Study Soil management for better crop production, learning about soils and nutrition, fertilisers and plant health. Understand how to grow better healthier crops by distance education.

Course Code: BHT103
Fee Code: S2
Duration (approx) Duration (approx) 100 hours
Qualification Statement of Attainment
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Get the Soil Right and Grow Better Crops

Fruit, Vegetable, Flower and other crops can be far more productive if the soil is in top condition.  Soil is affected by the things you grow in it, the things you add to it, the vehicles that drive over it, the way it is cultivated and irrigated; and a whole lot more. 
  • When you buy a property; understand the soil you are buying, and if it suits what you want to grow
  • When you own a property; understand what can be done to improve the soil, and recognise the limits of what can be done
  • When your crops are not are productive as you would like; understand if and when your soil is a contributing factor and what can be done to improve the next crop.

Lesson Structure

There are 7 lessons in this course:

  1. Physical and Chemical Properties Of Soils
    • How soil develops naturally
    • The main rock forming minerals
    • Types of rock
    • Understanding soils
    • Soil structure
    • Water and air
    • Soil temperature
    • Organic matter
    • Cation exchange capacity
    • Conductivity
    • Nutrition, major and minor elements, salts
    • Diagnosis of nutritional problems
    • Improving soils
    • Fertilisers
    • Composting
    • Indore Method
    • 14 day Method
    • Sheet composting
    • Worm Digester Method
    • Trench composting
    • The finished product
  2. Soil Testing Methods
    • Naming the soil
    • Soil sampling
    • Checklists for sampling soil
    • Common soil tests
    • Methods for measuring: pH, organic matter content, water content, fertiliser solubility
    • Testing the effects of lime in soil
    • Laboratory testing of soil
    • Sampling in greenhouses
    • Measuring salinity
    • Colorimetry
    • Bulk densities of soils and potting mixes
    • Checking the drainage rate of potting mixes
    • Understanding soil analysis, including when, what and how to test
  3. Sustainable Soil Management
    • What is organic growing
    • Eco gardening
    • The use of organic principles to help overcome soil problems
    • Natural plant nutrition -including trace elements
    • A quick guide on nutrient deficiencies in plants
    • Earthworms
    • Mycorrhizae
    • Laying mulch
    • Nutrition management
    • Fertilisers
    • Factors affecting fertiliser application
    • Liquid fertilisers
    • Organic fertilisers
    • Natural fertilisers
    • Mineral rock fertilisers and soil conditioners
  4. Soils and Managing Earthworks
    • Earth forming
    • Drainage
    • Improving drainage after construction
    • Points to remember when designing a drainage system
  5. Land Degradation and Other Soil Problems
    • What can go wrong
    • Chemical damage
    • Rubbish and soils
    • Salinity problems
    • Gardening in dry areas
    • Soil degradation
    • Erosion
    • Soil adicification
    • Compaction
    • Chemical residues
    • A few hints with planting
    • Physical plant protection methods
  6. Soil Science and Plant Health
    • Organic carbon
    • Phosphorus
    • Soil colour,pH, porosity, texture, consistence and its effects on plant growth
    • Soil profile, classification and description
    • Factors of soil formation
    • Weathering processes of soil formation
  7. Soil Management
    • The use of legumes
    • Soil management in orchards
    • Soil management in market gardens
    • Determining the kind and quantity of fertilisers to use
    • Planning a vegetable growth site
    • Soil management for vegetables


  • Explain soil physical and chemical properties and processes including forms of soil nitrogen and nitrogen cycles in soil, soil humus, texture, soil water, and pH.
  • Explain the principles and procedures of soil testing in domestic and professional situations
  • Discuss principles of sustainable soil management
  • Explain soil fertility and the practical development of natural soil fertility
  • Explain earthworks management
  • Explain land and soil degradation processes; and the prevention or amelioration of land degradation

What You Will Do

  • Identify evaluate soil structural problems in the field
  • Build a compost heap and monitor its decomposition process
  • Perform simple experiments to evaluate fertilisation rates and methods
  • Define and describe soil properties and processes
  • Perform simple tests and field analyses on soil
  • Identify nutrient deficiencies
  • Evaluate the attributes of various mulches
  • Analyse the impacts of earthworks and earth working machinery on soil and landscape
  • Analyse the effects of different soil management methods.
  • Identify soil and land degradation
  • Propagate and grow plants in containers
  • Identify and evaluate soil degradation minimisation programs and methods

