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Keeping You Advised – Gary England

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Long before the Thunder rumbled into Oklahoma, there was Gary England.

Whether or not you were born and raised in the Sooner State, there is a great chance you’ve heard of the famed weatherman. His skill and accuracy at predicting severe weather seemed at times omnipotent; more like a shaman than someone simply reading and reporting data.

Gary was, and still is, a household name in the Sooner state. Even if a person was more apt to turn to a different channel than KWTV News 9, the station he worked at for 41 years as the chief meteorologist, for entertainment,  when it came to bad weather everyone wanted to hear what Gary had to say. The tagline “Stay with Channel 9 – We’ll keep you advised,” was as familiar to Oklahomans as the BC Clark jingle.

He became known for an off-beat sense of humor and a personality that’s genuinely country, peppering his weather reports with exclamations of “gosh”, “good gracious”, and “great God almighty!”

While people may familiar with his on-air persona, they likely do not know how his upbringing paved the way for his passion for weather or what a jokester he was as a young man, or how long he struggled unsuccessfully to find employment.

They also might not realize the depth of responsibility he felt for his fellow Oklahomans when severe weather struck, or the grief he feels remembering the bad days. “Everyone saw me on the television for all these years. They think I’m just some scientific guy; that I don’t have a past. They don’t realize I’m a normal person,” he shared.

Growing Up

Born in October 1939, Gary grew up in the northwestern Oklahoma town of Seiling. He was raised in a time when a television set was a luxury, so once each week, he and his family went to his grandmother’s house. There, with rapt attention, he’d watch legendary weatherman Harry Volkman.

“He was someone I really liked, and before all the fancy stuff. He had a 15 to 20 minute program on Sundays and  I remember I would get right up to the TV, on my knees, to watch. One time when Harry came on, I pointed at him and said, ‘Daddy, I want to be one of those!’ My dad asked, ‘So what is he?’ I said, ‘I don’t know, but I want to be one,’” England recalled.

Winter weather was particularly exciting for the young man. “When Harry would forecast snow, I wouldn’t be able to sleep at night. I’d watch the yard light by the window. We didn’t have too much money, and my breath would freeze on the window on the inside, but I didn’t care. I was waiting for snow,” he said.

The town of Seiling only had one siren, and advance warning only came from deputies and other spotters. “During severe weather season, it seemed like if we went to the movies on a Saturday night, we’d hear the storm noise increase to our southwest, and they’d turn on the lights and talk about a tornado coming that way. Everyone would run out of that place, jump in the cars, go home, and jump in the cellars; all for a tornado that never came.” He added, “We always had those abrupt things. We had a lot of tornado warnings, but very few tornados.”

Once, while cleaning out a chicken house, Gary and his father were caught in a storm. “I got in the middle of the place, which wasn’t too smart, and Lord, it went on a long time. I looked outside and it was ripping the roof off. It looked like there were chicken bullets going by,” he recalled.  He remembered that his father wondered if people were ever going to be able to get a warning for the storms.

Many times, Gary and his family took shelter in his grandmother’s cellar. Once it was only the kids and his grandmother at home. “I’ll never forget it. The sirens go off, and we ran down to the cellar. All we had was a little candle, and we piled in there, and there was a damn snake in there! Boy did we jump out. It was like a covey of quail flying out of there,” he said. “I had so many experiences when I was younger that would shape who I became.”

While most of his tales are amusing, including one of his grandfather and uncle refusing to go in the cellar and getting pelted by mud, a few were more sobering.

He recalled the day of the Woodward tornado in 1947. His family was living in Enid at the time, but he and his father walked outside and looked at the clouds. His father predicted, “It’s going to be a bad storm tonight somewhere.”

That storm, the deadliest in Oklahoma’s history, killed more than 100 people. All night long, the sounds of ambulances, fire trucks, and police cars flying towards Woodward kept residents awake. It wasn’t until the next day that the tragedy became public knowledge. “We moved back to Seiling right after that. There were a lot of men in Seiling that had helped Woodward people, and they had so many stories that, to a young boy, were so interesting. That influenced me a lot,” he said.

