DT: My name is David Todd. I'm here for the Conservation History Association of Texas and it's April 18 th, year 2002. We're just outside of San Antonio Texas on the north side near a community called Bracken in Comal County and we're at the offices of Malcolm Beck at [the farm and garden supply store] Gardenville and he's been kind enough to talk about his many contributions to sustainable agriculture and horticulture in the state. And I wanted to thank him for taking the time to visit with us.
MB: My Pleasure. DT: I thought we might start at the beginning. It seems like a logical place to start. How did you first get started in agriculture and particularly your alternative more sustainable version of agriculture?
MB: Well, I grew up on a farm. Luckily I married a girl that grew up on a farm. So, we both liked the outdoors. When we got married in '57 we bought us a little farm out South East of San Antonio. Well, I wanted to be a modern farmer and I didn't want to do that old stuff like my Grandpa and my Dad did. So, I got myself a copy of the Progressive Farmer magazine. And in there was an article about the Colorado potato beetle and how it had migrated down into Texas and told about all the damage it was doing. So, I got to thinking, "I'd better go look at my garden and see if I got potato beetles." Sure enough, beetles all over my potato plants. So, I went to the store and I got the recommended insecticides. I
think it was Malathion and the next morning when it's calm out there dusting all these plants, then a buddy of mine walked up and said, "Beck, stop, you're killing lady bugs." I said, "Lady bugs, I though these were tater bugs." He said, "No, those are good bugs." Well, so what. I killed some good bugs. That was my only thought. But about 10 days later, my potato plants didn't look good. When I looked close under the leaves, full of some type of little lice. So, I went into the house and I called this buddy and he said, "Yeah, those are aphids." He said, "The lady beetles are on there feeding on the eggs, keeping them in check. You kill the lady beetles, they reproduce real slow. The aphids reproduce here a generation a week." He said, "Now you're going to need more poisons." Well, my feelings were a little hurt here. I had a city boy telling a
country boy something about nature. I asked him, I said, "How do you know about good bugs and bad bugs?" He said, "Well, I've been reading a little magazine called Organic Gardening and Farming." He gave me several copies of that magazine and all through that magazine the editor, J. I. Rodale, was trying to sell a philosophy. That if you planted adaptive plants in their proper season and the soil is balanced with minerals, enriched in organic matter, they grow naturally and you wouldn't need a bunch of chemicals to keep them propped up. Then I went back and I read through my Progressive Farmer magazine. Every page advertising some chemical you needed to be a-be a farmer. And I got
to weighing these two philosophies and thinking surely nature wasn't designed where we'd have to use all these chemicals to grow the food we eat. Why can't we just work in harmony with nature and do it her way. So, my wife and I, we decided we were going to take our little farm all natural organic whatever you want to call it. And after a few years it was beautiful. I mean we had this little place manicured. It was just a little 11-acre place and we started getting all types of publicity. People were calling us backwards, old fashioned. Some even have called us hippies. I didn't smoke pot, so I guess I wasn't a hippy. Anyway, the extension service came out and looked around and
this gentlemen said, "Beck, this is beautiful. You sure you're not using any of our modern chemicals?" I said, "No, I'm being a purist here." I made my living working on the railroad at that time. He said, "Well, this is nice, but this is not practical on-on large acreage. We have to feed the world." Well, here is a new challenge. My wife and I decided to sell this farm and buy us a bigger farm. We moved out of here and said, "Boy, was this place wore out." I mean it was farmed to death for 82 years. It so happened that Robert Rodale, the son of the man that published Organic Gardening and Farming, he came down to visit me. In fact, I had a bunch of stories in his magazine, got on the front cover one time. Anyway, Robert Rodale was
out here and I showed him around this old farm and I said, "Robert, this farm is so wore out Johnson grass won't even grow knee high in a good year. What can I do to build it up?" He stood there a minute and he looked around and he said, "Malcolm, your land is level. It hasn't washed away." He says, "It's clay, it hasn't leached away." He says, "It's alkaline." "Everything is just tied up." He said, "What you need in the soil is energy." I thought about that for a moment and I said, "Thank you. Now where does energy come from?" The energy comes from the sun and it's collected by the plant. So, the best adaptive
plant here were the weeds. So, I just let the weeds grow for two years and I kept mowing them off with a sickle bar mowing machine and pretty soon I had a-oh, a thick mulch laying on top of the ground. So, I planted one spring-I planted Sudan [grass] and that thick mulch of weeds, but the soil was still too poor. It only came up about, oh, 14 inches high (inaudible) and it just wouldn't grow. So, I went to a seed company and I told them I needed a winter legume. They said, "What kind do you want?" And I said, "Well, I don't know. Give me the biggest one." Well, a guy there-he knew what he was talking about when I told him where I was and he sold me a good-probably was Huban clover and I cycloned it out there and I run a little hair over it to shake it through all this mulch and it came (inaudible) and
it all came up and that stuff grew and kept growing until it got eight foot tall. The biggest clover crop anybody ever saw. It was a pure stand and a botany professor from one of the local universities came out and he-he documented it, an eight-foot tall clover. And then he looked at me and he said, "Malcolm, you know that's the last time you can grow clover this big." I said, "Oh, why is that? He said, "Well, he didn't know, but that's what the old timers told him." Well, I figured he wasn't a farmer. However, I found out later he was a farmer and well that year-probably the most money I ever made off this whole farm because I left it dry and I harvested the seed and we made tons of seed and I sold it at a high price. So man, I said, "Why don't these farmers just go
with clover?" All you've got to do is throw it out there, wait for-to come up and grow it and you hire somebody to come combine it. So, I went back with clover, but that professor was correct. You can only make one big crop of clover, but I found out why. You see if that clover was eight foot tall, that root was eight foot deep and I inoculated it and the lateral roots were loaded with nitrogen nodules, the microbes that take the nitrogen out of the air and build it into the soil. And the clover's an annual and then when it died and rotted off, well, you see that root was a quarter to three eighths of an inch in diameter going
deep. Now it's rotting. It's like a sponge just pulling moisture into the soil and its got all of that energy that that plant collected from the sun and the leaf surface on top, now that's decaying, has all of that energy that the plant collected from the sun. Well, this was the perfect environment now for all of the beneficial soil life; bacteria, fungi, chemidicedes and all of these things. Now they all had energy. They all had food and the-the soil just became alive with all types of soil life. The little bitty microscopic aniorcipads, everything and seeds in nature and I'll explain this for you. Nature, the wild plants, some of the seeds are heavily coated with-like a shellac where they won't just sprout with the first rain. They'll wait until the timing is perfect. Some seeds sprout right away. Some sprout next year.
