Soil Science

 Compost bins—Photo credit: Linda Shepherd Soil-humus—free online image

Soil Science Basics

All about soil: more than dirt! You’ll learn about gardening with soil stewardship in mind. The class includes how to improve and maintain soil fertility so you can grow nutritious produce, the importance and limitations of soil testing, and how to read a soil test. Below are many resources to enhance your learning:

Soil PPT Slides

Soil Science Basics Slides (2022, 3MB PDF)

Soil Science Basics Notes (2022, PDF)

Soil II – Amending Your Soil & Reading Your Soil Test (2022, 8MB PDF)

  • Understanding Your KCD Soil Nutrient Test Results  is a webpage with two YouTube presentations. The shorter is a  31-minute  King Conservation District (KCD) presentation about how to collect a soil sample and interpret soil tests results. It also features a  51-minute version that includes a discussion of soil health, organisms and soil composition.
  • Soil Organic Matter — Cornell University Cooperative Extension Fact Sheet 41 is a two-page publication defining organic matter and describing its benefits to soil.
  • Soil Biology Primer by Elaine Ingham — this classic describes the creatures living in the soil and how they affect soil structure, water availability, decomposition, nutrient cycling, and agricultural productivity as well as protect crops from pests and diseases.
  • Cover Crops for Home Gardens West of the Cascades  — WSU Extension Publication FS111E, a free 8-page download PDF, explains the benefits of cover crops, their characteristics, and when to plant them.
  • Methods for Successful Cover Crop Management in Your Home Garden — WSU Extension Publication FS119E, a free 9-page download PDF, explains how cover crops can be an effective way to maintain soil organic matter, supply and retain nitrogen, reduce soil erosion, and suppress weeds. It covers more on planting, timing, and terminating cover crops in home gardens.
  • Organic Soil Amendments in Yards & Gardens: How Much is Enough? — WSU Extension Publication FS123E, a free 4-page download PDF, describes various types of amendments, their benefits, how much to apply, and the drawbacks of over-amending soil.
  • Growing Healthy Soil  — Seattle Public Utilities’ 8-page online PDF describes how to enrich your soil, mulch your plantings, and fertilize moderately and responsibly.

Intermediate level online information on soil, more details:

  • A Home Gardener’s Guide to Soils & Fertilizers — WSU Extension Publication EM063E, a free 23-page download PDF on soil science, explains the impact of soil pore size, soil organisms, soil pH, cover crops, and organic and processed fertilizers and amendments for Washington gardeners.

Other WSU online information on soil:

BOOKS available through the King County Library System

Basic level information:

  • Healthy Soils for Sustainable Gardens edited by Niall Dunne, Brooklyn Botanic Garden 2009.
    Short, excellent overview with complete information and abundant illustrations.
  • Building Soil: a Down to Earth Approach by Elizabeth Murphy, Quarto Publishing Group, 2015.
    Thorough book on soil science, targeted to home gardeners. Abundant illustrations.
  • Dirt: The Erosion of Civilizations by David R. Montgomery, University of California Press, 2007. A big picture look at soil and civilizations, with clearly explained science too. A page-turner!

Intermediate level, more details:

  • Teaming with Microbes: The Organic Gardener’s Guide to the Soil Food Web by Jeff Lowenfels and Wayne Lewis, Timber Press, 2010. Well written, detailed look at soil biology for gardeners.
  • Teaming with Nutrients: The Organic Gardener’s Guide to Optimizing Plant Nutrition by Jeff Lowenfels, Timber Press, 2013. Well written and thorough, clear scientific information with recommendations for gardeners.

Updated Apr. 6, 2022

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