Also impacting Gary was a documentary television series called Victory at Sea, which detailed how the Navy helped win World War II. He loved the ships and the uniforms, and, one other factor of Navy life. “There would always be a couple sailors walking down the street with a girl in each arm,” he said with a chuckle. “I found out that it didn’t happen like that!” But somehow the combination of watching Harry Volkman and Victory at Sea created his future. “That’s all I could think about.”

That future began quickly. “I got out of school when I was 17. Not because I was overly smart, but because I started really early. Momma signed the papers, and I joined the Navy,” he said.

In the Navy, Gary went into the weather service. He said, “All the things I had been dreaming about all those years happened in the Navy.”

After his stint in the Navy, he spent a year at Southwestern Oklahoma State University in Weatherford, Okla., a choice that would shape the rest of his life. While there, he met “the cutest red-headed girl you’ve ever seen. Her name was Mary.”

At first Mary was less than impressed. Undeterred, he pursued her. He even resorted to throwing rocks at the second story window of her dormitory room to get her attention. Then he tried climbing up on a ladder and tapping on the window, still to no avail.  Once, when he was using a friend’s shoulders as a ladder to reach the second floor, the campus police came by. “My friend ran out and left me hanging onto the ledge,” Gary shared. “I left pretty quickly after that.”

Eventually his tenacity paid off, and Mary and Gary were wed a year later. “I don’t know what I’d do if I hadn’t met her. It was the best thing that ever happened to me. She was trying to change me into the person she wanted me to be, and I didn’t even know it was happening,” he said. “She gradually changed my clothes, got my language under control, and I didn’t drink quite as much beer. She morphed me into the person she thought I should be, which was a lot better than I was.”

After Southwestern, Gary went to the University of Oklahoma, where he earned a mathematics/meteorology degree.  He graduated in 1965, and because he’d already been in the Navy, he didn’t have to worry about being drafted to go to Vietnam.

Eager to pursue his dream of being a television weatherman, he sent letters to weather stations in Oklahoma and surrounding states. He received responses, but not the ones he wanted. “They’d send me a letter back to say they’d keep my letter ‘on file,’ which is code for, ‘Don’t contact us anymore.’” he shared.

In the meantime, Gary and a friend started a forecasting business for agriculture and aviation, setting up shop at the Wiley Post Airport. Unfortunately, the business did not flourish. “It wasn’t the smartest thing I’d done, but a great part of my life,” he said.

Once again, Gary sent out a round of letters across the country, this time asking for a job forecasting. “Only one person responded. His name was A.H. Glenn, and he was from New Orleans. Thank God he called. By that time Mary was pregnant with Molly, and I needed a job!”

In New Orleans, Gary spent his time forecasting oceanographic and meteorological conditions for Glenn’s private weather service. “It was a learning experience. He was the greatest teacher I’ve ever had in my life. Even though I didn’t’ like him, I learned so darn much from that guy. It was the first time I learned discipline, because he didn’t put up with any crap. If it hadn’t been for him, I would not have succeeded in life,” he shared. “He taught me about science I’d never dreamed of. We did hurricanes, tornados, floods, (ocean rig tows) – a little bit of everything.”

But England still longed for a television career, and for his home state, where tornadoes ravaged the state and people had little warning. So, he, Mary, and their daughter Molly went back to Oklahoma even though he had no employment prospects.

He continued to look for a weather job, but knowing he had to make a living, did a stint selling typewriters; something he was woefully unsuccessful at. That was followed by a job selling advertisements. “I couldn’t sell anything. The only thing I sold was bad debts. Someone would buy a big, beautiful two page full color spread, and then wouldn’t pay for it.”

Luckily Mary got a job with the radio station KTOK. One day he noticed the station was putting in a weather radar, so he tracked down the general manager. “I told him he’d need me when they finished it, but he didn’t believe me,” Gary said.

The young couple was very poor at the time, and Gary, with nothing else to do, would stop by the station regularly to help himself to free coffee. “So, I’m there one morning drinking my coffee after they’d finished the radar, and a storm came up. They had an engineer there to run it, but he didn’t know how to read it, so they hired me on the spot. When you’ve been hanging around a job so much, they don’t have to pay you much, but they gave me a little office upstairs. It was tiny, but I had a microphone and a lightbulb – I thought it was great!” he shared.