Some may not sprout for 40 or 50 years. Well, I had the perfect environment for all these seeds that had been laying in the soil waiting for this environment to sprout it. Boy, they said let's go. Boy, these conditions are perfect. And my clover came up, but it had competition from numerous other plants. Well, from then on the soil started becoming alive and that was so simple yet it costs so little. It didn't cost, it-it paid me to build that soil. So, I pretty well stayed with that philosophy and we started truck farming out here and going 100 % organically grown vegetables and sell them everywhere and people were coming out to the farm to buy our produce. Well, this one family was a mother and a son and a grandmother and an uncle. They were out here all the time. Well, I had two sons now
and they were just learning to drive and I bought them each a pickup and I let them go all over the neighborhood and g-gather up manure from all the farmers and the dairymen around. Well, they worked like the devil just to get to drive, you know, paying them two dollars a load or something like that. Pretty soon I had a big pile of manure out here and whenever the crops were out, then the boys and I would haul it out into the field and we'd spread it out in the field. Well, this family-they call that compost. That was compost and the son was in a lawn care business and he kept wanting to buy some of my compost and well, they're such good people. So, I decided-I said, "Why don't I sell you a pick up
load?" So he put sideboards on his pickup and we loaded. It was about four yards and I didn't know what to charge him so he gave me $40.00. Boy, I got to looking at that $40.00 and I said, "That was easy money. Why am I taking this manure out there to the field and planting-preparing a seedbed, planting, cultivating, harvesting and then taking it to the gor-vegetables to the store and let somebody else dictate the price? Why don't I just sell the manure?" Well, his mother then came along and wanted some of that manure or that compost mixed with sand. I did that for her and she paid me for it and then his uncle wanted some mixed with sand and topsoil. Well, word got around the landscape industry that you could go out to this farm and buy manure, topsoil and
sand mix and here they came. Pretty soon I-I mean they just flooded out here. Pretty soon I ran out of the old rotted manure and I was mixing it fresh. By that time they put in a big pole operation up the road from us and of course my two sons and I had a lot of fun driving trucks and hauling all that stuff here. And I-what I was mixing the topsoil and the sand with this raw manure and I was aging it right away from the beginning and l-sometimes it was pretty hot yet and I'd tell people, "Now this stuff's a little hot. You'd better age it a while or leach it good." They bought it anyway and I never had a complaint ever and I started making deliveries then. And I delivered to this one family-had a nursery.
They were growing plants in big containers in their backyard. Well, they had a big backyard and I was visiting with the lady that owned it and I looked over her-all of her shrubs in those big containers and I complimented her. I said, "Elaine, you sure do a good job of weeding. There's no weeds in any of your pots. In other nurseries I go around they have weeds in their pots." She says, "Oh Malcolm, your soil never has any weed seeds in it, ever." And I got to thinking about it. When you mix this raw manure with topsoil and sand, they're fermenting composting activity kills the weed seeds. Well, word got around in the neighborhood you could go out to this farm and buy weed-free topsoil sand and compost mix. And then somebody said, "Beck, why don't you handle railroad
ties so we don't have to stop down there." And another guy said, "Why don't you handle fertilizer?" There's another one wanting me to handle the tools and a few years I had a four million dollar a year business. All accidental. I never planned any of it and of course we didn't know anything about bookkeeping. I kept the money in a cigar box and I'd take it to the bank. At the end of the year if there was money left and all the bills were paid I made money. I mean it'spretty simple. Of course, I sold the business to a lady and they put it all in computers and the bookwork and everything, but they couldn't make it go. So, finally some old friends of mine bought into this company and they're a couple of country boys you might say from up in San Angelo and they know how to run a business and we're going straight up. Anyway, that's kind of the
history of Gardenville. It more or less accidentally happened. DT: From your experience with your organic farm and then with Gardenville selling fertilizer and compost and mulch and so on, can you tell us a little about what you learned about the soil and about some of the insects and microbes that keep soil alive?
MB: Well, see I never went to college. I never took botany, biology or chemistry even in high school. All I took in high school was reading, writing and arithmetic and girls. Not necessarily in that order, but you learn a whole lot by studying nature and you notice I have a lot of books and I love to read and always try to find time to read. And I remember reading-I think it was the Albrecht Papers and William Albrecht was the head agronomy professor at the University of Missouri until he got squeezed out by the chemical industry. I think that's what happened to him. Anyway, he starts telling farmers-you know farmers always complain if it will just rain, if it will just rain, and he would tell the
farmers-he says, "You're not suffering from lack of rain. You're suffering from lack of soil fertility." Now proven, that's a fact. For example, if we compost a lawn or a sports field you can cut the watering anywhere from 20 to 70 %. That's how much we can cut irrigation, by just building up the quality of soil. Now that gets pretty deep. We don't have time to explain all of that exactly how it happens, but what you need to do is like William Albrecht said, "Throw the books away and go out and study nature. Go out in the prairie and see what she's been doing since the beginning of time. Go out into the woods and look around." And that's the way I try to explain it to people, you know. Everything that's alive is going to die some day and if you walk out into the woods and look down you see a lot of dead things.
The soil is just mulch. The dead leaves, dead grass, dead twigs, dead insects, animal droppings, possibly dead animals and stuff like that, and each year there's a new deposit building up of dead things. Well, something better be happening to it or yours will be miles deep in dead things by now. Well, at the soil level where there's a constant moisture and a constant temperature, you have the grubs and the pill bugs and the earthworms and the centipedes and the termites. All of these things working on-that's a good environment. They're protected from their predators, they're protected from the bright sun and the cold weather and they've got the perfect environment at the soil to-to work in.
