I was listening to the podcast with Helen Atthowe, and I have a question and an observation. I was listening while doing about 50,000 other things, though, some of whom were small and screamy, so I may not have heard as much as if I was paying rapt attention
Q: Adding manure doesn't necessarily mean tilling, does it? Can one have a no-till system (thus happy bugs, soil food webs, mushrooms, etc) and just top-dress every so often and let the worms take care of moving it around? I heard adding manure being equated with tilling, and that surprised me.
Observation/Question: Is it possible that N2 in soil is similar to the iron in breastmilk versus the added iron to formula/rice cereal? It was thought for a long timg that breastmilk was very low in iron, and therefore kids needed iron supplements. In reality, (surprise, surprise!!) there is exactly enough of exactly the right sort of iron. The variety of iron in formula and iron supplements is much harder to digest, and therefore needs to be given in huge quantities, and furthermore giving that sort of iron to a baby makes them less able to digest the iron in breastmilk (and therefore reliant on supplementation). Are we not looking deep enough? Is the kind of nitrogen (or something else that comes with it?) that comes from N2-fixers just enough of the right kind, while soil tests measure the wrong thing?
It seems reasonable to suppose that the plants are well adapted to the sort of nitrogen that is naturally available. I think the specific molecule in fertilizer is the same that the n-fixing bacteria make, but in the wrong quantities and not properly put into the soil.
I recently read (and wish I could remember where I found it...help, please if you can) that in nature, the vitamins structure (like DNA) is in a spiral form. Synthetic vitamins, while having the same components, are constructed in a spiral that runs the opposite direction, thus making them less effective for the human body to assimilate. The conclusion of the idea was that if you consumed 100mg of vitamin "x" from a natural source, your body assimilated 100mg of that vitamin, but that 100mg of that same vitamin in synthetic form only yielded 50mg to your body. If that scenario is actually true, then those expensive vitamins people are buying is a total rip-off!
On any subject, we can find conflicting "evidence" or "proof" on the internet. I would love to re-find that article, and then begin my own investigative research. I find the entire concept astonishing. Whether true or not, you can never find a better source than in nature itself.
There's a few things that came to my mind when I listened to your very interesting conversation:
Early on you briefly talked about humanure as a very good but sometimes risky nitrogen source, and I was wondering whether the classical way of dealing with it (compost toilets) could and should not, wherever possible, be replaced with what one might call a Permaculture Reed Bed.
Normal reed beds are constructed to allow for denitrification to remove almost all the nitrogen from human waste before the water is released into the ground or a waterway. But what if one modified it to recapture much of the nitrogen before the anaerobic bacteria are allowed to clean up the rest ?
Stinging nettles f.e. do tend to invade reed beds and are normally removed - what if one let them have a "first bite of the cherry" and regularly harvested them as nitrogen-rich mulch ?
This could be a safe way to quickly make use of all the nitrogen from an omnipresent source that would otherwise have to be composted for a long time.
Then, when you talked about locust and the studies of its uses in agriculture I remembered this film: