ACT Microscope

Discussion in 'Subcool's Old School Organics' started by Slife, Jun 6, 2017.


    Slife Member

    Hey there,

    I'm switching over to No Till here coming up few months. I believe I've gotten all the information and more about how to do so. I have found the ACT recipes that I think will best fit my soil. I want to get deeper into when the best timing for ACT to be ready.

    The one forum I can't find is which Microscope would be best for price to check when my ACT is ready and what to look for under the scope?

    Maybe someone can direct to a forum or have already the information to give.

    Thank you all for your help, you've all changed the game for me in the best way possible.
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    vostok Well-Known Member

    consider one of those usb scopes that connect to a pc or laptop

    easy to take pics too

    good luck

    calliandra Well-Known Member

    Hi slife,

    To assess microbial life, you need a light microscope with a condenser and an iris diaphragm so you can shadow, otherwise you won't see anything (and you need light from below, why the usb microscopes won't work for this). You can get by well with 400x total magnification.

    And then, yes, you need to know what you're looking at - you're going to want to see aerobic organisms - bacteria, fungi (and when you get real good, their mass ratio), flagellates, naked amoebae, testate amoebae, bacterial, fungal and predatory nematodes... and NOT actinobacteria, lactobacillus, ciliates, rootfeeding nematodes, or larvae in any large masses.

    Here's what Elaine Ingham (soil microbiologist who also teaches the theory and correct methods as well as consulting farmers, composting businesses etc worldwide) is recommending:

    She also offers microscope courses, and somewhere on youtube I once saw a series of vids where she explains how to use the microscope too.. can't find it right now sorry :/

    And then there's Tim Wilson (the Microbeman,, who has DVDs that can help you learn identify the different kinds of microbes.

    And there's the Soil microbe library with pictures of microbes

    Hope that helps! :D
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    The sloth

    The sloth Well-Known Member

    Ive been contemplating the purchase of a microscope for viewing which fungi and bacteria are present in my compost.
    I came across the link you posted of Elaine Ingham, the scope she recommends is $400.00
    While that is probably a respectable pricepoint for a laboratory, for a mere hobbyist such as myself its a little steep.
    I came across this on amazon and think it should work.
    It seems for $85.00 It has features I would need. Considering the last time I've used a scope was decades ago in school, I never paid attention as to what features it had.
    Any opinions on this particular or another thats more reasonably priced.
    Im usually a supporter of "you get what you pay for", so I guess Im hoping this micrscope is good enough.
    Last edited: Jul 20, 2017
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    calliandra Well-Known Member

    Hello Sloth!
    I took a look at that microscope and am not sure you'll be happy with that one,though it could kind of work out.
    Here's why:
    • monocular
      may be uncomfortable. Looking at a sample can take 15mins to until-the-sample-dries-out, if you have an especially interesting one ;)
      However, if you will be looking at one or two samples every few days or even weeks, that one-eyed viewing strain may not be a problem, plus you can always add a good cam to the mix and view your sample via the computer too..
      Not in itself a reason not to buy it yet though!

    • disc diaphragm
      doesn't allow you the same degree of control as an iris diaphragm would.
      I don't have any experience using a disc disphragm so it may fall short of the shadowing needs for looking at microbes
      here's a page that explains the difference:

    • single lens condenser
      not sure how this compares to the usually recommended Abbe condenser
      the page linked above discusses this too, however not in much detail..

    • fixed stage
      you will have to move the sample slide manually, which at 400x is going to require quite some dexterity. I'm going to look at some samples today and can try that out and let you know how I fared :mrgreen:

    • Magnification
      you'll be fine with the 10x eyepiece and the 4x 10x 400x objectives
      I do use my 20x (i.e. to 200x total mag) quite often too, especially for looking at larger organisms like nematodes & fungal clusters, or following fastmoving critters, eg ciliates, around. But without a movable stage, that is going to be really hard to do anyway, heck it's often hard to do with one! :D
      Plus, I do usually scan my sample at 100x for larger organisms, zooming in on them as needed. But bacteria, flagellates, amoebae (testate or naked), and grazing ciliates, and the nematode mouths - which help you determine what kind they are - are best viewed at 400x anyway.

      There's some problem with using that 25x eyepiece to achieve higher total magnification, it has to do with resolution and image quality... but unfortunately I never fully understood that and thus have already forgotten :rolleyes:
      So I'm not sure the 250x you'll get from 25x + 10x are going to be comparable with the 200x one gets from 10x + 20x.
      That said, occasionally I'd really like to have 1000x for detail!
    So I can't say for sure whether the microscope you're looking at is going to be effective - but it still could be, albeit with a few discomforts and limitations...
    (and yes, 400$ is nothing in microscopy - just go Leica for the same kind of scope and you'll immediately be looking at 1000's :shock: lol)
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    Johnei Well-Known Member

    Calliandra, you're great!!!

    I also want a microscope, I've used one to look at brews years ago borrowed from a friend, but the thing was in the 1500$ range and he doesn't know much, just had too much money onen day. I'm definitely not looking for that kind of a beast, just need the minimum to get the job done for viewing teas, and viewing them well. $400 does seem to be that spot, nothing worth it really any cheaper. Still looking.
    calliandra likes this.
    The sloth

    The sloth Well-Known Member

    Thanks for an indepth assessment Calliandra, very much appreciated!
    I think I'll hold off until I can get a scope thats more functional and user friendly. I would much rather wait and buy the right one than settle for something that I will end up having disappointment with, which Will inevitably lead me to purchasing another anyway.
    Thankyou kindly for your insight!
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    calliandra Well-Known Member

    You're very welcome!
    I played around with my microscope this weekend, and yeah, it's all so iffey there's quite a risk that microscope you were looking at will disappoint.

    Impossible! Maybe I'M a clutz or something, but even trying to scan the sample for larger organisms at 100x was so frustrating, I'd say a movable stage is a must-have for any sort of sensible observation.

    Actually, I realized that most of the time, I have my iris diaphragm pretty much shut at maximum, so possibly just having the choice between a few fixed apertures MAY actually be sufficient for our purposes...
    Whereby I have been looking for a real world person who can take a look at how I'm doing things, because I feel I have something to learn about finetuning the light intensity (I can dim my microscope's LED light), condenser and diaphragm settings better - since often I get rather bothersome shadows on my microbes at 400x that don't allow me to see the degree of detail I would like to.
    I'll update on any insight I gain in this respect!

    One idea for something you could do in the meantime: some libraries have microscopes you can lend out, maybe that's a way you could try out one of those without actually buying one right away! :D
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