MALCOLM BECK - FRIEND AND COLLEAGUE
Jerry Parsons, Professor and Extension Horticulturist
Texas Cooperative Extension, Texas A&M University
I have known Malcolm Beck for over 30 years since I came to
San Antonio as an Extension Vegetable Specialist for the Texas
Agricultural Extension Service (now known as the Texas Cooperative
Extension). He was a close friend of Dr. Sam Cotner, the original
Vegetable Specialist for this area, and of Dr. Robert Dewers,
the first Bexar County Extension Horticulturist. To know Beck
is to be a friend of Malcolm’s and, even though you may
have different opinions on certain things, to respect him as the
most honest person you have ever met. I coined a phase about Malcolm
many years ago when someone was saying he was just being “organic”
to make more money---I told this person that nothing could be
further from the truth. In fact, someone would have to explain
dishonesty to Malcolm---it is such a foreign concept for him.
He also trusted his customers in the same way-he used to brag
that gardeners do not write bad checks. He had only received two
or three bad checks from gardeners in more than 30 years of doing
business at Gardenville.
To give you an idea of how quickly Malcolm and Delphine can
win a person over, following are two columns which I wrote for
the Sunday San Antonio Light in 1977-I came to San Antonio in
WEEKLY COLUMN FOR APRIL 24, 1977
SUNDAY SAN ANTONIO LIGHT
Dr. Jerry M. Parsons, Vegetable Specialist,
Texas Agricultural Extension Service
For the past several weeks I have presented techniques for safe
use of pesticides for home gardeners. I hope that you will save
these columns and periodically review them. As I have mentioned,
pesticides are poisonous, or they wouldn’t kill the pests!
For this reason they must be respected as a poison.
I would be amiss not to present another view on pest management-the
“organic” approach. Many of you are organic gardeners,
and I say, “More power to you!” That is the great
thing about gardening -we can all do our own things! The following
is an article written specially for this column by the “father
of organic gardening” in South Texas, Malcolm Beck. Malcolm
truly believes in what he writes and lives by what he preaches.
Even though I don’t fully agree with all of what he says,
I respect his opinion as a gardener. After all, diversity is the
spice of life, and nature is a still unfolding miracle. The following
is an organic’s philosophy on pest control:
“The greatest number of living creatures on this planet
are insects. Some we call good bugs; others pests. The pests or
bad bugs seem to reproduce at a fantastic rate and have varied
and excellent means of mobility.”
“Have you ever wondered why they haven’t by now destroyed
“Organic growers have the philosophy that plants growing
in their preferred environment and soil balanced to suit their
needs will be healthy, and healthy plants do not attract destructive
insects. Because of the healthy plant’s immunity, the few
that may get on them do not quickly multiply to damaging numbers,
and their many natural enemies are able to hold these pests in
check, hence the balance of nature.
“This philosophy of destructive insects acting as a censor
to cull out the unfit and unhealthy plants is really just a basic
law of nature, but unfortunately ignored by many.”
“The skeptics will scoff at this philosophy, but that
is their role and I expect it.”
“Nevertheless, the organic growers understand and work with
these natural laws with success, and they aren’t all small
operators either as some grow hundreds of acres with production
beyond what their chemical neighbors produce.”
“When insects (and disease) attack a plant and are able
to damage or destroy it, the organic grower asks why and searches
for the cause. The non-organic grower ignores the cause and just
treats the effects with pesticides which may eventually worsen
“The discovery or understanding of these natural laws is
nothing new. Sir Albert Howard, a soil and plant scientist of
England, spent most of his life researching and proving these
natural laws and wrote books on them; one of his best, The Soil
and Health, copyright 1947 and published by Deven-Adair Company.
In this country, Dr. William A. Albrecht, another brilliant scientist,
of the University of Missouri, spent 25 years researching and
proving the same thing; and his many scientific papers have been
compiled into a book, The Albrecht Papers, copyright 1976 by Charles
Walters, Jr., publisher and editor of ‘Acres U.S.A.’
“These books should be ‘must’ reading for every
grower and student of agriculture. In them it tells how these
men grew healthy, bug-free plants right beside diseased and bug-infested
plants. The only difference was a balanced soil.”
“I myself have used compost and natural fertilizers to grow
pumpkins bug-free, while other pumpkin plants nearby, but not
properly fertilized, were heavily infested with squash bugs. I
have pecan trees that were severely infested with mealy bugs,
and by mulching with compost they were completely clear after
two years. I completely wiped out nematodes in one year from a
tomato hot bed with the use of compost and earthworms. On a peach
tree which had the whole trunk oozing with sticky sap caused by
the larvae of the peach bark beetle, by mulching it with rich
compost, the problem was overcome. I have also learned that weather
conditions can put plants under stress and cause the insects and
disease to attack, but that the plants in the balanced, fertile
soil were not affected by stress as fast and usually held on until
better growing conditions returned without being unduly affected.
