18 m1 1Dly New. Friday. Novumbr r 17.1996
Dead branches are far from useless; they support life
As the islands grpn up. you can
see dead branches hanging from the
res. Although Hurricane Marily
damaged or destroyed many trees. i
is a natural cycle of life.
All living things an organized in
the environment: cells form tissues.
tissues form organs, organs form
systems in individual organisms
individual organism are members
of the earth's populati and popu-
lations make up communiies in the
Although tree branches ae no-e
living things once they are discon-
nected from trees, they sill play an
important role in the ecosystem.
Dead branches are habitats for
many living organism and serve as
a food source also. Bl most impor-
am. dead wood serves a nutrients
. to Improve the soil fertility.
Nitrogen i an important element
in the soil; it also is important for
the health and wellbe in of people.
Proeins. nucleic acies, hormones.
enzymes and vilminm that contain
nitrogen are requ,rtd for many
essential bodily funcrians.
Although nitrogen makes up
about 79 percent o the atmosphere
that bathes the eaih environment.
our food supply dirtier. more on
the availability of thi element in a
The nitrogen cycle is complex. It
includes the activities of many
groups of microbes. To be used by
green plants, gaseous nitrogen mus
be converted or "fixed" into usable
compounds by electrification, by
industrial processes by nitrogen-
fixing bacteria and algae
Nitrogen-fixing organisms in
soil. water and especially in nodules
on legume plants roots convert
gseous nitrogen into highly soluble
sails of nitrates and ammoniun.
Living plants absorb these com.
pounds and convert them into
nucleic acids and amino acids and
eventually into proteins.
Animals obtain nitrogen by eat-
ing plant-produced amino acids.
Animals use these acids to build
protein and other molecules. The
nitogen cycle continues s protem
from dead animals and plants is
convened by decomposer organ-
isms back into ammonium salts and
ammonia gs .
You see, dead wood is a major
pan of our complex environmental
system even though we consider
dead trees branches useless. They
are pan of the nitrogen cycle. The
process of living things dying and
decomposing naturally occurs con-
stantly in nature. Even the Bible
mentions tha dust we come front
and to dust shall we etum.
"nl the sweat of thy face shall
thou eat bead till thou retum unto
the ground: for out of it was thou
taken: for dust thou ar and unto
dust shalt thou return." (Genesis
So when dead wood is broken
down by micro-organisms, a new
life is formed. In fact, we all ca
one with nature physically because
we contain the same elements of the
I am glad the government in its
wisdom decided to separate dead
trees and benches from other hurri-
cane debris. The dead wood can be
used as compost-to make mulch.
Composting has been going on
since long before the first man
walked the Earth. Living plants.
insects and animals die. passing on
their vitality to following genera-
If you walk through the forest
when he leaves are falling, you arm
witnessing the process of natural
composting. The leaves beneath
your fee symbolize the coming of
n broadest terms, composing is
the biochemical degradation of
organic materials into a humuslike
material tha is useful as a soil con-
ditioner or as a feedstock for mak-
ing fertilier and other higher value
products such as mulch.
Compost can correct a soil that
has either too much clay or too
much sandy, thus helping to build
good soil structure and a better
environment for plant development.
Such organic materials as leaves.
dead wood, grss clippings, weeds
and twigs can be added back to
your garden as mulch or fertilizer.
However, be careful not to
spread weed seeds in your garden.
Many gardeners and farmers in
other pans of the world still use
dead branches. twigs and other
organic materials from nature to
mulch or improve the soil structure.
just as they did hundreds of years
ago. Gardeners and farmers also
used animals manur.andlatoba
waste m compost piles.
These piles like dead'bndh
es decay into humus. whit h u
used to improve soil aeration aod
other structure of the soiL Organic
matter is valuable only when is
decays into the soil.
However, green fresh manure
makes an even greater compost
because a greater pan of its decay
will take place within the soil wh
it will do the most good.
During he sugar cane era on St.
Croix, planters planted pigeon pea
plants after they harvested the sugar
cane crop. They grew them as a
green crop to plow into the soiL In
retum, this legume plant enriced
the soil because of its ability fix
nitrogen io the soil.
If you want to learn bow to
make a backyard compost pile with
your dead branches, the University
of the Virgin Islands Cooperative
Extension Service will tell you
how. On St. Thomas. call 693.
1080. on St. Croix 692-4080.
Oasee Dovis. who holds a maS-
ter ofsciencr degree in range man-
ogemen oand forestry ecology, is a
St. Croix ecolngist. acrivisr and