This article should answer most questions when it comes to setting up your microscopy station on your farm or market garden.

There’s no fluff here. Let’s start with some video education. Here’s a playlist with a few short videos recorded by Dr. Elaine Ingham many moons ago where she explains the basics. Watch that a couple of times to get an understanding of the theory. When you come to our training, you will focus on doing the work rather than wasting time on lectures.

Once you’ve done your training, here’s the kit you need to invest in (links are not affiliate – the products are what we use):

  • Microscope – you need a binocular shadowing microscope at the very minimum, but you may want a camera to take images or videos and send it to us or post it on relevant forums for help with identification. This is why we recommend a trinocular microscope with a camera included. You don’t need dark field, phase contrast or infinity optics. The one in the link comes from Elaine’s recommendation quite a few years ago now. It’s a chinese copy of an old Olympus design. Works great. Yes, there are better ones for more money, but for what you’ll be doing, it’s more than enough.
    • The microscope above has been out of stock for a while now, and here is one which we haven’t tested, but comes with positive reviews and looks to be the closest to what we recommend: Alternative microscope.
  • Glass slides – you will be cleaning and reusing these. They last a very long time, so get yourself the ones with a nice, ground edge.
  • Cover slips – you will break these when cleaning, so be careful not to hurt yourself, but they are cheap, so get yourself a big box to last you forever! There are different sizes and the spreadsheet you get during training allows for that, but we use and recommend the 18x18mm size.
  • Calibration slide – this is useful not just for setting up the size of the grid on your camera software, but for training your eye in assessing the size of the microbes you see.
  • Pipettes – cheap and cheerful kind – they sell these in packs of 10, 50, lots of them. They are treated as a consumable, but they can be cleaned. They need a rinse soon after use so that you don’t get deposits on the inside. Can’t really wash that. You have to calibrate these everytime you sit at your microscope. Sometimes one will break at the seam after many uses. You can bin it then.
  • Pipettes – fancy (optional) – these give you a lot of control over the size of the drop. You can even divide your drop into four or five smaller ones which allows you to control the distribution of your sample under the cover slip. Overkill? Yes, but convenient as heck. You want the SP0200-AUTO SciPette Autoclaveable Variable Pipettor 20-200ul and the tips that go with it. Get a pack of a 1000 – product code SQ-T-200-L-B. You’ll never run out, and yes, you can clean them too.
  • Ultrasonic cleaner – drop your glass there, zap it for two minutes, drain and dry with your…
  • Cotton cloth – a piece of old t-shirt works great!
  • Urine cups instead of test tubes. Something that we agreed on with Elaine long ago, that as long as the dilution is correct, these are fine to use. The benefit is that when we’re working with compost, our sample is full of irregular chunks, and having extra volume gives us better control and less risk of error in numbers. Make sure you get ones with a 10ml graduation for a level of accuracy.
  • Jewler’s scale. Good for weighing your prescriptions, gold or calibrating the cheap pipettes! Remember – 1ml of water weighs exactly 1 gram.
  • Jugs for clean water, glasses and long spoons from Asda, Tesco, etc.

There you have it. That’s all you need. You can watch the playlist, get a scope and start looking down the bright LED light. And if you’re ready to learn it properly, book yourself on one of our classes. We usually run them in February and November. We’ll see you then.