They've got all this food with energy in it that the plant collected from the sun and of course they burrow into the soil. And they're there breaking these nutrients out of this or decaying rotting organic matter and then the microbes, the bacteria, fungi, algae and all these other things that chemidicedes. They came and they break it down farther and they put it down into nutrients that's readily available for the next generation of life or the tree roots that are under it and it grabs it and it puts it in the cycle. Now with that mulch laying on top of the ground, you get a big heavy rain the mulch breaks up the raindrops and it soaks through the mulch slowly. Now with that mulch laying there, any thickness will help. The thicker the better naturally, if you've got a half inch that's good, if you've got three inches that's still better. Well, with that mulch laying there, the water can't run off and with that mulch laying there you have all of this soil activity and it's churning up the soil, all of this life (inaudible), so the water can penetrate the soil easily. No water is wasted. Now with that mulch laying there, it can't evaporate away. Every drop of water that falls, you can capture it and put it back underground where it belongs. That's that safest place to store the water. You can pump it out by you know digging a well into the aquifer wherever it stopped, or it may come out in a spring some where clearer and fresh and that's what keeps the rivers flowing constant and clear and fresh.
For example, in this area we got about five feet of evaporation every year. If you put a tank out there full of water, you'll lose five feet of it. You'll gain some from rainfall, but if you measure all the loss you'll loose 55 to 65 inches of water out of it. So, if you catch your water in a lake you're going to lose a big percent of it to evaporation unless it's just a really deep lake and not much surface area. Also, if you're catching water in that lake, that water had to run down there. If that water's running down there, it probably ran pretty swift and it's carrying a lot of soil with it. So, pretty soon your lake is a big mud hole. We've got to capture the water under the ground. Now the soil will hold amount of water it wants. It never gets too water logged.
Certain clays that are poorer may, but like the soil around here, it always holds the correct amount of moisture. The rest of it filters on down and if you've got plants growing on top and it-the plants are using up that moisture, then cavalier attraction like a lamp wick, wicks moisture back up to the plants. But you've got to have the moisture in the ground. So, that's that answer to our water problems. Now there's books being written on the coming water problems. One of them is by Senator Paul Simon. He wrote a book, Tapped Outand he talked about all the coming water problems in the next (inaudible) water problems. But he didn't understand the soil. He never grew up on a farm or anything and he's looking towards desalination, you know, let's go into the ocean and take the salt out. That takes a lot of energy. He never once mentioned mulches on the soil in a pervious soil.
Nobody seems to understand that. Why, I don't know. And the same-in the-well, let's-let's put it this way. There's four big problems, not just in the U.S., around the whole world, and the first one is soil erosion, soil erosion everywhere. We're losing tons and tons of topsoil daily and it's going down the Gulf of Mexico or to an ocean somewhere. And the next thing is-is-is water problems. Water problems everywhere because it's not soaking in. It's all our fresh water-is running down to the Gulf of Mexico or the ocean somewhere. And another problem is-the biggest toxicity on earth-the biggest pollution is nitrate toxicity.
The water-it's in well waters everywhere-it's nitrates. Here it's getting pretty high. Pretty soon we'll probably have to start filtering it if we don't stop it. And the next problem is carbon dioxide in the air. Well, guess what solves all of those problems. Real simple. Keeping the soil covered with mulch. Solves all of those problems and agriculture can do that now. They're learning how to do no till agriculture-conservation tillage, where they always keep the organic matter on top of the ground where nature wants it. Is that too hard to understand? You've got to look for it. You've got to think about it. Of course, that probably makes nobody any money. Maybe that's the problem, but farmers and ranchers can learn to do that.
There's a group of USDA's in the Rio Grande Valley now that got permission, I helped them get permission by getting a lot of letters circulated, to do sustainable and organic research. And they had been doing no-till agriculture for-for many years-the research in no-till agriculture. Talking about the quality of the soil, when Rio Grande Valley here in Texas was first opened up it was the third biggest produce supply area in the whole United States and I think we produced more citrus at one time than California. We're the biggest citrus producers. Well, the old timers, most of those are dead now, they told us that when the valley was first open to agriculture, they needed no irrigation. They needed no fertilizers and they needed no pesticides. The organic content of the Rio Grande Valley was between 3 and 5 % everywhere.
You didn't need anything to keep a plant propped up. Well, there's a friend of mine down there now, and he's a third generation farmer. He told me his Grandpa didn't need irrigation pesticides or-or fertilizers. He said then when his Daddy was finally farming the land, he was having to irrigate for oh, five, seven times. He said then when Dad retired and I took over the farm, he said I had to irrigate as much as 13 times and he said I always had a pest problem. So, this gentleman came to visit me and I told him what I knew and what books to read and he went back and now he's farming about four or five hundred acres. A lot of citrus groves 100 % natural and his input is way less than anybody else's and of course his sales price is higher. So, look at the-the profit is there and he says, "No way would he ever go conventional."
Well, years ago before-where it wasn't-when it was just getting started, about 20 years ago, he met the old man that use to have a p-a soil lab down there in Rio Grande Valley. I think the gentleman's name was Schultz, and they studied the old, old soil test and they saw it. As the organic content of the soil went down the need for irrigation, fertilizers and pesticides went up. It's just like that. It's that simple. And I've made it a point to do-to study the insects. When I was a kid its-I didn't have toys. I played with the bugs mostly. And I read a lot of books and I've written a book now on insects. I've got one of the leading books out on insects The Texas Bug Book. Anyway,
if you study the insects the books tell you that only-of all the insects that have been catalogued, somewhere around a million species, and they tell me if they ever got them all catalogued a-all over the world there'd be something like eight million species. Anyway, but and they, oh, and these entomologists also say that only one % of the insects are considered troublesome. All the rest are nutriable and beneficial and other entomologists say, oh, maybe two %. However, if you study the insects from the correct point of view you find out they all have a place on earth. If you study from this point of view it's real simple. Every living thing is programmed to do what it does and only be what it is except man. Man has a free will. We can do anything we want to do. We can screw up or we can do things right.