How to Test Soils Properly
The first and most important thing is to make sure your soil sample represents the soil properly!
A soil test must always be based upon a representative sample.
Tools for Sampling
To collect a soil sample, you will need a tool to remove the soil from the ground.  Turf soils can be sampled using a thin walled tube 1-2 cm in diameter.  Drier or stony soils can be sampled using an auger (50-10cms diameter).  You can also, of course improvise and use a spade, or even a tin can.  When sampling a soil from a pot, remove a wedge that stretches from the top to the bottom of the pot.  When sampling pots or heaps of soil, make sure you collect soil from the full depth of the soil.
Sampling Depth
Turf soil is usually sampled to 7-10 cm depth.  Other soils can be sampled from 7-15cm depth. Be sure not to mix the topsoil with any subsequent layers.  Keep the layers separate.  Of course, if you are sampling in a deep pot, you need to collect soil from the full depth of the pot.
Number of Samples
Soils vary across the landscape, so to get a representative picture of what is happening, you need to collect many different samples.  For example, between 20 and 30 separate core samples should be taken over an area of several or more hectares.  Obviously, if the soil is distinctly different in certain areas, you will need to take this into account when sampling.  Divide areas up into relatively uniform soil types, and take samples randomly across that section in a snake like pattern.
If an area has been irrigated, then salts may be concentrated at the periphery of wetting zones.  Sample inside the wetting zone.
Composite Soil Samples
Basically, once you have collected a number of different soil cores, these can be combined to produce a composite sample for analysis.  Make sure you have enough soil for analysis which is usually 1-2 kg.  Remove any obvious plant matter from the soil cores before combining them – but do not remove any of the topsoil.
Do’s and DONT'S when Sampling Soils
  • Soil cores to be combined to create a composite sample must be of the same size
  • When sampling in totally different soil zones, clean your collection tools between samples
  • Do not allow foreign material to contaminate your samples
  • Wait at least a day after irrigation to collect soil samples
  • Remove fertiliser pellets prior to carrying out any soil tests

  • The first step in soil testing is to collect a “representative sample”
  • Laboratories may provide specific instructions on the collection of soil samples.
  • Strict sampling protocols have been developed by Soil Scientists in different parts of the world which all aim to achieve the same result: a statistically accurate representation of the soil from the site being tested.
  • Soil sampling generally involves taking equal quantities of soil from a series of different locations, and mixing those samples to produce a sample for testing.
  • Each of these samples should be taken to the same depth in the soil and as an even slice or core so that the same amount of soil is coming from the top of the sample as the bottom. (It is common for samples to be taken from 0-7.5cm or 0-10cm depth).
  • The sample should be placed in a container that is 100% clean, and not going to react chemically with the soil; particularly if the sample is to be used for testing characteristics such as the presence of micro nutrients or low levels of pollutants. Cloth or metal containers are generally avoided. Heavy duty plastic bags are more commonly used.
  • Always avoid sampling soon after treatments that might affect the sample, such as fertiliser or pesticide application, cultivation, mowing, etc.


This course will make you a better soil manager for any type of farm or landscape; but particularly better at managing soils in orchards, market gardens or for other horticultural crops.
You will be better able to determine and understand the characteristics of a soil, and be more sensitive to both productivity of the crop, but also long term sustainability of the soil resource. 

Course Contributors

The following academics were involved in the development and/or updating of this course.

John Mason (Horticulturist)

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 edito

Bob James (Horticulturist)

Bob has over 50 years of experience in horticulture across both production sectors (Crops and nursery) and amenity sectors of the industry.
He holds a Diploma in Agriculture and Degree in Horticulture from the University of Queensland; as well as a Maste

Rosemary Davies (Horticulturist)

Rosemary trained in Horticulture at Melbourne Universities Burnley campus; studying all aspects of horticulture -vegetable and fruit production, landscaping, amenity, turf, aboriculture and the horticultural sciences.
Initially she worked with the Depart

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