While on air, Gary would do segments on the “thunder lizard,” which he described as an 805-pound creature that changed color with the weather. It was completely fictitious, and viewers, in on the joke, called in with tongue-in-cheek reports about run-ins with the beast. “You’d be surprised how many people would call me and tell me they saw it. It was great stuff,” he said. “I was there a year, and they fired me four times. After the storm season they thought they wouldn’t need me, but I reminded them about the people fishing, so they kept me. The same thing happened when they tried to fire me in the fall, when people would be going to football games. I made sure they kept me around.”

Gary grew in popularity, so much that he got a call from the KWTV Channel 9 general manager asking him to come in for an interview. “He said, ‘You sound a little crazy, but I’d like to talk to you.’ I had to do an audition two days later, and I didn’t have a suit. I went out and got myself a pair of powder blue bell bottoms. Oh, they looked good! And a maroon jacket, with a white shirt, and a multi-color tie and boots. I was stylin’, baby. I went to that darn audition and they hired me, and the rest is history.”

On Oct. 16, 1972, Gary England finally became a television weatherman.

Read more about Gary in the May 2020 issue of Oklahoma Farm & Ranch.

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Poinsettia Partnerships Will Make Your Holidays Beautiful

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By

Norman Winter

Horticulturist, Author and Speaker

National Poinsettia Day just passed, December 12 to be exact. While I am sure the powers to be wanted a celebratory type day, from what I have been seeing this year is this may have been a deadline day. This most likely applies to poinsettia partners too! If you are asking what a poinsettia partner is then put on your thinking cap and gather around.

Proven Winners got most of us to thinking partners when they introduced the concept of combining poinsettias with Diamond Frost euphorbias. This is one of the best ideas ever and we now actually have three choices, Diamond Frost, Diamond Snow with double flowers and Diamond Mountain that is the taller of the three.

To a horticulturist like myself this combination is so special because both the Poinsettia and the Diamond Frost are Euphorbias. That’s right, they are cousins. Just like Christmas, families visiting and long-lost cousins getting together. Of course, the main reason we like this idea is that the red, pink, or variegated poinsettia looks incredible, it’s as though it is sitting on a bed of snow or frost. I have found these to be more available at fine florists.

But if you are going to create your own and go plant shopping then keep in mind some other options you might want to-try. For instance, a couple of years ago Jenny Simpson of Creekside Nursery in Dallas North Carolina introduced us to not only using caladiums at Christmas but even in combinations with poinsettias. She used the Heart to Heart White Snowdrift caladiums which turned out to be a perfect partner with red poinsettias.

My time as Executive Director at the Coastal Georgia Botanical Gardens in Savannah GA taught me there are opportunities for outside use with poinsettias, particularly if you are astute at long range weather forecasting. First consider that Savannah is technically zone 8B with a proclivity to lean into zone 9. We used poinsettias in large planters surrounded by Silver Bullet Dusty Miller or artemisia.

A similar application gave me the opportunity of photographing pink poinsettias mass planted in an atrium-like setting and surrounded by gray leaved Icicles helichrysum. But the most obvious and perhaps easiest if you are getting a late start is to combine your poinsettias with another Christmas plant like cyclamen. White cyclamen around a red poinsettia can be simply breathtaking.

This year I have also been watching what I call the professional garden club ladies walking out of both florists and floral departments with holly berries. We all think of hollies on swags above the fireplace or front door, but two or three preserved branches loaded with red berries stuck in a pot of white poinsettias is quick, easy and unbeatable.

Red berries for Christmas, landscape beauty, and of course feeding the birds is a prime reason to grow winterberry hollies like the compact Berry Poppins. Consider also growing Berry Heavy Gold winterberry holly. Cutting branches of the gold berries to be used with red poinsettias makes a stunning partnership. Go to Proven Winners site, Winterberry Holly: The Ultimate Guide to Getting Colorful Berries. If you don’t have poinsettias yet make today your shopping day! Follow me on Facebook @NormanWinterTheGardenGuy for more photos and garden inspiration.