Well, this-use this philosophy for a minute for this idea that there's a higher power. He designed all of this. Maybe we're designed for some other reason so everything on earth was designed to be of service and aid to us. Now whether you believe that or not it makes me no difference, but if you study from that point of view then all of a sudden everything becomes clear. You begin to understand nature. Just think: everything here was designed to be of service and aid to us. Every disease, every insect, every fungi, everything was designed to be of s-service and aid to us. When you study from that approach, then all of a sudden you find the answers, but most people don't want to study from that approach. They want to sit themselves up above that, I guess.
DT: You mentioned earlier that you as a child you played with-with insects and they were your toys in a sense. Can you talk a little bit about the role of-of insects and the beneficials and-of in-in agriculture in the soil and keeping it alive?
MB: Well, I can mention they're all beneficial and lucky I grew up really poor. No toys and I found the insects fascinating and I would play with them. I'd dig them up and the horny toads and all the little animals and everything. I got-it-it-it's fascinated me so much, you know, it's greater than books could tell you when you watch them every day and every day. And then when I bought my first farm and I killed a bunch of beneficial insects, you know, I'm a grown man now. I said, "Wait a minute, I'd better go back to my childhood here and start looking at these insects again." So, I started studying the insects
So, I started studying the insects under this Dr. Dale Winegar. He's that guy that came out and looked at my clover. Dale really became my mentor. He told my one day, he said, "Malcolm, learn to think for yourself." He says, "Don't accept or reject anything you read see or hear." He said, "But store it and see how it fits." And that makes so much sense. Some people want to argue. Instead of just listening you learn a whole lot more. When I worked on the railroad an old man use to always tell me-he said, "Beck, if you be quiet and listen pretty soon you'll be twice as smart as the other guy."
And I got to thinking about it and I said, "Well, yeah. I'll know everything I know and everything he knows and all he'll know is what he knew to start with." Anyway, I think about these things. Well, I got to studying the insects and they're extremely fascinating, the most fascinating things on earth, the insects, the complete metamorphosis and everything. And I tried to talk about the insects. Well, how do you describe an insect? So, I said, "I'll just buy myself a camera." Lucky, I found a guy that could t-sell me the right equipment and I started taking pictures and this professor, Dale Winegar, he wanted me to give a talk to a big group. I think it was Sierra Club, talking to about four or five hundred people. I said, "Not me, no way." He said, "You can give a talk." He says, "I'll tell you how." He said, "All you have to do is know your subject, talk about it with enthusiasm and be yourself. Dress the way you want to.
Comb your hair the way you want to. Don't mimic anybody." I said, "Well, I can do that." Anyway, this is probably 10,000 talks later, I'm doing about 50 to 80 presentations a year, but at each presentation some old timer will always ask the question or tell me about some incident that fills in a piece of the puzzle. You always learn more than you teach really if you keep your ears open and you kind of got to humble yourself, you know, you don't know it all. You may know a whole lot but still you still don't know it all. Well, the-after I studied the insects and I studied the soil life and everything, all of a sudden everything becomes simple, really.
It's not complicated. Now I'm not a fanatical organic gardener. I believe in checking everything out, even some of the chemicals that organic gardeners are against and looking at them-take a look at them and see. It may work. Nature may approve it. This is the philosophy I like to use. Every product, every instrument, everything that's out there, see if nature would approve of it, see what their effects are going to be say down the road. And before you do anything or use anything this is something you need to always think about is how it-how is it going to affect the future crop. How is it going to affect my family? How is it going to affect my neighbors? How is it going to affect Mother Nature? Does she approve of it? Will it screw her up somewhere down the road? And I don't like to put a label on anything. Some people call me an organic guru, well, I'm a nature guru or I'm a sensible guru. I don't like to label. Sustainable would really be a good-a good label, but look and see.
DT: Can you give me some examples about how say for sustainable agriculture, how particular insects could contribute-I mean you talked about ladybugs...
MB: Okay, well let's-let's just use...DT: What about praying mantises or pill bugs or...
MB: I'll tell you some of the ways that I proved one of our better agricultural schools wrong numerous times.DT: Please.
MB: When-on that first farm that had a bunch of big pecan trees like I got here and the first two or three years we moved in there I made pretty good pecan crop, but then after that a little bitty moth started coming along and laying an egg on a little nut and they would hollow out the nut and pretty soon I was losing 89 % of my crop every year. And I went to the extension service and they said, "Oh yeah, you've got to spray. That's the only-the only control there is." Well, I didn't want to spray. I kept thinking there's got to be a better way. And one day I was reading through that organic magazine. I saw an ad in there and it showed a little itty-bitty microscopic wasp with boxing gloves on.
Anyway, this attracted my attention and this little wasp was called a tricaderma-tricadermous. I think that was the name. No, that wasn't it-trichogramma. That's what it is, trichogramma. Anyway, there was a guy out near El Paso raising those things and releasing them in his cotton field to control the cotton bowl worm. So, I called this guy and asked him how that thing worked. He said, what's-it's an egg parasite to that moth. I said, "Will it work in case bearers?" He didn't know anything about case bearers, but he told me all about this itty-bitty trichogramma wasp. And he told me it'd live up to 12 maybe 21 days something like that and reproduces every seven days and it's almost microscopic.
So, I called the extension service. They knew nothing about the trichogramma wasp, but they knew all about the case bearer. So, they told me exactly when a case bearer was going to emerge and lay eggs and they all come out the same time and lay the eggs when that little nut is just right to lay that egg on. So, and he told me-that was May 1 st that year that I kept traps out. So, I call this guy out there at El Paso and I said, "Hey, send me a whole bunch of new wasps." And that was around the first week in April when I released them and then I remembered the extension service said, "Well, May 1st is when that moth is going to come out and lay her eggs.
So, I called him back and I said, "Send me a bunch more to release around May 1st the end of April." Well, he did that. I think I spent about $6.00 each time. Twelve dollars is all I spent. Hey, I got good control that year. So, I tried them again, again and again and I never had a failure. I'd have 10 - 12 % damage, but you need that much. You need to get rid of that many nuts so the limbs don't break and they all fill out. Well, I gave a talk on that to the Men's Garden Club and three guys in the Men's Garden Club bought them and released them the way I told them to and they got good control too. Robert Rodale from Organic Gardening and Farming was down visiting me again and I was telling him how we control the case bearer using this little bitty wasp and it's so inexpensive.
