Having vented my fill yesterday (and everyone else's) about how hard I found it simply to get to the class at all, much less with the right chapter under my belt, I shall turn to the far more trivial matter of what actually went on in this class, and what I learned.
The class reviewed the components of good soil—minerals in various sizes (sand, silt, and clay) organic matter, air, and water. I was familiar with this, and with the importance of soil aggregates (clumps) that leave spaces within which air, water, and roots can move. For many people the shocker is that organic matter should comprise only 5-10% of the soil.
But for me it was the graph quite indicated that in an ideal soil fully half the volume is taken up by air and water. That's right: 25% each. If I'd learned that before, I'd forgotten it.
We also went over plant nutrients, how the primary six cycle through soil, water, and sometimes air, and the symptoms of various nutrient deficiencies; soil pH and how it influences nutrient availability; and fertilizers and soil tests. All in under two hours.
For me, the tough part came when we were asked to translate a soil science report into a concrete recommendation. In other words, we had to work out how much of a particular fertilizer to recommend for a particular sized garden given a particular level of deficit. In other words—graphs and algebra. In other words, not words at all, but numbers. Ack!—
I'm ashamed to say that I could feel panic hovering just over the horizon. Our instructor, Clain Jones of MSU's Dept. of Land Resources and Environmental Science, was quite aware that some of us might find it “too late in the evening” as he put it for math; I think that was actually one of the choices on a the quiz questions, which was a nice touch.
There was one point at which I did take issue with both the text (when I got around to reading the right chapter) and the lecture: during their overviews of the advantages and disadvantages of organic and synthetic fertilizers, both left out what I consider to be some of the significant advantages of organics: that unlike synthetics, they aren't made from petrochemicals; that they're less likely to damage soil organisms than synthetics; and that aside from manures, they're less likely to lead to a build-up of toxic salts in the soil.
You will all be happy to hear that I arrived at class tonight (approximately) on time, with the text, with paper, with a pen, and with a marginally working acquaintance of the subject matter. However, I did not have a syllabus until I found one at the class; the one I'd downloaded turned out to be for Level I. Ah well; one mustn't be too picky.