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Homesteading Skills: The Essentials for Self-Sufficiency and Sustainable Living

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Homesteading, once a way of life for our ancestors, is experiencing a resurgence in today’s world. As people seek greater self-sufficiency, a deeper connection with the land, and more sustainable lifestyles, homesteading skills have become not only practical but also deeply rewarding. In this article, we’ll explore the essential homesteading skills that can empower individuals and families to live more self-reliant and sustainable lives.

1. Gardening

At the heart of homesteading is the ability to grow your own food. Gardening is the foundation of self-sufficiency, and it’s a skill that can be cultivated no matter the size of your property. Key gardening skills include:

Soil preparation and composting

Seed starting and transplanting

Crop rotation and companion planting

Pest and weed management

Harvesting and food preservation techniques like canning, freezing, and drying

2. Animal Husbandry

Raising animals for food, fiber, and companionship is a fundamental aspect of homesteading. The skills related to animal husbandry include:

Care and feeding of livestock, such as chickens, goats, cows, or pigs

Breeding and reproduction management

Livestock housing and pasture management

Animal health and basic veterinary care

Dairy and meat processing if you’re raising animals for consumption

3. Food Preservation

To make the most of your garden’s bounty or the harvest from your livestock, knowing how to preserve food is essential. Food preservation skills include:

Canning fruits and vegetables

Fermentation for foods like sauerkraut and kimchi

Dehydrating fruits, vegetables, and herbs

Making homemade jams, jellies, and pickles

Smoking, curing, and other methods for meat preservation

4. Foraging and Wildcrafting

Homesteading often involves making the most of what nature provides. Learning to identify and use wild edibles and medicinals is a valuable skill:

Identifying edible wild plants and mushrooms

Harvesting herbs for teas, tinctures, and salves

Sustainable foraging practices to protect local ecosystems

Preserving wildcrafted items for later use

5. Beekeeping

Keeping bees not only provides a source of honey but also contributes to pollination on your property. Beekeeping skills include:

Setting up and maintaining beehives

Handling and managing bees safely

Harvesting and processing honey and beeswax

Identifying and addressing common bee health issues

6. Food Self-Sufficiency

Beyond gardening, you can work toward greater food self-sufficiency by learning skills like:

Seed saving to preserve heirloom and open-pollinated varieties

Raising and harvesting small livestock like rabbits or quail

Cultivating perennial food crops like fruit trees and berry bushes

Aquaponics or hydroponics for year-round food production

7. Basic Carpentry and DIY Skills

Homesteaders often find themselves needing to build and repair structures, tools, and equipment. Carpentry and DIY skills include:

Building raised beds, chicken coops, and animal shelters

Basic woodworking for constructing furniture and farm implements

Repairing and maintaining machinery like tractors and generators

Fencing and infrastructure construction for property management

8. Water Management

Managing water resources efficiently is crucial for sustainable living. Key skills include:

Rainwater harvesting and storage

Drip irrigation and water-saving techniques for gardening

Proper well maintenance and water testing

Building and maintaining ponds or water features for livestock and wildlife

9. Energy Independence

To live off the grid or reduce your environmental footprint, consider energy independence skills:

Solar panel installation and maintenance

Wind turbine installation and maintenance

Energy-efficient building design and retrofits

Off-grid living strategies for reduced reliance on public utilities

10. Soap and Candle Making

Homemade soaps and candles can reduce reliance on store-bought products. These skills include:

Making soap using cold or hot process methods

Crafting candles from beeswax, soy, or other materials

Adding scents and colors naturally

11. Herbal Medicine and Remedies

Homesteaders often turn to herbal medicine and remedies for self-sufficiency in healthcare:

Growing and harvesting medicinal herbs

Making tinctures, salves, and herbal teas

Natural remedies for common ailments

Basic first-aid and emergency care skills

12. Sewing and Textile Arts

Basic sewing skills are essential for making and repairing clothing, linens, and more. These skills include:

Hand and machine sewing techniques

Mending and darning clothing

Knitting, crocheting, and other textile arts

Crafting items like blankets, rugs, and quilts

Homesteading is not just a return to simpler times but a way to embrace self-sufficiency, sustainability, and a deeper connection with the land. While mastering all these skills may take time, the journey itself is a rich and rewarding experience. Homesteading is about learning, adapting, and continually improving your ability to live more independently and in harmony with the environment. Whether you have acres of land or a small urban plot, these essential homesteading skills can empower you to live a more self-reliant and sustainable life, fostering a sense of fulfillment and purpose in the process.