Almost costs nothing. No labor involved. He said, "Malcolm, write that up. I need to publish that." So, I wrote it up. He published it in Organic Gardening magazine and I got calls and letters from everywhere wanting to know all I knew. Well, I wrote or I answered everybody's questions and I asked these people, "Now get back with me and let me know if or if not they're working." And I got numerous calls and letters saying, "Hey, Beck it works. It's so simple. It's so inexpensive." Nobody called and said they didn't work. So, I was really proud of my discovery and I went to visit the extension entomologist and I'm telling him this story and the whole time I'm telling him this story he's sitting there shaking his head.
I said, "What's the matter Charlie? Don't you believe me?" He said, "Malcolm, they don't work." I said, "Well, how do you know they don't work?" "Well, we tried them." I said, "Well, how did you try them?" He said, "Well, we kept traps out and on that day we released 50,000 of these little things per tree." And I said, "Well, that's more than I released. I was only releasing 50,000 per three trees." Anyway, I drove home reevaluating. Now I'm not dreaming. All these other people are not dreaming all these years. How come they work for me and not the extension service? Well, it dawned on me.
He was releasing on that day. In my impatience, not intelligence necessarily, the impatience I released three weeks earlier. Well, they reproduce every seven to twelve days. So, when the case bearer finally came out these little things had-were parasitizing other moth eggs. There are moths flying all winter down here and I had millions or billions of them on that day. I was using them the way you should use a biological control and they still had the spray mentality. Anyway, that was one of the success stories and-well, that goes for any insect. They have to be used and protected. And then the next thing was all of a sudden-oh, back-I was still on the other farm at Boatville, was the name of that place, and I didn't have any webworms, but the webworms were getting extremely bad everywhere. They were defoliating trees and I asked the nurseryman, "How come the webworms are so thick?" He said, "Well, we discussed that with the extension service and the extension service just decided we planted too many pecan trees and they are going to take the pecan tree off of the recommended list of trees." Well, I couldn't accept that. And this old farm when I bought it, it was an old abandoned farm and there were wasp nests-paper wasps, the yellow jacket, and the red wasp, all over the place. Well, I'd always watch the wasp and their docile if you don't have bad thoughts toward them or don't throw rocks at them. They won't bother you. You can even pet them believe it or not, but we won't demonstrate that today. Anyway, I would watch the wasp carry green loopers and chop them up and feed them to their larvae, you know, worms of all types, not earthworms but worms that were feeding on plants.
And I had a feeling those wasps were keeping my webworms out of the trees. And I got to thinking that the webworms became a problem when they finally des-designed them big spray rigs that can spray to the top of the tallest pecan tree. Big (inaudible) everything and also to came out-they came out with that aerosol can that you can...(misc. noise) and knock down the wasp nests from the eaves on the house. And I got to thinking, yeah, it correlates perfect, so I figured where the wasps were good. Well, one day when I was gone my two younger brothers came out and they knocked-went around all day long knocking down wasp nests.
When I got home they had a bushel basket with that many wasp nests. The next year I had webworms and it took me eight years of protecting the wasps until the wasp population built back up to where it got the webworms under control. When I moved on to this farm in '68, webworms were everywhere. There were 20 big pecan trees around here and the neighbors down there had a bunch of pecan trees, webworms everywhere. And he was poisoned-this guy here didn't-I don't know if he done anything (inaudible). So, I start protecting the wasp. I never would let anybody knock a nest down and it was about six or eight years webworms disappeared. Oh, you'll see one once in a while. We got 250 some trees all over this farm now, and out of 250 trees you may find six or eight, possibly a dozen webworms for the whole year.
I'll leave them alone. Those wasps need something to eat you know and they need to stay in practice. It works. It's so simple. All the answers are simple and I wrote some rules on growing plants. The first rule is, the very best adaptive plant-each plant is got its an arm-its environment that it's happy in and then here we got two seasons, spring and the fall. Put it in the right season and then balance the mineral content and you can do that with rock powders. All of our minerals came from rocks at one time. There's rock powders in mines and quarries everywhere. It's overburdened, they need to get it out of the way or it's (inaudible) or something like that.
It's cheap, limestone, basalt, granite, any kind of rock powder. It all works, but just find one that's higher in the mineral that your-you're lower in. Of course, they'll contain all the minerals and that's so simple and you pretty well got it.DT: Can you talk about some of the additives that you've...
MB: The additives of rock powders? DT: investigated as alternatives to traditional fertilizers, pesticides...
MB: Okay. Good. When-I-like I say I've gotten a lot of publicity doing this. I guess you'd say, "buckin' the trend or something" and I've had a lot of letters and newspapers and stuff-articles in newspapers and TV. Anyway, the guy down at Laredo, Texas-he read a story about me. He wrote me a letter and he said he had a rock phosphate he was importing out of Mexico and they were grinding it to a powder and-and using it as an animal mineral supplement, and he wanted to know if I would use his phosphate here as a test in the soil. And I wrote him back and I said, "Sure, I'd love to try." Well, I just moved on this farm and I figured I'd better call the extension service and find out how you use rock phosphate and if they had any ideas.
So, I called to-talked to the horticulturist up there and I says, "How do I use rock phosphate?" And he says, "You don't." I said, "What do you mean, don't?' He said, "Malcolm, you've got alkaline soil. It would just lock up. You won't get any use out of it." I mean he was positive of it. Well, this guy done had shipped up I think two tons of it on a little goose neck trailer and we were out there planting tomatoes. I always planted two rows of tomatoes, two rows of beans, two rows of tomatoes, like that so we can walk between them. That's the reason for the beans in the middle. And I had already set out two double rows of tomatoes and I thought about this rock phosphate.
So, I went and got some bags and I just poured it in the furrow. Just painted the soil black. See I was opening furrows with the tractor to set the plants in then we'd cover them a little bit then cultivate it and heap the soil up on it, anyway, one double row. I set the transplants right on the rock phosphate and then none other-no where's else in the garden. And then when harvest time came we were harvesting them in five gallon green pickle buckets you get from Waffle burger and places like that and the rows were about five hundred feet long and we'd carry the buckets out to each end and I told the employees and the wife and all the helpers, I said, "Now the double row on this side I want to weigh them.