“I could go on and on relating my organic-growing experiences
from the past 20 years, but space doesn’t permit.”
“Here again, the skeptics will argue, “but we don’t
have enough compost for all the farms in America!”. For
that reason the really big organic grower doesn’t always
use compost either, but he does grow cover crops for additional
organic matter, tests for elements needed, and adds them to balance
the soil. Mainly, he is careful not to use toxic pesticides or
any chemical that may destroy the living factors of the soil,
which are the beneficial microbes and earthworms, because they
are what make a soil fertile to grow healthy plants.”
“If your soil isn’t yet fertile, and your plants are
being attacked, there are acceptable methods of control such as
Bacillus thuringiensis, a bacterial organism that is used on cabbage
worms, webworms, and many other worms. It is very effective and
safe, and it kills the bad bugs only and not the good ones. Also
available is Sapodilla Dust made from lily seeds. It is non toxic
to man but works well on squash bugs, harlequin bugs, and other
members of the stinkbug family. It too is very specific in what
“These are good control materials because they leave the
beneficial insects unhurt, and you are really using nature’s
own control methods. There are other safe materials, methods,
and techniques for insect control and more are being discovered
but remember, insects and disease should be considered symptoms
and not the cause of unproductive and failing plants.”
“The bad bugs may really be good bugs in disguise trying
to tell you all is not well with your ways of growing things.”
THAT SAME YEAR, I WROTE THIS COLUMN:
WEEKLY COLUMN FOR DECEMBER 18, 1977
SUNDAY SAN ANTONIO LIGHT
Dr. Jerry M. Parsons, Vegetable Specialist,
Texas Agricultural Extension Service
A San Antonio man whose dogged dedication to organic gardening
has made some significant contributions to South Texas horticulture
joins a list of “unusual” garden enthusiasts I have
been writing about in recent weeks.
Malcolm Beck, whom I have dubbed the “Father of Organic
Gardening” in the San Antonio area, is getting the nod this
week as one of the most unusual gardeners in South Texas. I have
yet to determine whether that title is an insult or a compliment.
Malcolm also is the father of four boys and a girl with a slight
assist (according to Malcolm) from his lovely wife, Delphine.
Malcolm is a “jack of all trades,” having labored
as a builder, an electrician, a plumber, well driller, service
station attendant, switcher for the railroad, and farmer. The
last profession, farmer, is the one which has made Malcolm famous,
or infamous, in South Texas.
Beck has been gardening since the ripe old age of four. He and
his family were raised around San Antonio. They presently operate
a farm named Gardenville located on Evans Road (west of Nacogdoches
past 1604) in northeastern Bexar County. The farm is rather unique
in that all vegetables produced are grown without using any chemical
insecticide sprays or fertilizer.
Many frown on the organic concept, but this ridicule has never
discouraged Malcolm. He keeps doing what he believes is right
and has made many contributions to the Texas gardening public.
One of the most noticeable and available contributions is his
potting soil which is available in as many as 30 local nurseries.
He has been making this potting soil for more than two years,
and the demand for it continues to grow. The mix is comprised
of cedar flakes, sphagnum peat, perlite, vermiculite, composted
horse manure, earthworm bedding arid castings, granite meal, guanophos,
Poteet red sand, and seaweed. Draining the mix well is essential
for successful plant production in containers.
Malcolm also tests vegetable varieties. I figure if varieties
can endure all of those “natural” conditions, they
should be good for commercial agriculture! ‘Green Comet’
broccoli, the variety which will be available for your spring
planting, has done exceptionally well for Malcolm. He uses Bacillus
thuringiensis (Dipel, Biotrol, Thuricide, Bio Spray) for looper
control since it is an organic product.
We disagree on several points. He likes the Supersonic tomato
variety better than Spring Giant or Big Set. (Anyone can make
a mistake, folks!!) He also doesn’t have as much success
with fall vegetables as he does with spring plantings. Of course,
this can be explained by the larger insect population which can
spread virus, disease, and destruction in the fall. Remember,
those bugs nave been doing what bugs do all summer!
I don’t believe we have seen the full impact that Malcolm
Beck will make on South Texas agriculture yet. I am very impressed
with an okra variety which Malcolm grows and which was named by
Tom Keeter, for lack of a better description, Beck’s Big.