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Country Lifestyle

Raising Chickens for Beginners: A Step-by-Step Guide

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Raising chickens can be a rewarding and fulfilling experience, whether you’re a homesteader looking to become more self-sufficient or a backyard enthusiast seeking fresh eggs for your family. Chickens are relatively low-maintenance animals, making them an excellent choice for beginners in the world of poultry farming. In this step-by-step guide, we will walk you through the essentials of raising chickens, from choosing the right breed to ensuring their health and happiness.

Selecting the Right Breed

Before diving into chicken-raising, it’s crucial to choose the right breed that suits your goals and environment. Different breeds have various characteristics, including egg-laying capacity, temperament, and adaptability. Here are some popular options for beginners:

Rhode Island Red: Known for their excellent egg production and hardiness.

Plymouth Rock: Friendly birds that lay brown eggs and adapt well to various climates.

Australorp: Record-holders for egg-laying, known for their docile nature.

Silkies: Unique and fluffy birds often kept as pets; they lay smaller eggs but are adorable companions.

Research the specific breeds available in your area and consider factors like climate and available space when making your selection.

Coop and Run Setup

Before bringing your chickens home, you’ll need to set up a safe and comfortable living space for them. A coop and run are essential components of your chicken-keeping setup:

Coop: The coop is where your chickens will sleep at night and lay their eggs. It should be well-insulated, predator-proof, and provide at least two to three square feet of space per chicken.

Run: The run is an outdoor area where your chickens can roam during the day. It should be fenced and covered to protect your birds from predators and provide shade.

Make sure to include roosting bars, nesting boxes, and adequate ventilation in your coop for a healthy environment.

Feeding Your Chickens

Chickens need a balanced diet to stay healthy and lay eggs regularly. You can feed them commercial chicken feed, which comes in various forms:

Starter Feed: For chicks up to six weeks old.

Grower Feed: For chicks aged six weeks to 20 weeks.

Layer Feed: For hens producing eggs.

Additionally, you can supplement their diet with kitchen scraps, vegetables, and grains. Ensure they have access to clean, fresh water at all times.

Care and Health

Regular care and monitoring are essential to keeping your chickens healthy. Here are some key aspects of chicken care:

Regular Health Checks: Inspect your chickens for signs of illness or injury daily. Common issues include mites, respiratory infections, and injuries from pecking.

Disease Prevention: Vaccinate your chickens against common diseases to keep your flock healthy.

Egg Collection: Collect eggs daily to ensure they remain clean and prevent hens from brooding.

Clean Coop: Regularly clean the coop to prevent the buildup of waste and odors, which can attract pests.

Handling and Socializing

Chickens can be friendly and enjoy human interaction when handled gently. Spend time with your chickens, hand-feeding them treats to build trust. Avoid sudden movements or loud noises, which can startle them.

Understanding Egg Production

Egg production varies by breed and age. Hens typically start laying eggs at around 5-6 months old. The amount of daylight, diet, and stress can affect egg production. You can use artificial lighting to simulate longer daylight hours, which can encourage consistent egg-laying.

Dealing with Challenges

Chickens, like any animal, come with their challenges. Here are a few common issues and how to address them:

Predators: Invest in a secure coop and run, and consider adding motion-activated lights or alarms to deter nighttime predators.

Broodiness: Some hens may become broody and stop laying eggs. You can break this behavior by isolating them in a separate enclosure or providing them with dummy eggs to sit on.

Feather Pecking: Chickens can sometimes develop a habit of pecking at each other’s feathers. Ensure they have enough space and distractions to prevent this behavior.

Raising chickens can be a delightful and educational journey. By selecting the right breed, setting up a proper coop and run, providing a balanced diet, and offering care and attention, you can enjoy the rewards of fresh eggs and the companionship of these feathered friends. Remember that every chicken has its unique personality, so get ready to be charmed by your new flock as you embark on this fulfilling adventure in poultry farming. Happy chicken-keeping!

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