Every time we harvest leave them sit there until I weigh them and this row I put in the potter-the rock powders, I want to weigh it and then the double row on this side, make sure I could have a good comparison." Well, the first picking, that phosphate row was more than double than either one of the other two rows. In fact, it made more than those two rows did together. That continued to the whole field. So, I got to thinking. Those Aggies don't know what they're talking about. Started a-I think it was a 22-ton load of this phosphate and I was going to show these Aggies how to do it. So, I homogenized it into soil across one end of my farm and not the other end and I put it out there with a bottom drop hopper and I disked it in homogenized it into soil. And then I put my rows across it so half of all of my vegetable farm would be in phosphate and the other half would be out of phosphate. And-but guess what? I could barely see an improvement when I did that. So, this is-now this is puzzling.
So, I called this extension agency and I told them-I said, "Are you crazy? You don't know what you're talking about, but you're also correct." He said, "Beck, what are you talking?" And I told him about my-my test where I set the root right on it and he said, "Mmm, this is strange." He said, "Let's just analyze that." He says, "I do know a plant has to have phosphorous when its seed sprouts because phosphorous and calcium is what gives it good quick root development." And he says, "In cool soils-in alkaline soil, when it's cool, phosphate is not available because it's locked up and it takes microbial activity to make it available." So, that plant is always stunted. It never catches up. That's the reason I use super phosphate. Phosphate that's been treated with aspheric acid or phosphoric acid so it can't lock up and rock phosphate-every time they tried it, it locked up. But they were homogenizing it in the soil like I do.
When you blend it in the alkaline environment it tends to lock up, but then too, you've got it scattered around everywhere in little bitsy, bitsy pieces and the root can't go out there and hunt for it because it don't have enough phosphorus to develop a big enough root to go out and hunt for it. Well, if you put it in a band or just paint the soil white and then set the plant on it, the plant can assimilate nutrients out of rock because of the rizosphere, that a plant is collecting energy from the sun and sending this energy-carbohydrates down to the roots and their sending carbon-carbon dioxide out the roots also and that's carbonic acids and all of these carbohydrates and this microbial activity right that roots on that rizosphere the pH can drop to 4.
The microbes will do whatever they need to do to keep that plant going because that plant is feeding those microbes the source of energy-carbohydrates. Well, if the phosphate is right there by the root, you see it immediately got it so it can keep on growing in that band of phosphate. Well, after we discussed that, well then Texas A & M did their research and proved it. They didn't publish it because I beat them to it. DT: Can you talk a little bit about your different kinds of cultivation? It seems like you've been promoting no till and-and some other alternatives.
MB: Well, what you want to do is mimic nature as close as you can. At one time, yeah, I thought you had to plow, but now science has discovered that there's more tonnage of life and more numbers of species underground than there is above in any given area. You know some places there is a lot of life in organic matter above ground living, but there's still more underground some place like a desert. Not much underground, but there's still more underground. Now whenever you go out with a moldboard plow and turn the soil upside down, you're disturbing this soil life something terrible. Now the plant part that's above the ground, it's designed different. It's got a lot of cellulose or something in it to make it strong so it can stand up in the wind and the-and the sun, the heavy raindrops and everything.
It's designed different, but life underground-it's protected from all of the bright sun, ultra violet rays and everything. It's not in the wind. All it has to do is just grow so it's a lot more tender. It's say-you might say it's almost like Jell-O with a film around it. Well, whenever you use a moldboard plow and turn the soil upside down you expose this to the elements in the sunlight and you kill it all and it oxidizes and quickly. You fill the air full of carbon dioxide and you kill off all that life and you tore up all those fine root hairs and you disturb the microbial fungi that's extremely important. They're the fungi underground that-it-every living thing needs energy, but this particular fungi doesn't feed on decaying organic matter.
It likes to steal its energy from a living plant and what this fungi does as several species, some grow into the root, some wrap around it, some grow into the cells and this little plant grows up in sunlight collecting energy from the sun. Well, this fungi, it steals up to 10 % of the energy that that plant sent down to the root, but that's the reason the plant sends down there. To feed that fungi, but it don't get it all. Well, this little fungi, it knows if something happens to that plant that's the end of its energy. It-it can't live. So, this little fungi knows too, if it can get that plant to grow bigger and better and faster, it can make more carbohydrates, more energy. So, if you've got a big tree up there creating a ton of carbohydrates, 10 % of a ton is a lot, but if you've got a little bitty plant, you know, making a few ounces of carbohydrates, 10 % of an ounce ain't very much. So, this fungi grows out into soil massively and collects all the nutrients that that plant needs, dissolving it from rock. Giving it what that plant needs plus the moisture and plowing destroys that fungi.
So, there is a time where some conditions nature may say, "Hey, go ahead and use that herbicide." There's certain herbicides out there that nature can handle, but they've got to be used proper. People are using them improper. The (inaudible) type herbicide with the microbes can eat it up.DT: (Inaudible)
MB: Yeah, around that type thing. However, if you use something like that doing a pour soil that has no energy and no beneficial soil life, it's like taking it out of one bottle and putting it into the next. But if you've got a rich soil with a lot of energy and a lot of microbial activity, hey, they just make fertilizer out of it. Where-see I learned this by screwing up you might say. I had a fa-after I owned this place-built the soil up and got it all good and healthy, well, Johnson grass is a good forage crop. Johnson grass loves this type of healthy soil and I had another patch out here I wanted to take into vegetable production. Well, Johnson grass is a-you can't grow vegetables in Johnson grass. There's no way. You just can't hoe fast enough to keep it out. So, I figured I would plow it to death and I never did kill the Johnson grass, but I ruined the soil.
And look-look at all the carbon dioxide I wasted to the air. I-the soil was rich in carbon now all that carbon is in the air. The soil is rich and all the benefits of soil life and I probably destroyed them. So, what you got to do is look at the le-the lesser of two evils, you might say. Does nature approve? I just use that as an extreme example. And let me tell you a little bit more about the carbon dioxide. You know that's making the news all the time and Dr. Joe-well, first of all, I was giving a talk up at Stevens Point, Wisconsin-oooh-this must have been 16 years ago and there was a EPA scientist giving a talk on the impact the automobile is having on the environment and the economy.
