Plant Answers  >  Friends of PLANTanswers: Malcolm Beck

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 1974.

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 all vegetation?”

“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 problem.

“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.’ publication.”

“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 it kills.”

“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.”


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 best bet.

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 (a Texas A&M University educational website), I found:



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 Rye

Truth About and Uses of Corn Gluten

The Best Nitrogen Source as an Organic Fertilizer - 9-1-1 by Malcolm Beck

The Truth About Glyphosate (Roundup) - NOT a Toxic Chemical But Nature’s Friend

Organic Material and Water Conservation


Bats (Are Bats Dangerous?)

When I conducted a SEARCH on the worldwide web, I found writings on 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, 1996)

Texas Bug Book: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly more books like this
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, organic gardening...

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 insects.

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 this
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: bio.htm


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 soil quality.

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 there.

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 University

Malcolm’s homepage with many short articles at:
and specifically at: VilleMethod.htm

A video and transcript of the video on the Texas Legacy Project at:

AND, several guys who were named Malcolm Beck and are sick and tired of getting all of his fan e-mail from organic gardening converts!!!

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 Texas.

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 control.

5. He is a good friend and treasured colleague in the never-ending effort to help local gardeners and homeowners have a successful growing experience.

Malcolm Beck Says Soil Holds Cure for Climate
October 14, 2006
Anita Porterfield
Special to the Express-News

San Antonio took a double shot this year when tenacious drought collided with
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 him."

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,

Beck advises that not only farmers but average homeowners use compost on their lawns and gardens. He discourages the use of chemical fertilizers.

"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.


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