in soils (organic matter and soil minerals)
  5. Fertilizer Terminology
  6. N, P, & K fertilizers, secondary, and micronutrients
  7. Fertilizer calculations

Locations of fertilizer ingredients and methods of mining

Examples of local, organic fertilizer companies

Week Nine

Organic Amendments (Text reading: Chapter 15)

  1. Animal waste
  2. Composting
  3. Environmental considerations
  4. Animal manures

How much is enough?

Organic certification and allowable organic fertilizers

Videos describing when and what to add

Week Ten

Tillage and Cropping Systems (Text reading: Chapter 16)

Importance of Green Manures

Soil-improving crops (such as tillage radish and video examples)

Cover cropping

Crop rotations

Horticultural Uses of Soils (Text reading: Chapter 17)

Vegetable, fruit, nursery, container gardening and landscaping

Week Eleven

Soil Conservation (Text reading: Chapter 18)

Water and wind erosion

Urban Soil (Text reading: Chapter 19)

Government Agencies and Programs (Text reading: Chapter 20

Week Twelve

Working on Final Project….

Week Thirteen

Final Project

Please choose a topic covered over the course of the semester and complete an 8-10 page research paper (double-spaced, font-size 12 point) with at least 15 sources (not all web-based but also several academic, peer-reviewed articles). ​All topics must be approved at least 2 weeks in advance by instructor.

Please submit a .doc file type named lastname_finalassignment

Other online courses offered during the fall semester

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