And of course our economy rolls on rubber tires and the impact its having on the environment was burning fossil fuel was loading the air with carbon dioxide. Well, they had done some research and this guy was a ex-marine and he was a scientist and he made this statement, he said, "If we could just build the organic content of our farmlands one tenth of one percent every year, we would offset that excess carbon dioxide we're putting-we putting in the air by burning fossil fuel and we would put it back in the soil." But he didn't know how to do that. Well, that made me think and I got together at-with some professors-PhD's and I-we both studied and we found out carbon dioxide in the air 220 years ago when they first started taking measurements was something like 270 - 280 parts per millions.
Now it's 380 parts per million-385 parts per million. If we (?) the way the excess carbon that's in the air and what's missing from our farmlands, they equal. How are we going to get it out there and put it back in the ground? Well, I've been reading Discover magazine. The scientist is trying to design some big vacuum to suck all the air through, take out the carbon dioxide and pump it into the bottom of the ocean. How much energy is that going to take? Well, I happen to be vis-be visiting Dr. Joe Bradford down in South Texas. He's the guy that's been researching no till agriculture for a number of years now, his whole adult life probably.
And I asked Joe, I said, "Joe, what's happening to the organic content of the soil under no till?" And he thought for a moment and then he mentioned one farmer that keeps good records. He said, "Well, about eight years ago when he first started the no till his organic content was pretty good. If was .8, you know, you should be 3." But .8, that's even considered good in the valley. He said he started out at .8. He said now eight years later he's 1.6 % organic matter, one tenth of one % every year. He's doing his share to take the carbon out of the air and put it back in the soil. We need that carbon that's in the air in the soil. Think about this. All of that coal and crude oil that's underground at one time was carbon dioxide in the air because that's how it got there.
The plant captured it. Building into the plant and then the plant was partly decayed then the physiology books tell this that a plant would prefer lots of carbon dioxide in the air, up to 10 times what it is now. It would grow better, but it wouldn't be too good for us because our weather patterns would change. Anyway, they're simple things like that. The knowledge is there but you got to be thinking all the time and don't act like you know it all. The-act like you say. I don't know enough and I want more. And listen to people. I don't care who you are. Some guys may not know what they're talking about, but they may accidentally spark a thought in your mind that gets you to thinking in another direction.
DT: Tell me something about that. It seems like a lot of things that you're discussing are-are ideas that were-were known a hundred years ago, but they haven't been promoted as well by the current system and I'm wondering why it is that conventional agriculture is strayed so far from historic agriculture and from the kind of organic or sustainable ag that-that you've been investigating and promoting.
MB: It's kindly a human ego for some I think and then money has got a lot to do with it. For instance, this William Albrecht, you know he was teaching all the natural ways of building soil. It worked. He's been teaching what nature's been doing since a million years, but after World War II and we came along and we had all the chemicals left over from the war we got to thinking, why are we doing that old dumb stuff? Man, we've got this knowledge. We've got this-all these chemicals. Now, let's see if we can't use them. Well, evidently they started giving the ag colleges grants to research these chemicals and they forgot about it.
They didn't do this on purpose, but it was just forgot and now they've got on this-this chemical kicker-the tread mill and it's hard for them to say, "Hey, we've been wrong. We need to go back." It's pride, I guess you'd say. But I've got books in this library here-old, old government yearbooks. Like I've got a 1953 issue of-of insects published by the SDAARS. It's a agricultural yearbook and through the whole book they're telling you how to control the insects naturally and all of our troubles from insects are imports-our really troublesome ones that are hard to control. Well, what they were doing prior to 1955 was going to the country that these imported troublesome insects came from and finding their natural enemy and bringing them over here and they were controlling every problem they had by doing that.
But when they came out with DDT they'd abandoned that program-hey, we got something now that just killed everything, but they didn't realize that that DDT was also killing off the beneficials that were commonly here that kept the aphids, the white flies and the-the webworms and everything under control. And now they have to go back, but pride is hurting them. How does a guy that's got-a-lots of degrees to his name that has been teaching it all these years-how does he go now and say, "Hey, I'm wrong." Can you do that? All the problems in the world can be solved with an educated public, but how are we going to educate the public?
DT: Let me ask you another question. It-it seems that a lot of ranchers and farmers are having a hard time making economic (?) despite all the new chemicals and-and heavy equipment and implements that they've got at their disposal that weren't available 40 or 50 years ago.
MB: They're fighting nature. They're in a big fight with nature. Let's just use the HRM holistic management methods ranching, all right, this Allan Savory book. Allan Savory-he studied the ranching or the lands in West Texas and in Australia and in Africa and Dr. Dale Winegar did all this research and studied what all the other people studied. Back 250 years ago there were more buffalo in this country than there are farm animals all put together now. Allan Savory studied how the buffalo grazed. The buffalo roamed in tight herds because of the predators.
That gave them protection from the mountain lions and the wolves. Well, when the buffalo went along in tight herds; they ate the grass down; they urinated all over it; they manured all over it, and they tromped it up into the soil. But then the buffalo didn't come back to that spot for maybe 18 months or two years-maybe a long time so that grass could completely recover. Now when I grew up on a farm my Grandpa and my Dad both, if they saw a patch of grass that wasn't being harvested by cows or (?) off, that was a sin, you know, they had to be growing it. Well, with out constant way of grazing, what happens? Let's just use that one time we had big blue stem and a little blue stem and then numerous other grasses that cattle love. Well, probably the best and easiest to eat was the big blue stem. Let's just use that for an example. So, continuous grazing the cow ate off this leaf today ate off that leaf tomorrow, ate off the next leaf. Every time that blue stem or that grass try to put up another leaf surface-another leaf, so it could collect the energy from the sun, manufactured carbohydrates so it could build a big root, the cow never allowed it to do that. Pretty soon that grass was just whipped and it expires-never got a chance to make seeds. The root dies. Then the cow went after the next grass. Then the cow went after the next grass. Well, nature never wants bare soil.
