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Soil Management (Crops)

Course CodeBHT303
Fee CodeS2
Duration (approx)100 hours
QualificationStatement of Attainment

Learn how to improve your soils and benefit from them

The quality of your soil is paramount to plant and therefore stock productivity. This course examines:

  • The proprieties of soil
  • Testing
  • How to manage and improve soil
  • Soil problems
  • Sustainability of soils and much  more.

Soil is the foundation for profitable farming. There are many things that can be wrong with soil (e.g. poor nutrition, chemical imbalance, structural problems such as drainage, lack of microbial life etc). Often minor and relatively inexpensive treatments can make a huge difference to productivity, but the problems need to be identified first, and that requires a solid understanding of soil theory and management practice.

Whether you are living or working on a grazing property or work in the area of land restoration, the study of soil management goes hand-in-hand with the study of pasture management. This is a solid course that covers the topic effectively.

Lesson Structure

There are 8 lessons in this course:

  1. Physical & Chemical Properties Of Soils
  2. Soil Testing Methods
  3. Sustainable Soil Management
  4. Soils & Managing Earthworks
  5. Land Degradation & Other Soil Problems
  6. Container Growing
  7. Soil Science & Health
  8. Soil Management

Each lesson culminates in an assignment which is submitted to the school, marked by the school's tutors and returned to you with any relevant suggestions, comments, and if necessary, extra reading.


  • Develop a broad understanding of the physical and chemical properties of soils.
  • Develop skills in sampling and field testing soils for basic physical and chemical properties.
  • Understand the principles, methods and techniques of sustainable soils management.
  • Understand the principles and practices of earthworks.
  • Understand causes and remediation methods of land degradation and soil problems.
  • Develop a broad knowledge in the use of growing containers for agriculture.
  • Develop strong understanding of soil science and its impact on plant growth.
  • Develop practical knowledge about managing soil for particular cropping uses.

What You Will Do

  • Define terms related to the production and management of agricultural soil, such as manure, micorrhyzae, ameliorant, pore space, micro-nutrient, denitrification, ammonium fixation, chemo autrophic organisms, colloids, buffering capacity, leaching, compaction.
  • Create a compost heap.
  • Discuss ways that human activity can destroy soil structure.
  • Explain how pH affects nutrient availability.
  • Explain the function of different nutrients in soils/growing media, such at nitrogen and phosphorus.
  • Analyse a soil test report in order to evaluate the soil for horticultural or agricultural use.
  • Describe appropriate soil testing methods for different situations.
  • Compare the use of organic and inorganic fertilisers in different situations.
  • Develop a detailed nutritional management plan for a particular crop, following organic principles.
  • Identify suitable earth moving equipment for different tasks, and the conditions of use.
  • Explain various methods for assessing drainage at a site.
  • Evaluate the use of earthworks to refurbish or improve a specific site.
  • Research Environmental Protection Agency (or equivalent) recommendations for cleaning up chemical spills and for disposing of old household chemicals and their containers.
  • Discuss advantages and problems of importing soil from elsewhere for crop production.
  • Explain appropriate methods of stabiliising an unstable or erosion-prone slope.
  • Remove a soil profile, describe the different soil layers, and compare the effects of different soil treatments on the soil profile.
  • Report on prevention and control methods for soil degradation, and development of sustainable soil management practices in a case study.

Why Soils are so Important

"The reason we investigate soils and their characteristics is to understand them in relation to plant growth and how to use them under man's management for his own manipulation. Man's management - ploughing feasibility, what type of implements will be required, and how to improve soil for the growing of a particular crop. To gain this understanding, it is necessary to integrate the combining affects of the different soil properties as they interdependently act as a medium for plant growth.

In the field, we record soil properties that are simple to measure without elaborate equipment. Attributes which can be seen directly (colour, structure) or measured directly (depth of horizons, structure form, size of structural units) or felt directly (texture, resistance to penetration) require little equipment. Presence of carbonate and pH are simple chemical tests using solutions that can be handled in the field.

Nutrient levels, pH, salinity, depth of soil, texture (properties of sand and clay), structure (form and arrangement), porosity (air space), consistence (ability of soil to withstand rupture) and even colour can all affect plant growth independently and interdependently."