Malcolm found the okra growing on his farm when he purchased it
in 1968. The .history of this unusual okra claims that it was
smuggled from Germany into this country by some military personnel.
Regardless of where it came from, the okra reproduces from seed
which can be saved from year to year. It is a large podded okra
-- as tender and tasty as any okra I have ever eaten. The pods
can get large (1½ inch diameter) and still be edible. Pods
are easily harvested since they snap off readily. Such an okra
would decrease harvesting cost for commercial producers. Malcolm
sells the dried okra pods with seeds for 50 cents a pod.
Malcolm also has been very helpful with experimentation of ‘green
manure’ cover crops which may be useful to gardeners during
the short South Texas dormant season (December and January). It
seems that vetch and rye sown in late November is a South Texan’s
So that is the story of an “unusual” gardener who
has contributed and continues to contribute to South Texan’s
horticulture knowledge. Ma1co1m Beck and his family have a firm
commitment to the organic way of growing. Their commitment prompts
experimentation which is the spark of all knowledge. We all will
continue to reap the benefits of Beck’s persistent search
for a better way to grow.
When I conducted a SEARCH of educational articles and information
written by or contributed to on PLANTanswers.com (a Texas A&M
University educational website), I found:
MULCHES FOR ENHANCED, LOW COST, LOW MAINTENANCE LANDSCAPES
Removing Iron Stains from Concrete
How to Calculate the Volume of Soil Needed for an Area
Formulation and Use of Vinegar as a Weed Killer
Harvesting and Roasting Sweet Corn
Nematode Control and the Best Organic Matter-Elbon Rye or Cereal
Truth About and Uses of Corn Gluten
The Best Nitrogen Source as an Organic Fertilizer - 9-1-1 by Malcolm
The Truth About Glyphosate (Roundup) - NOT a Toxic Chemical But
Organic Material and Water Conservation
Bats (Are Bats Dangerous?)
When I conducted a SEARCH on the worldwide web, I found writings
on Amazon.com which include:
Lessons in Nature by Malcolm Beck (Paperback Nov 1, 2005)
The Garden Ville method: Lessons in nature by Malcolm Beck (Unknown
Binding Jan 1, 1998)
The life cycle and man by Malcolm Beck (Unknown Binding Jan 1,
Texas Bug Book: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly more books like
by C. Malcolm Beck, Malcolm Beck, John Howard Garrett
Honeybees in the flowers, fire ants in the yard, roaches in the
kitchen the good, the bad, and the ugly bugs are all over Texas!
And they're here in the Texas Bug Book, your complete guide for
identifying and organically controlling all of the most common
Texas insects. Drawing on years of practical experience and research,
Texas Organic Vegetable Gardening: The Total Guide to Growing
Vegetables, Fruits, Herbs, and Other Edible Plants the Natural
Way: The Total Guide to Growing Vegetables, Fruits, Herbs, and
Other Edible Plants the Natural Way more books like this by J.
Howard Garrett, C. Malcolm Beck
This book shows you how to have a healthy soil and recommends
environmentally safe products and even some homemade remedies
to control pests and disease in your garden. You'll get nuts and
bolts information on companion planting and the use of beneficial
The Organic Manual: Natural Gardening for the 21st Century more
books like this by Howard Garrett, Malcolm Beck (Foreword by)
Easy to read format that includes a month by month "natural"
gardening plan that tells you exactly what to do to work in harmony
with nature's system to produce a healthy, beautiful landscape.
J. Howard Garrett, the "Dirt Doctor, " makes a compelling
argument for organics vs. chemicals, and tells you how to build
healthy soil, about planting...
Texas Bug Book: The Good, the Bad, & the Ugly more books like
by Howard Garrett, C. Malcolm Beck, Gwen E. Gage (Illustrator)
Now revised, this complete guide for identifying and organically
controlling all of the most common Texas insects gives detailed
instructions on how to identify, understand the life cycle of,
and control or protect Texas insects, mites, snails, slugs, nematodes,
and other critters.
The Secret Life of Compost: A "How To" & "Why"
Guide to Composting Lawn, Garden, Feedlot, or Farm more books
like this by Malcolm Beck, Charles Walters
Teaches Malcolm Beck's "static pile" method of composting
without unnecessary labor or expensive equipment.
A short biography by Del Weniger at: http://www.malcolmbeck.com/mal
In the midst of what we call our "progress" an occasional
person has the genius to combine solid ecological knowledge with
technical skill and to apply the results with good common sense.
