cheap microscope for identifying soil life?

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maddogmcgee
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Joined: Sat Sep 28, 2019 12:15 pm

cheap microscope for identifying soil life?

#1 Post by maddogmcgee » Sat Sep 28, 2019 12:28 pm

Hi all

I have recently started learning about the soil life in my garden and have been thinking about buying a microscope to help with this......man oh man, buying a microscope is a whole rabbit whole full of terms learn.

I found a video by Elaine Ingham who recommends a microscope with at least 400x magnification, a light and an abbe condenser.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kSLWx-u_b1I

I am not that keen on spending 400-600 AUD on a microscope I may rarely use. I found on ebay the same micropscope mentioned on the Microbe Hunter Youtube channel for 80 AUD. It looks awesome for the price but I don't think it has an abbe condensor and its only monocular. Is this going to be a deal breaker? Basically I want to play around with it and start learning to identify different soil bacteria, nematodes etc. My understanding is that I wont need a magnification much more than 400x for this sort of thing.

https://www.ebay.com.au/itm/Optics-Micr ... Swdg5dMYJL
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DuAgO1VBFFk&t=398s

Some input on this would be greatly appreciated.

Hobbyst46
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Joined: Mon Aug 21, 2017 9:02 pm

Re: cheap microscope for identifying soil life?

#2 Post by Hobbyst46 » Sat Sep 28, 2019 1:05 pm

What the eBay link shows is a microscope made of plastic and of weight less than a kg. These two features alone, in my opinion, are sufficient to disqualify it even as a starter scope. Nematodes are easy to see at 100X (total magnification) and less; that toy microscope is unlikely to let you see bacteria clearly. Our dear Admin Oliver Kim, for example, provides key features to look for when buying the first microscope.
Zeiss Standard GFL+Canon EOS-M10, Olympus VMZ stereo

MicroBob
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Re: cheap microscope for identifying soil life?

#3 Post by MicroBob » Sat Sep 28, 2019 1:42 pm

Hi,
soil life includes everything from bacteria to moles. Bacteria are a difficult topic for amateurs as the light microscope, even the best ones, doesn't really show their structure, just their approximate shape. So if you can avoid it I would recommend to concentrate on bigger life forms where 400x magnification would be more than sufficient, as long as it is backed up by the necessary optical resolution. A monocular microscope is fine, it is just less convenient to use.
If you look closely the microscope Oliver Kim has reviewed (with mixed results) is differnt from the one in the ebay link. I would suggest a used microscope, old horse shoe stands with simple equipment often sell for very little money. A while back I showed here a Zeiss Großes Forschungsmikroskop from 1911. This was just 70€! :shock:
If there is no used market available to you I would recommend to look for a simple but more substantial chinese model.

How about these ones: https://www.ebay.com.au/itm/Microscope- ... tion=3000
https://www.ebay.com.au/itm/GREAT-VINTA ... ition=3000

Both no great deals if this were the german market, but both better that the toy microscope if the work ok. Are you able to do some maintenance on a microscope?

Bob

apochronaut
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Re: cheap microscope for identifying soil life?

#4 Post by apochronaut » Mon Sep 30, 2019 12:47 pm

I've been around alternative agriculture circles for over 4 decades and every now and then someone pops up and proclaims that we can learn or do a whole lot more , with such and such a tool. For a while, it was handheld refractometers, widely and legitimately used in the fruit processing industry to assess preharvest soluble solids. All of a sudden there are people running around with them, saying that you can tell how healthy the soil is and how well a crop was grown by using one. In a theoretical or highly refined situation where a whole slew of difficult to control variables are not factors, yes but in 99% of real circumstances, no.

The value of microscopy to an amateur soil scientist or gardener is similarly highly overrated. Yes, a microscope gives you an eye into the ecology of soils but you need fairly high magnification and possibly some enhanced contrast techniques, in order to observe certain species that populate the soil and then what do you do with that observation? Soil science is a very imprecise discipline and there are tens of thousands of factors that play into the interrelationships under our feet. People spend an entire lifetime observing just a fraction of them, learn only a smidjin of what there is to know, write a few 1000 page books about that smidjin and if they used a microscope at all, it's capabilities were way beyond the simple feature of high magnification and likely cost at least $5,000.00. As the previous posters have stated, not a lot can be seen with a cheap bright field microscope at 400X or I would add, 1000X, so why bother and you are not going to learn much about soil, even if you could see the vague shapes of bacteria or yeasts. They are there and are there in virtually all soils.
However, there are a great number of soil organisms that are much larger; fungi, arachnids, insects, nematodes,arthropods , amongst others and they all play a role, along with the smaller inhabitants. You can get a stereo microscope for under 100.00 with free shipping to Australia. That will get your feet wet and if you have the enthusiasm to go to a biological diascopic microscope after that, then so be it.

https://www.ebay.com.au/itm/AOMEKIE-20X ... 596471bc45

bcjolly
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Re: cheap microscope for identifying soil life?

#5 Post by bcjolly » Mon Sep 30, 2019 4:35 pm

I am a newbie here so my opinion doesn't carry much weight. With regard to observing bacteria through a microscope, my results have not been promising. Bacteria are small requiring high power in order to view. This means the images will not have the clarity produced by lower power objectives. Bacteria are also translucent in bright field so about all that can be ascertained is the shape. Also, if you're not careful in constructing your slides, the specimen plus cover will be too thick for the high power objectives to focus, i.e. the nose of the objective will hit the slide before you obtain focus. Just a few comments from my meager experience with trying to view bacteria through a microscope. Good luck!

Barry

Sauerkraut
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Re: cheap microscope for identifying soil life?

#6 Post by Sauerkraut » Mon Sep 30, 2019 6:09 pm

apochronaut wrote:
Mon Sep 30, 2019 12:47 pm
...However, there are a great number of soil organisms that are much larger; fungi, arachnids, insects, nematodes,arthropods , amongst others and they all play a role, along with the smaller inhabitants. You can get a stereo microscope for under 100.00 with free shipping to Australia. That will get your feet wet and if you have the enthusiasm to go to a biological diascopic microscope after that, then so be it.
+1 - agree with apochronaut 100%

Starting out with a stereo scope is a great way to investigate soil and garden related issues. And a stereo scope is also incredibly useful for other things, like removing those tiny wood and metal splinters that seem to find their way into the hands. I use mine all the time.

I took a microbial ecology class and the idea was to analyze soil microorganisms - mostly bacteria - and the methods used were almost entirely done in test tubes. It was incredibly boring and the experiments largely didn't even work. To me it seems the problem with raw soil is that a lot of times, there are only sparse populations of microbes (not to say low biodiversity, just low numbers of individuals) that are generally hard to find with any usefulness unless you enhance conditions for them (an exception might be nitrogen fixing bacteria on root nodules). As a result, I believe scientists are now using DNA techniques to analyze microbial soil populations, in part because it is so hard to identify different species (or much of anything specific) using a light microscope on raw soil.

That is not to discourage you from having a compound microscope...but a stereo scope is a good first step for soil adventures.

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