A number of major soil related problems can occur including:
  1. Loss of soil fertility (see section on nutrition)
  2. Erosion
  3. Salinity
  4. Soil compaction
  5. Soil acidification
  6. Build up of dangerous chemicals

There are several ways to improve soils, and these include:

  • Adding sand to clay soils to improve drainage.
  • Adding clay or organic material to sandy soil to improve its ability to hold water.
  • Adding organic matter to sand, while improving water holding capacity, will not affect drainage to the same degree as the addition of clay will.
  • Adding sand or organic matter will help break up a clay soil, making cultivation easier. Although the two will act in different ways.
  • Adding organic matter will usually improve the nutritional status of any soil.
  • Use of soil ameliorants lime, gypsum, sulphates.
  • Crop rotations and correct cultivation.

When you understand soils and nutrition better, you will have improved your capacity to grow crops better. You ability to be a profitable and sustainable farmer of horticultural crops will be improved.



  • Soils are the foundation of all good horticulture; just as much as plant knowledge.
  • If soil conditions are matched to the plant cultivar's needs you have a very good chance of achieving the best possible crop production, both in terms of quality and quantity.
  • If you harvest more, and your quality is higher; you can sell more produce, and sell it easier. This situation amounts to increased profit - increased income - and it can be the difference between survival and total farm failure when conditions are bad.
  • Hence a good knowledge of soils can make all the difference to the success of a crop.

This course is ideal training for anyone working in the cropping sector.

The knowledge you gain here will also make you more employable when seeking work in cropping or any other sector of horticulture or agriculture.






Meet some of our academics

John Mason Parks Manager, Nurseryman, Landscape Designer, Garden Writer and Consultant. Over 40 years experience; working in Victoria, Queensland and the UK. He is one of the most widely published garden writers in the world; author of more than 70 books and editor for 4 different gardening magazines. John has been recognised by his peers being made a fellow of the Institute of Horticulture in the UK, as well as by the Australian Institute of Horticulture.
Maggi BrownMaggi is regarded as an expert in organic growing throughout the UK, having worked for two decades as Education Officer at the world renowned Henry Doubleday Research Association. She has been active in education, environmental management and horticulture across the UK for more than three decades. Some of Maggi's qualifications include RHS Cert. Hort. Cert. Ed. Member RHS Life Member Garden Organic (HDRA) .
Diana Cole B.A. (Hons), Dip. Horticulture, BTEC Dip. Garden Design, Diploma Chartered Institute of Personnel & Development, PTLLS (Preparing to Teach in the Life Long Learning Sector), P.D.C. In addition to the qualifications listed above, Diana holds City & Guild construction qualifications and an NPTC pesticide spraying licence (PA1/PA6). Diana runs her own landscape gardening business (Arbella Gardens). Active in many organisations including the British Trust for Conservation Volunteers.

Check out our eBooks

Organic GardeningCreate a healthy, well-balanced garden. Attract abundant beneficial insects to pollinate your plants. Have healthy, fertile, organic soils teeming with life. Use this book as a guide to establish lush gardens laden with fruit, vegetables, herbs and ornamentals - without the use of chemicals. The ebook covers: soils and nutrition, pest and disease, natural weed control, conservation and recycling. 179 pages, 170 colour photos
Getting Work in HorticultureFind out what it is like to work in horticulture; how diverse the industry is, how to get a start, and how to build a sustainable, long term and diverse career that keeps your options broad, so you can move from sector to sector as demand and fashion changes across your working life.
Commercial HydroponicsLearn to grow vegetables, fruit, cut flowers, herbs and other plants hydroponically. A classic, republished with new images, a new layout and revised text. Contains unique advice on growing 102 different plants hydroponically! 74 pages
Fruit, Vegetables and HerbsHome grown produce somehow has a special quality. Some say it tastes better, others believe it is just healthier. And there is no doubt it is cheaper! Watching plants grow from seed to harvest and knowing that the armful of vegies and herbs you have just gathered for the evening meal will be on the table within an hour or two of harvest, can be an exciting and satisfying experience.