We probably owe it to these persons that we are still here. In
the areas of soil building and maintenance and of the recycling
of organic wastes, one of these leaders is Malcolm Beck, the author
of this book. He has spent almost a lifetime in the study, experiment
and practice which equip an inventive spirit to create new systems
solving both old and new problems with our soils and our refuse.
Malcolm owned and ran Garden Ville, a successful organic farm
with its own marketing center, for decades. I enjoyed many delicious
morsels from his fields. During all that time he conducted his
own research on organic growing techniques, lectured widely on
his discoveries in managing plants and soils, and published a
book on insects in the organic garden. Gradually his interest
focused on how to achieve and permanently maintain the finest
Soon that led him into much experimentation with composting.
When he had applied much of the science and was well on the way
to mastering the art of composting, we were all after him for
his compost. He gave it to us until, in self defense, he had to
start selling it.
Before long Malcolm had prepared a lot just for composting, and
soon he was collecting the refuse from the stables, tree trimmers
and such, all around San Antonio in order to meet the demand for
his compost. All the while he was studying about soils, experimenting
with mixes, and designing bigger and better mixing machines. Nurserymen
began to learn how great the soil mixes he was producing were,
and soon he had a big business on his hands. I can remember when
he had to begin importing bat guano from Mexico to meet the demand,
as trucks which brought plants from California began to carry
loads of his soil mixes all the way back to their growers out
Now his business in composting and selling soil mixes is so successful
that it keeps a whole fleet of trucks on the roads and enriches
countless flower pots, gardens, and whole fields. But Malcolm
is not sitting back as a satisfied CEO. He is still studying,
experimenting, and applying what he is learning. Beyond that,
he has taken time to write down for all of us much of what he
has learned about composting. So with this book any of us can
do our own composting, grow better plants, or go into competition
with him because he's telling us his composting secrets!
Del Weniger, Professor Emeritus of Biology, Our Lady of the Lake
Malcolm’s homepage with many short articles at: http://www.malcolmbeck.com/
and specifically at:
A video and transcript of the video on the Texas Legacy Project
AND, several guys who were named Malcolm Beck and are sick and
tired of getting all of his fan e-mail from organic gardening
It is obvious that Malcolm is an author, a national lecturer,
a world-renowned expert on waste management and a great humanitarian.
But to Malcolm, all he is interested in doing is making the world
a better place to live the natural way.
I think Malcolm’s greatest contributions are:
1. He began the making of and sales of a multitude of soil amendments
to improve production of horticulture crops and landscapes in
this area and across the state. While doing this, he demonstrated
the best of recycling techniques and used by-products to enhance
growing conditions throughout the state.
2. He pioneered the use of cover crops such as cereal rye (Elbon)
for increasing the organic matter and controlling nematodes in
3. He is the father of the organic gardening movement in Texas
and the U.S. but also has a common-sense approach which bridges
the gap between radical organics and rational thinking.
4. He is the originator of using compost for lawn dressing to
increase water and nutrient holding capacities and assist in pest
5. He is a good friend and treasured colleague in the never-ending
effort to help local gardeners and homeowners have a successful
Malcolm Beck Says Soil Holds Cure for Climate
October 14, 2006
Special to the Express-News
San Antonio took a double shot this year when tenacious drought
one of the hottest summers on record. Living with severe water
restrictions is no fun, but what we experienced this summer may
just be a small taste of the future. While the scientists and
pundits huddle in think tanks trying to decide how to save the
planet, one San Antonio man seems to have the answers to how we
can patch up Mother Earth and make global warming a fading memory.
Malcolm Beck, founder of Garden-Ville, understands nature. A
tall, lanky man with white hair and beard, he could double as
a lean Santa Claus. He walks briskly as he talks, nonstop, pointing
out massive piles of compost and mulches at various stages of
"readiness." He worries about the difficulties that
lie ahead if the powers that be can't find a way to get us out
of our global crisis.
"We've got the knowledge now to understand nature,"
he affirms, "but we're not
using it to understand nature. We're using it to try to improve
nature. We can't improve what the master designer put together.
It will come back to haunt us."
Beck faults the misuse of our soils as the primary cause of our
environment-gone-awry: "Our biggest problem worldwide is
that most of our farmland no longer has the organic matter for
life and energy it once had." According to Beck, the farmlands
across the United States originally had an organic content of
3 percent to 8 percent. Today, most farmland is down to 20 percent
or less of what it should be.
"This is a drop in organic content of between 70 to 90 percent
in 60 years," says
What does losing organic matter have to do with global warming?