So, nature said, "All right, you're going to take that grass off, I'll give you lesser one. You take that plant off I'll give you a lesser one." Pretty soon all we're left with is prickly pear stickers, poisonous plants, junipers and mesquites. You see we did it. This whole country was plains, prairies at one time except the mountains. They were wooded. They needed to be wooded because the grass didn't grow. This whole country-and s-they keep saying we need to grow trees, but we've got more trees in this country now than there ever was because we've covered the plains with trees-with trash trees.
Well, they're really not trash trees, but they're trees that are trying to protect the soil and keep it from growing and now we're even poisoning the junipers. And instead of using them to an advantage-does that explain a little bit? DT: That helped. I had one more question. When you go and speak or-or you write your books, how do you make the case to people that maybe aren't as knowledgeable and experienced about these things, that why it's important to care about sustainable agriculture? And how do you recruit new people to...
MB: Why it's important? All right. First of all I like to hit them in the pocketbooks. For example, I know an HRM rancher that's got a big ranch up in Mason, Texas. I went up there. It's beautiful. And at one time it was just all brush and weeds and cactus, but he studied how to control those things. You-you kind of ignore-you've got to get rid of them, but you ignore them. You concentrate on growing grass. Now he's got beautiful grass. He's more than doubled his stocking rate over any rancher in the area-more than doubled. Well, this guy also is a banker so he gets the records of everybody and what it costs to get a cow-a calf from birth to market.
He's got everybody's records because they're coming there and borrowing money to buy feed and what have you-build fences and what have you. You see he's got everybody's records. It's costing him $80 to $82 to get a calf to market figuring everything from birth to market. His neighbors are running a $120 to $222. So, you see that right there. Well, some of these people, well, they don't want to believe it. Some don't want to admit they've been doing it wrong. I don't know human nature the way it is. I think it's something else. I showed you that book there, Food and Behavior.
Well, years ago I went and listened to a guy give a talk and this guy owned a dairy and the veterinarian bills were getting out of hand. The production was going down. He was losing money. So, he went down to A & I and he took some animal husband or animal nutrition courses and he came back and says, "I think it's nutrition." And then he was growing lot of his own feed so he decided he would really build the soil up the best he could-get the best people coming there build the soil up and then when he bought feed he would test it for all the nutrient and he was feeding his animals proper. So, he really got interested in this-really studied it and he got so good at it that instead of the neighbors going and calling a Vet, they would go visit him.
And then he was asked to teach a course. I think it was down at A & I. This was years ago. This guy is dead now. And his students-when he first got in a classroom he told them-he said, "Half of the food on the grocery store shelf is not fit to eat." Well, they challenged him. They said the FDA wouldn't allow it if it wasn't fit to eat. He said, "All right. I'll prove it to you." He said the college got this big group of pigeons. He said, "Let's divide this group of pigeons in half the best we can; age, sex, health, everything." He said, "Then we'll feed one group polished rice and the other group brown rice."
And he s-and he said, "I predict those on the polished rice will get five degenerative disease. They're going to stop reproducing and die prematurely. And those on the brown rice-the whole grain rice are going to live happily ever after." And just exactly like he predicted came true, except they learned something they weren't expecting. The very first sign of malnutrition before anything plentiful showed up those pigeons on the white rice got irritable and discontented and was fighting amongst themselves. Well, this really startled me when he said that. Well, at that time my wife and I had already been gardening naturally and eating whole wheat-everything we made whole wheat, brown rice, eating out of the garden, eating naturally as you could and so I decided-oh, my folks had come out-they didn't want that old brown bread, they wanted some white bread.
So, I decided I would do a test. Well, I had a bunch of baby chicks. These were three-day-old chicks when I got them and I took a big coop and divided it in half. Everything was equal-same sunlight, everything equal. One side got white bread and the other side got whole wheat bread and water that's all. Well, the 13 th day, the first one on white bread was dead. The 17 th day, the last one on white bread died. Those on whole wheat bread lived happily. Grew up to big beautiful chickens. Butchered the rooster for Thanksgiving and turns the hens out to lay eggs.
Does that tell you something? Well, wife and I raised our kids naturally on whole grain products. Nothing fancy. We didn't let them eat a lot of junk food and we had no doctor bills. They were healthy, happy, they were never whiney, never complaining. They didn't care about watching TV. They had too much energy. They was outside riding their bicycles or swimming or hunting or riding the horses or doing something all the time. And when they came to the table, man they ate. They never complained about what my wife cooked. Now days, most kids tell their mothers what to fix. Most kids don't-what-mothers don't cook. They eat at Wendy's one day, McDonalds the next day, Waffle burgers the next day.
That's the way they eat. You can't live like that and my kids made excellent grades in school and the only time they ever missed school-one time the creek came up and I let them stay home because the creek came up. They didn't want to walk out the back. My daughter got threw off the horse, broke an arm. One of the boys on a motorcycle-he rammed it into a fence post or something. That was the only doctor bills we had. The only time they missed school. They loved school. They made great grades and everybody liked them. They were just fun to raise. It's all in nutrition. You've got to have that first before your mind can think properly.
I wrote an article on that. I'll give you a copy of it. The name of it's "Food For Thought." But this lady more or less, Dr. Barbara Stitt in this book proved it scientifically. She's a probation officer and she'd get these guys out on probation and they'd end up right back in the pain. Anyway, and that was just constant-constant pain. She was living in a fast lane and you know sweet roll and coffee for breakfast and just never no proper nutrition. Pretty soon her health went down and she noticed when her health went down she was getting sharp with people and she couldn't concentrate and everything the way she wanted to.
And-and luckily she had a friend who said, "Hey, you ought to, you know, go eat some better food and look at some natural foods and stuff, whole grains, the best you can do." Well, she got herself back and she noticed her concentration and everything. She wasn't sharp with people. So, then she got to thinking about the-these inmates that were going out on pro and going right back in. So, she told several of them-said, "You know I think I can keep you out of the pin. Do you want to stay out?" They said, "We don't want to go back in there, but we just end up back in there."
And she got them to change their diet and all those that changed their diet went on to a decent diet and never went back to the pin. Now that's-some people can't comprehend what you're trying to tell them. I don't think their brainpower can work. You know your brain has to be nourished too with the proper energies and the minerals and everything because it's organic. It's not like a computer all just electrical system, it's that too, but you've got to have proper nutrition, the proper minerals and whatever it is. The whole body has to be that way.