Beck believes that this erosion of the topsoil causes the runoff
of water into our lakes and streams, where it is lost forever.
"This thinner layer of topsoil can't hold and trap water,
leaving barren subsoil. Since this subsoil cannot support plant
life and because plants hold water in the soil and capture carbon
dioxide from the air, the earth is left with an overabundance
of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and soils that cannot sustain
life," explains Beck.
Retired Marine Lt. Col. William Holmberg, steering-committee
member of the Sustainable Energy Coalition and former scientist
with the Environmental Protection Agency, confirms that "all
we need to do to offset the carbon dioxide we are putting into
the atmosphere each year from burning transportation fuels is
to increase the organic content of our farmland just one-tenth
of 1 percent each year."
Beck and Holmberg have worked together and agree that "conservation
tillage, "especially "no-till" farming and the
use of mulch and compost, will provide the necessary organic content
to sufficiently decrease the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere
to safer levels.
The liberal use of compost accomplishes more than reconstituting
the earth's soil. Composting also conserves water. Healthy soil
and water conservation are two ends of the same stick, and Beck
believes that this summer's water crisis could have been averted
if our soils were healthy.
"A mulch layer of leaves, twigs, grass, compost or any organic
material from man's waste stream will protect the soil from the
baking sun and drying winds. The mulch holds heavy rains in place
until they soak in. This prevents floods and soil erosion,"
Beck says, adding, "Even though organic-rich soil can absorb
and hold more water, plants grown in organic-rich soil actually
require less water to grow.”
It's little wonder that Beck has become known as the compost
"king" of South Texas. Bob Webster, local radio talk
show host and owner of Shades of Green Nursery, has observed Beck
for many years.
"Malcolm started out as the area's first organic farmer,"
says Webster. "He worked on building his soils and fields
until his organic crops were better than any conventional crops
around. He eventually got into making compost and his compost
got such a reputation that people started wanting to buy it from
Beck is retired now and is spreading the gospel about soil conservation,
organic farming and nature's lessons throughout the world. He
recently returned from a whirlwind tour of South Africa, where
he delivered speeches and presentations on composting, soil and
water conservation, insects and natural living. By year's end,
he will have given 70 or more talks to farm groups, garden clubs,
churches, universities, Master Gardeners, county agents and community
groups. He has written and co-authored numerous books and articles,
many of which can be found on his Web site, malcolmbeck.com.
Beck advises that not only farmers but average homeowners use
compost on their lawns and gardens. He discourages the use of
"One-half inch of compost applied in the fall and watered
in well will do more to keep a lawn healthy than the best chemical
program. Compost acts as a chelating agent, preventing micronutrients,
especially zinc and iron, from locking up in our alkaline soils,"
Beck writes in his book "Lessons in Nature" (Acres U.S.A.,
$20). Unlike chemical fertilizers, Beck says, compost can be used
on lawns year-round.
Beck also advocates the practice of leaving grass clippings in
place after mowing, and shredding up fallen leaves and spreading
them on the lawn.
"Mulching the lawn with compost in the fall is the closest
thing to a cure-all there is," says Beck. Beck doesn't believe
that one must purchase an expensive machine to make perfectly
good compost. A free-standing pile or a homemade wire cage both
work fine. It's the ingredients that go into the compost pile
or bin that make the difference.
"To build the compost pile, start adding organic materials
as they become available," instructs Beck. "Use all
kitchen and yard organic waste except meat unless you have a pile
large enough for burying the meat very deep. Grinding the larger
twigs and leaves will make them compost faster, or you can just
throw them in and later pick or screen them out. Adding horse
or cow manure up to 25 percent or chicken manure up to 10 percent
makes a good rich compost. To inoculate - or get those microorganisms
working - in the beginning, a commercial inoculator can be purchased,
or a few shovels of garden soil will do the job.
Jerry Parsons, professor and extension horticulturist for Texas
Cooperative Extension, has known Beck for more than 30 years.
"To know Beck," says Parsons, "is to be a friend
... and to respect him as the most honest person you have ever
met. I coined a phrase about Malcolm many years ago when someone
was saying he was just being 'organic' to make more money. I told
this person that nothing could be further from the truth. In fact,
someone would have to explain dishonesty to Malcolm - it is such
a foreign concept for him."
Nature is just as honest as Beck. "Nature is easily understood,
but for a lot of people Nature is too obvious," he says.
"They look right past the clues. To understand nature, walk
into the woods and meadows and allow your five senses to feed
your brain. Then you must use your brain to think."
Oh, what mankind could accomplish with an honest attitude and
a thinking brain, and, of course, Santa Claus.